- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The scapegoating season has officially begun in Redskinsland. According to our outdoors writer, by the way, it runs until the start of the free agent signing period in February, so get your shots in while you can. The limit is four scapegoats (unless you want to risk having your license pulled).

Monday at his news conference, Jim Zorn was taking all the blame - for his team’s second-half flameout, for its horrid loss to a one-win Bengals club, for the offense’s continuing travails, for just about everything but the mortgage crisis.

“I just feel like the worst coach in America,” he said at one point.

“It really just starts with me,” he said at another.

“Me being a major part of this decline …,” he began yet another foray into self-flagellation.

We appreciate the gesture, Jim, but no one person - not even the head coach - caused this disaster, this cliff dive from 6-2 to 7-7. This was a group effort if there ever was one. Blame? Everybody’s to blame for the Redskins‘ all-but-mathematical elimination from the playoff chase. And by everybody, I mean Dan Snyder, Vinny Cerrato, the scouting staff, the coaches, the players. Heck, you could even point a finger at the fans, at the thousands who sold their tickets to the Pittsburgh game to Steelers diehards so the visiting team could feel more at home.

A collapse of this magnitude requires contributions across the board - except maybe from the secretarial staff, which has done its usual bang-up job. On second thought, I’m not sure the practice squadders have had much to do with it, either.

But beyond these exemptions, who hasn’t had a hand in this catastrophe - or at least a couple of fingers? I mean, take Chris Cooley - not to single him out or anything. Cooley, of course, is having another Pro Bowl-type year; he’s on pace for 83 catches and 873 yards, both of which would be career highs. But Chris has also lost two fumbles this season - after losing just one in his first four years - and both figured prominently in the embarrassing losses to the Rams and Bengals.

My point is simply this: Nobody at Redskin Park should be walking around saying to himself, “It’s not my fault.” They all played a part in the team’s, uh, decline (to borrow the coach’s word).

Danny and Vinny come in for criticism because they’re the ones who hired this obscure coach, this quarterback tutor from Seattle, and made him the head man. And honestly, if someone had told you before the season that the Redskins would be 7-7 after 14 games, wouldn’t you have been fairly satisfied with that, given the team’s talent level and Zorn’s rookie status?

If it’s not so much that the club is 7-7, then it’s the way the club got to be 7-7 - first raising hopes with wins at Dallas and Philadelphia, then squashing them with losses to some of the worst teams in the NFL. This is where Zorn’s inexperience has probably hurt him most. Never having been a head coach before, he just didn’t know how to right the ship, how to keep it from sinking when the seas got rough. And it doesn’t help any that his predecessor, the sainted Joe Gibbs, was a master at holding things together in times of crisis.

But then, part of the reason Gibbs was able to salvage playoff berths out of 5-6 and 5-7 starts in ‘05 and ‘07 is that he was Joe Gibbs, which bought him plenty of “street cred” with the players. When Coach Joe told them in the middle of a skid, “Don’t panic, fellas; we’ll get through this,” they believed him because, well, the man has won three Super Bowls and is in the Hall of Fame.

Zorn, however, hasn’t won three Super Bowls and isn’t in the Hall of Fame, so his words - and actions - in the midst of a squall are apt to be received a little differently, questioned a bit more. Thus does a second-place club disintegrate into a last-place club … and a coach begin calling himself “the worst coach in America.” He’s hardly that - and the Redskins are hardly a terrible team, even if they have been playing like it lately. (They might continue playing like it, too, unless Jim and his staff can figure something out in these final two games. I, personally, would recommend throwing to Pete Kendall more.)

Let’s not forget, though, these aren’t Zorn’s handpicked players. For the most part, they’re Gibbs’ players, Snyder’s and Cerrato’s players. Worse, the club is still thin in the offensive line - as Jason Campbell has been painfully reminded - and the ‘08 draft class, with its three second-round pass catchers, hasn’t offered much immediate assistance. As a result, Zorn’s West Coast attack has yet to function the way it’s supposed to. It’s first and foremost a passing offense, but the Redskins’ wideouts, outside of Santana Moss, haven’t done much damage.

Dan the Man is keeping quiet for now, and I, for one, wouldn’t presume to suggest I know what he’s thinking. But if he ends up firing Zorn after one season, if he decides to make the coach the scapegoat in all this, he’ll be kidding himself … again. Everybody in the organization needs to look in the mirror, from the owner on down.

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