Owner Daniel M. Snyder walked, calm but grim-faced, out of the Washington Redskins' locker room at Veterans Stadium about a half-hour after Sunday's sloppy 35-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. As he and minority owner Fred Drasner made their way up a staircase to begin the trip home, Snyder couldn't even bring himself to speak, signaling to a reporter with a wave of his hand that he had nothing to say.
Where do the Redskins go from here? No one in the organization, from Snyder to Coach Norv Turner and his staff to the players, seemed to know for certain in the aftermath of this one.
Last Sunday evening, after the Redskins' 34-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Redskins Stadium, Snyder told associates he didn't intend to fire defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. By last Monday, however, Snyder considered it after several of his top advisers recommended that Nolan be dismissed. Snyder left the decision to Turner, who opted to retain Nolan.
If at some point Monday Snyder, director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato and Turner discuss the possibility of dismissing coaches and cutting players, the dilemma facing them may be whom to dump. Special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel has been under intense scrutiny all season, and the Redskins surrendered two long kickoff returns to the Eagles' Allen Rossum on Sunday.
But special teams mistakes alone didn't cost the Redskins the game. Nolan's defense didn't cost the Redskins the game, although the low-powered Eagles scored 11 more points than they had in any previous game this season.
This one was lost because what had been the NFL's second-ranked offense committed six turnovers--including two fumbles and three interceptions by quarterback Brad Johnson, who has been one of the league's best players this season.
The only answer, Redskins players said in a somber locker room, is to play with more desire and more intensity--and play better.
"One thing about football--you've got to want it," running back and kick returner Brian Mitchell said. "They [the Eagles] wanted it. We didn't."
The Redskins (5-4) remain tied for first place in the NFC East with the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins and Giants will meet next weekend at Redskins Stadium.
"We're going to make the playoffs," Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook said.
Westbrook, fellow wide receiver Albert Connell and others said this must be a week in which the team's players take responsibility for righting the club after three losses in the last four games.
"It wasn't any coach's fault," Westbrook said. "It was the players. We need to take a look at ourselves. We're a lot better than what we played like. I get tired of saying it. . . . Nobody is pointing fingers, but we all need to be held accountable for our mistakes in practice. We're going to take that upon ourselves as players to take care of our business."
Said Connell, who lost a fumble and had a Johnson pass taken out of his hands by Philadelphia cornerback Al Harris for a key fourth-quarter interception: "Something has got to change. I'm going to be very vocal in practice this week. We've got to take care of this as players."
The NFL's last-ranked defense probably played well enough for the Redskins to win Sunday, but the turnovers and the special teams mistakes repeatedly put the unit in difficult situations.
"The disappointment is, it would have been nice for us to respond and win a game where the [offense] is struggling, like they've done for us," Nolan said.
Said Mitchell: "I can't say anything bad about our defense. They stepped up. Six turnovers--when you do that, you're not winning. Special teams, we let the same guy have two long ones. It was a total effort. . . . We have to take it personal and stop worrying about people's feelings."
The Redskins have their first losing streak of the season because, for the first time this year, they didn't respond to a crisis by beating a team they know they should have beaten.
"When you have six turnovers and you're still fighting for the game at the end, that shows you we shouldn't have been in that position in the first place," guard Tre Johnson said.
Westbrook said: "Special teams--I don't know what's going on over there. Defense--I saw the pieces coming together. We killed ourselves with offensive mistakes. We'll take care of that."
This was the beginning of a three-game span in which the Redskins were supposed to steady themselves for the season's stretch run. They play the Giants next Sunday, then have the Eagles rematch at home. Instead, the Redskins' hopes for ending their six-season playoff drought are as dim as they have been since their fourth-quarter meltdown left them with a loss to Dallas in the season opener. This is the furthest that their season has unraveled so far, and Snyder is virtually certain to make things uncomfortable at Redskin Park this week.
Snyder has supported Turner since training camp and has told him he won't be forced to fire any members of his staff during the season, but things have had a way of changing on Mondays before. The Redskins can only hope they already have reached the low point of their season.
"I didn't want to be in this situation," defensive end Kenard Lang said. "I was in it last year. I feel like we're 0-7 again. . . . We've still got a good opportunity. The chance is right in front of our face. We have to grab on to it."