With their playoff chances dwindling and the media criticism of Coach Steve Spurrier mounting, the Washington Redskins held their first players-only meeting of the season yesterday in an attempt to maintain unity.
"We're all in this together," linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "And we're going to be in this together no matter what. There's no division among this team. Right now, things haven't been going our way. But we still have six games to play. We just have to keep fighting.
"The meeting went well. I think everybody took it to heart. And we'll see what happens."
Players said the main reason for the meeting, which was called by veterans Darrell Green and Bruce Smith and held at Redskins Park before practice, was to emphasize the team's chances of making the playoffs despite being 21/2 games from an NFC wild-card berth with only six games left.
Players declined to reveal specifics of the discussion but said that it had a positive tone, with veterans speaking about the importance of players focusing on their responsibilities.
"Actually, I'm surprised it took this long to have one," fourth-year cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Ever since I've been here, we usually always have one somewhere near the midpoint of the season. Players just need to get it out into the open what they're thinking and how they feel about everything. It builds team unity."
Players said they believe the team is at a crossroad. And at the meeting, veterans spoke about remaining committed to winning, specifically Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams at FedEx Field. But to a lesser extent, the meeting was a preemptive measure against the negative tendencies -- specifically finger pointing -- of a club on the slide.
"We're at a point where things can either fall apart or come together," wide receiver Chris Doering said. "After that meeting, I feel that we're going to come out and play well."
With the Redskins playing four of their six final games at FedEx Field, players insist that they can turn things around. It certainly can't be more difficult than last year, players said, when the Redskins started 0-5 and criticism of the disciplinarian style of then-coach Marty Schottenheimer reached a crescendo. But the Redskins became the first team in NFL history to lose their first five before winning their next five and finishing 8-8.
The players point to Sunday's opponent, the Rams, who lost their first five games and then had one-time Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner break his right (throwing) pinkie. Media criticism mounted against Coach Mike Martz (similar to what has happened to Spurrier). But after an obscure quarterback, Marc Bulger, was inserted as the starter, the Rams won five straight.
"We still have a chance to make the playoffs," Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. "And our goal at the beginning was to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. While that opportunity is still open we still need to rally together."
This week, Martz told Washington area media that his team's turnaround occurred partly because players stayed united.
So far, criticism of Spurrier mostly has come from the media, which the coach says he can handle. "That always happens when you lose," Spurrier said. "It's not the first criticism that I've had nor the last. If you're a coach that can't take criticism when you lose, you need not be a coach in any sport."
Running back Stephen Davis questioned why Spurrier wasn't calling more running plays and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener said this week that the defense, ranked ninth in the NFL, may have to make up for the woes of the 26th-ranked offense. And some players have made cryptic comments about the coaching staff but there was none of that at the meeting, according to players.
"I was impressed," Doering said. "I didn't know what was going to go on in there. Sometimes team meetings can be very critical of the coaching staff. But this meeting was supportive of coaches and everybody and put the onus on players to get things done. It was very positive."
Said linebacker Jessie Armstead: "It's cowardly to just blame the coaches or vice versa, with the coach blaming the player. You don't do things like that. We all have a part to do on this ship. If this ship goes down, we all go down.
"People are already pulling us apart on the outside. So we have to stick together on the inside."
Spurrier didn't help matters minutes after Sunday's 19-17 loss to the Giants, when he criticized long snapper Ethan Albright for not requesting a dry ball on James Tuthill's failed field goal try in the fourth quarter. Tuthill slipped badly while attempting the kick, making the coach's point moot.
Speaking generally about finger-pointing, Bailey said: "Guys are sensitive to that. Guys know when they make mistakes. And coaches know what they're doing wrong too, so you don't need to point it out."
Samuels agreed: "If I hear about it, I'm just going to separate myself from it, because I don't really get involved in that. We're all a team and we have to stick together.
"Anytime you have guys stepping outside and bad-mouthing the coach and coaches bad-mouthing the players and players bad-mouthing players, you're not going to win. It's like a cancer and it will spread."