Washington’s football team may not know what the Challenger Deep is, but it is headed there as rapidly as it can plummet. At 35,840 feet below sea level, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the Challenger Deep is the lowest point on earth.
This franchise has long since passed modest reference points like lowest point on land — the Dead Sea — or mundane landmarks like last place in the NFC East, which practically has a team logo stamped on it by now. Now, you never know what indignity, self-inflicted or jammed down their throats, will embarrass this franchise.
Before the 24-0 skunking by the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at half-empty FedEx Field, one of last year’s Washington team captains, London Fletcher, eviscerated defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, calling him “clueless.” “How does he still have his job?” Fletcher asked, followed by accusations that Haslett was a career-long back-stabber who was no doubt at work undermining Coach Jay Gruden and shifting blame. Why doesn’t Dan Snyder just rename FedEx Field? Call it: Treachery, Slime and Slander Stadium.
For the opening coin toss, the Rams sent out six players as co-captains. And who were they? The six players on their active roster that they acquired as the ultimate result of trading the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft to Washington so it could select Robert Griffin III. As irony would have it, quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game with a sprained neck and Washington had no choice but to play Griffin on its final futile drive. He was sacked, then couldn’t convert a fourth down. Ball game.
Why would the Rams want to rub it in? Sometimes it seems half the teams in the NFL have a special reason to stick it to Snyder’s team. The Rams’ offensive coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer, whose father, Marty, was fired after one year by Snyder, and their defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams, the man Joe Gibbs hand-picked to be his successor but was passed over by Snyder in favor of unprepared position coach Jim Zorn.
Former Washington coach Norv Turner, now the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, was given a game ball after his offense outscored Griffin and Washington with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback last month. What is this, eternal payback? Snyder’s team has an almost unique ability to inspire something like venom in otherwise respected NFL men once they depart Washington.
The tradition will no doubt continue. During this game, Haslett’s son Chase struck back at Fletcher on Twitter, accusing him of trying to “ruin my father’s career.” Fletcher, sucked down to the level of this franchise’s dude-soap-opera brawls, responded that Haslett pere had “ruined a lot of players’ careers.”
After the game, outside his locker room, I asked Gruden if he was surprised by this cankerous atmosphere. After thinking a few seconds, he said, “It wasn’t like this in Cincinnati.”
I want that on a T-Shirt for Christmas.
“It’s just the same story, different Sunday,” said defensive tackle Chris Baker, who accidentally provided one of the game’s symbolic images. After teammate Ryan Kerrigan forced a fumble on a sack of journeyman quarterback Shaun Hill, the loose ball lay on the ground two feet behind Baker. Instead of diving to recover it, Baker was busy throwing his arms in the air celebrating. The Rams got the ball back.
“I’ve said we’ve hit ‘rock bottom’ before,” Kerrigan said after this loss to the 6-7 Rams. “That downplays rock bottom if you keep saying it every time you play.”
No, let’s not devalue rock bottom, not when the calendar has turned to December. That means two things: Santa Claus is coming to town and this team, if its playoff hopes are dead, will roll over, paws up.
“You could kind of see in their eyes they kind of packed it in,” said Rams defensive back Rodney McLeod, who intercepted McCoy in the first quarter.
“Last year was very similar when you watch the tape. As the season went on, things just got worse and worse,” said Gruden, whose offense was as awful Sunday, shut out for the first time since 2011, as his defense was atrocious the previous Sunday, allowing 49 points in Indianapolis.
“Obviously, we are going down,” added Gruden, making a hand gesture that was unsettlingly like a sinking submarine. “We’ve got to figure out something that we do well, very well. Right now, that’s a struggle. Tough calling plays out there today. . . . We have to figure out a way to rise. Somehow.”
The somehow is the tough part. “We don’t have a [star] quarterback,” said a team decision-maker, after watching McCoy, who threw two interceptions, run an offense that never had a snap inside the Rams’ 20-yard line. “If we had enough great defensive players, we could build around defense, run the ball and try to win, 12-3. We don’t. There’s a lot of building that has to be done here. It takes time.”
The Rams would have won by more except that kicker Greg Zuerlein missed an extra point and two easy field goals, all to the right. After the game, Coach Jeff Fisher had Zuerlein kick a ball into a locker. He made it. Cheers and laughter. When you win, it’s all funny and everything’s forgiven.
When you lose, dots get connected. For the second straight week, Gruden took a fourth-down gamble in the middle of the third quarter — earlier than many coaches might. In Indy, the result was a sack-fumble and touchdown return by the Colts. This time, punter Tress Way tried a designed run and was crunched two yards short of a first down, giving the Rams the ball at Washington’s 35.
St. Louis quickly scored for a 15-0 lead. Then the Rams caught Washington’s coaches napping. The Rams went for a two-point conversion — an obvious possibility since it would make it a three-score game. As the Rams holder passed to an uncovered tight end, Washington watched like duplicity was unlawful.
After that, the burgundy and gold did that pack-it-in thing, observing Tavon Austin, who already had three substantial punt returns, as he sped 78 yards up the right sideline to score for the coup de disgrace.
“The whole world is pointing at us,” said tackle Trent Williams. Under that scrutiny, will this team pull together or tear even further apart?
“Whenever you sign a contract, you are judged on wins and losses. All you can do is try to motivate guys, figure out a way to get victories, and if you don’t, you are always subject to the owners making a change,” Gruden said. “I’m just going to keep coaching the way I know how, not worry about it and do the best I can.”
If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, he’ll always have that five-year guaranteed contract and, like roughly half of the NFL, can look forward to the day when he returns to ol’ Treachery, Slime and Slander Stadium with some other team and stick it to the local diving bell of a franchise as it sinks ever lower.
Summary: Rams 24, Redskins 0
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