PHILADELPHIA — We have been around losing teams before in multiple sports. It’s difficult watching players pour themselves into their chosen profession only to see the losses mount and the bewilderment grow. You ask for answers and they don’t really have any. That was the scene in a chaotic Redskins locker room on Sunday after a 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that realistically ended their playoff hopes.
First, a key question: Do the Redskins have veteran leaders capable of holding their team together, of maybe even saving their coaches’ jobs, over these final six games? After the Eagles games we saw snippets of that. But we can’t go entirely behind the scenes, either, so interpret them how you will:
In the visiting locker room, offensive linemen Tyler Polumbus and Kory Lichtensteiger gently implored teammate Trent Williams to stop ranting to the media about the referees. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon made the same point from across the room, but far more emphatically. A fine from the NFL is certainly headed Williams’ way.
Fullback Darrel Young simply smiled at a reporter in the aftermath of Williams’ shocking comments and said “I got nothing for you.” Still, he later spoke to wave after wave of reporters for 15 minutes.
“No one gave up in this locker room,” Young said. “That’s all you can count on at this point.”
Indeed, the Redskins were down 24-0 early in the fourth quarter and still had a chance late to score and go for a two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall struggled to explain why different things seem to go wrong in each game, why Washington always seems to start slow. Tight end Logan Paulsen spoke of being “professionals” in a difficult situation. Linebacker Brian Orakpo defended his teammates even as he admitted that a 3-7 record was unacceptable.
“We’re not packing anything in, you know? We lost the game, but we lost some of our key, big-time playmakers, and it’s huge for guys to come in and [make] plays,” Orakpo said. “You’ve got a young guy on the practice squad like Nick Williams coming in and not losing a step, making plays. You’ve got Logan filling in for our playmaker, [tight end] Jordan Reed. You name it. It goes across the board, and guys continue to fight.”
Players talked again about how hard they practice, how accountable they make each other. And, to be fair, the fourth-quarter rally showed a team willing to act on those words. Credit is due for fighting back into a game that appeared over.
But this is also the NFL. That’s not good enough. And most players in that room know it. They are stunned that one year after winning an NFC East title they are in this position now. This sentiment from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett last Thursday - even before the loss in Philadelphia - wasn’t uncommon on Sunday.
“I love the way our guys practice and they’re into it. Teams that are going downhill don’t practice the way we practice,” Haslett said. “Those teams are negative. We don’t have that here.”
It’d be naïve to think that’s entirely true. Wide receiver/returner Josh Morgan, inactive on Sunday, refused to talk to the media other than a few offhanded comments and was visibly angry as he left the locker room.
“I’m not allowed to talk to anybody. That’s what [head coach Mike Shanahan] said,” Morgan said. He later used stronger words than that on his way out the door, leaving teammates who heard him taken aback. Some chuckled. Others rolled their eyes. It was pure frustration from a player who began the year as a starter. But with wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (left knee injury) hurt, the Redskins may need Morgan again.
In baseball, a team’s chances ebb day by day until, at some indiscriminate point, the players accept it’s over for them that season. It’s like a car running out of gas. Playing meaningless games is ingrained in that sport’s culture. Only 10 teams make the postseason and only a handful more are still in contention in September.
In hockey, 16 teams qualify for the playoffs and there are almost always three or four more whose hopes remain alive until the final days of the season. Only the truly wretched are forced to play out the string for months on end, a physical game grinding their will into dust.
The process is far more immediate in the NFL. Within nine or 10 weeks your season can be in the dumpster. Seven teams already have seven losses or more, including the Redskins. Washington could sneak in if it won the rest of its games. Maybe. The others – Buffalo, Atlanta, Houston, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Minnesota – are done no matter what. Next week, a few more will join that motley crew.
And so the Redskins will wrestle with all of this negativity over these last six games from inside the locker room and out. It’s inevitable in this situation for any pro team. But in this case the direction of the franchise may depend on the players themselves fending it off. Do they have it in them?