I don't know whose situation is more precarious right now, Norv Turner's or Gar Heard's.
Turner's team is still, somehow, mathematically tied for first place in the division. But it appears to have run out of gas--and if Turner doesn't make the playoffs, he's gone.
Heard's team is off to a horrific start. The Wizards have lost six straight games, and lie in last place in the conference. Heard has already questioned his team's heart and threatened to bench his most expensive players. The Wizards have 75 games left. They can't lose them all--can they?
Heard is getting nothing, zero, from his starters. In the loss to Indiana on Saturday, the Wizards' starters had 28 points total! Do you have any idea how many millions of dollars Juwan Howard, Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland and Ike Austin are receiving this year? Forty million. All guaranteed. And this is what the Wizards have to show for it? Get outta here.
Turner is getting nothing, zero, from his special teams and his defense. And on Sunday his offense self-destructed. He has nowhere to turn. No leaders to rely on. For better or worse, this is Turner's staff and Turner's team. The Philadelphia game should have been won handily, and one by one the special teams, the offense and finally the defense collapsed. Turner was left in an all-too-familiar pose on the sideline, with his arms tightly folded, a grimace on his face.
At the bitter end of the game, despite where they are in the standings and despite the fact that there are still seven games left to play, you got the feeling the Redskins' season was over.
How many ways did the Redskins have this game won? They had it at 7-0, when they ate up 89 yards in three plays and scored. Up in the TV booth, annoying Madden wannabe Bill Maas said, "I didn't think that was possible," suggesting he wasn't paying attention in math class in high school. The Redskins had it won at 14-3 and at 21-10. The Eagles had a rookie quarterback, in his first start ever, and he couldn't complete anything. Brad Johnson was passing on defensive back Bobby Taylor like he was Liz Taylor. For all their terrible mistakes the Redskins should even have had the game won at 28-27 after Michael Westbrook went 91 yards in two plays! Maas must have been incredulous--if only he had been speechless. Imagine all the miracles Maas saw in one day. He must have thought he was on the set of "Close Encounters."
And then an odd thing happened in my house in the District: Channel 5 went all snowy on my set. For almost 15 minutes I had no picture at all, and the sound was distorted. I don't know how widespread this problem was, but it reminded me of the famous "Heidi Game," because when I got the picture back the Eagles had gone ahead! It seemed to be a symbolic black hole the Redskins had fallen into.
The Redskins play just well enough to break your heart. They tease you just long enough to make you think this is the season they'll break through. The way Brad Johnson was putting up points the first seven games, you had to think the Redskins were as competitive as anybody in the NFC. But this has been written by others, and they have been right: The Redskins show no heart in big games. They make mistakes at the worst possible times--like a face-mask penalty negating a critical interception. When push comes to shove, too often it's the Redskins who get shoved.
You want to see heart? I hate to say this in Washington, but check out Dallas last Sunday. The Cowboys had three Hall of Fame players out and a fourth one limping. And they beat Green Bay, a team with a much higher fear factor than the Eagles. The Cowboys had to win, and they did. Nobody returned two kickoffs for 175 yards against them. Nobody scored two two-point conversions on them. Nobody fleeced them for six turnovers.
The Redskins have the Giants here next Sunday in what now looks like a "must" game, a game the Redskins should be desperate to win. Sadly, those are the games the Redskins often find a way to lose. Everywhere you go in town, you find people who say they like Norv Turner "as a person" and "as a play-caller." But they don't perceive him as being enough of a lion to be a head coach. They want somebody who'll roar, and will exhort and frighten the players into winning.
Gar Heard is getting ready to roar. Just a few games into the season, Heard has threatened to bench his starters for lack of heart and effort.
Strickland already has been at odds with Heard over the practice schedule. Heard said he told Strickland on several occasions that he'd like the guard to play in practice as he plays in the games. Strickland has said, "To me, I'm practicing hard." Heard has held Strickland out of the starting lineup for being late to practice. Strickland being late is not a new development. He is in his 12th NBA season, and there isn't a coach in the league who doesn't know that Strickland has trouble being on time. Strickland will tell you so himself.
Mitch Richmond is playing hurt. He's also playing terribly. He's a 22.9-point career scorer who is now shooting 33 percent and averaging nine points a game. The word on Ike Austin was that if he got in shape, he'd be an effective center. Well, he's in shape, and he's giving them little. Juwan Howard hasn't been the same player since he was remanded back to Washington from Miami three seasons ago. He doesn't seem as enthusiastic as he once did. "I'm not out to be the fan favorite," Howard said recently. But we all liked him so much when he was. Where's that Juwan?
Heard is only here an hour, and he has already become disgusted.
"The way we're playing, nobody is safe," Heard said.
Does that include Heard?
It's all well and good to try to cajole the highest-paid players into greater effort by sitting their fannies down for a while. But the subs need to win some games to make it work. If the Wizards continue this descent into hell, and the starters tune out Heard--and the fans keep staying away--how long will Heard be able to impose his will on what may become a cadre of unwilling players?
I like everything I've heard from Heard so far. But to show their commitment the Wizards may have to trade somebody big and shake things up. The Redskins are too deep into their season to change boats. Over the next seven weeks, Turner either gets them to row faster--or they're lost at sea.