It was a long, agonizing Sunday night for Mike Nolan and LeCharls McDaniel. Neither slept much, knowing that the players under their direction had contributed heavily to the Washington Redskins' fourth-quarter meltdown in their 41-35 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys that afternoon in the regular season opener.
The search for answers began Monday morning for Nolan, the Redskins' defensive coordinator, and McDaniel, the club's special teams coach. On Sunday, the Redskins and their followers will see whether Nolan, McDaniel and the rest of Coach Norv Turner's staff found any answers this week. The Redskins will face the New York Giants at Giants Stadium and will try to keep their season from unraveling at the outset, as it did a year ago.
Most of the scrutiny has been on Turner's job security since new owner Daniel Snyder began making changes at Redskin Park. Snyder has made it clear that Turner will be dismissed if the team doesn't make the playoffs this season. He also has indicated he will not hesitate to make a coaching change during the season if he feels the circumstances dictate it.
It is not only Turner, however, who is under pressure. Snyder has made it evident that he expects everyone in the organization -- from players to coaches to front-office members to stadium workers to trainers to secretaries -- to perform, or else. The pressure perhaps intensified on Nolan and McDaniel with the way their units performed in crunch time against the Cowboys, and neither hid from that fact yesterday.
"It's always difficult after a loss," McDaniel said after the team's practice at Redskin Park. "Everyone focuses on Norv because Norv is the head coach. But everybody knows what needs to be done here. Everybody knows the pressure we're all under. Everybody has to be responsible. I'm responsible for a whole bunch of people. I don't have just my family to worry about. I have to worry about their families, too. We're all in this together. It's not only Norv."
Snyder took a relatively calm, patient approach after the Cowboys loss. He delivered a postgame hang-in-there speech in the Redskins' locker room, and those familiar with his thinking say he likes Turner and remains supportive of him.
But Snyder began his tenure by firing approximately 25 employees and negotiating a settlement for Charley Casserly to step aside as the club's general manager. And no one at Redskin Park expects him to remain calm and patient if the team continues to lose. One person close to Snyder said this week: "If he were really a [jerk], he would have fired Nolan and LeCharls Sunday night."
Nolan said yesterday: "The pressure that's applied here is applied myself. An owner can come in at any time and say, `You're fired.' I've been fired before. The disappointing thing is the loss that creates the pressure. To say your job is on the line -- it's always on the line. It's part of the business. You take the good with the bad. There's an upside and a downside. Right now after that loss, there just seems to be a lot of downside."
Everyone in the Redskins organization knows the best job security comes from winning. Sunday brings a major opportunity for Nolan's defense to return to its preseason form, when the starters yielded only six points in seven quarters of work. The Giants' offense managed only four first downs and 107 total yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener, although New York got 14 points from its defense and won, 17-13. The Giants certainly don't have the offensive weapons that the Cowboys have, but Nolan isn't making any bold predictions.
"That's not showing your opponent much respect," he said. "You have to show your opponent respect. Hopefully we'll be on the other side of it this week."
Nolan, like Turner, says he remains confident the Redskins will have the sort of defense they thought they would have this season. The Cowboys rolled up 541 yards of offense and overcame a 35-14 deficit with 11 minutes remaining in regulation. But Nolan said everyone at Redskin Park would have had a far different perspective if the Redskins had turned reserve cornerback Darryl Pounds's late interception into a game-winning field goal in the final moments of the fourth quarter.
"I'm very hopeful," Nolan said. "The things that happened happened for a reason. We had some positive things. We didn't get it done at the time when we needed to. But we got that interception when we needed it, and I was hoping we'd win the game and then fix all the things we did wrong. It looks a heck of a lot different if you win. It just didn't work out."
Nolan vowed to continue using the aggressive approach he implemented for this season.
"As a whole group, we didn't function well in the fourth quarter," said Nolan, who is in his third season as the Redskins' defensive coordinator. "We used a lot of pressure in the game. We got hurt on a couple pressure calls there at the end, but I would still do it because that's the way we want to play."
McDaniel is in his second season as the Redskins' special teams coach. The team has a longstanding tradition of superb special teams play to uphold. But special teams blunders were part of the Redskins' collapse Sunday. The Cowboys recovered an onside kick, and a 41-yard field goal try by Redskins place kicker Brett Conway as time expired in regulation never got airborne because holder Matt Turk mishandled the snap from his brother Dan.
"It was hard," McDaniel said. "We lost when we could have won. But I've got to get it out of my mind and get ready for the next game. If I let it linger, that's bad on my part. Then I'm not doing my job. You always remember. It's always there. But we have to get ready for the Giants. There are 16 of these suckers."
The two big gaffes obscured an otherwise promising day for the special teams, McDaniel said.
"Everyone said we were bad because of two plays," he said. "To dwell on that is unfair to those kids because those kids played hard last week."
REDSKINS at N.Y. GIANTS
When: Sunday, 1.
Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Radio: WJFK-FM-106.7, WBQB-FM-101.5, WPLC-FM-94.3, WKIK-FM-102.9, WAGE-1200, WNAV-1430, WFMD-930.
Line: Giants by 2A.