- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2008


If you can’t walk into a half-empty stadium on a gray December day and beat a 1-11-1 football team with your playoff hopes hanging by a chin strap, well, where are you as a football team? And this wasn’t just any 1-11-1 football team, either. This was a 1-11-1 football team with a defensive tackle named Shirley. (OK, it was his last name.)

“I don’t know what to say,” the eternally talkative Fred Smoot said. “Fred Smoot, speechless. That should tell you enough.”

Smooter may not know what to say about Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Bengals, but I do. It begins this way:

There’s nowhere to hide for the Redskins now - not for the players, not for coach Jim Zorn and his staff. Coming out in a game of this importance and falling behind 14-0 in the first 12 minutes, much as they had the week before against the Ravens, suggests a club that, frankly, isn’t ready to play.

Two games in a row, Jason Campbell has badly missed an open receiver on his first pass. (And neither, I’ll just point out, was a particularly long pass.) Not the “tone” you want to set in the opening series.

Two games in a row, the defense hasn’t been able to dig in early and keep the opposition out of the end zone. When the Redskins needed a stop in first quarter Sunday, they couldn’t get it. Sure, they tightened up later on, but the damage had been done.

Zorn described his team as “battle-weary” in his postgame remarks. There might be some truth to that. Every game has been a root canal for the Redskins, whether they were playing the Cowboys, the Lions or someone in between. That’s why it was silly to expect them, reeling as they were, to simply push aside the bottom-dwelling Bengals. They haven’t pushed aside anybody all year.

But where does the battle weariness end and the brain cramps begin? The week started, after all, with Clinton Portis popping off about Zorn disrespecting him. Nice timing, Clinton. The offense just had its two tackles go down, the whole organization is scrambling and Portis decides to complain about missing a few carries late in the Baltimore game. This is leadership?

Then the Redskins finally score a touchdown Sunday on a dart from Campbell to Santana Moss, and Moss celebrates by toweling off his cleats - buffing them to a fine sheen, as it were - and drawing a 15-yard penalty for self-infatuation. That forced Shaun Suisham to kick off from the 15, and when he booted the ball out of bounds, the Bengals took possession at the Washington 45.

THIS is leadership?

Fortunately for the Redskins, Cincinnati wasn’t able to take advantage of it, but still … there are better ways to rouse the troops than 15-yard walkoffs.

Santana is no serial offender, no Chad Ocho Cinco (or whatever he’s calling himself this week), but as he himself put it: “I should have known better. I told Coach Zorn I was sorry I put us in that position.”

So to recap, you’ve got Portis putting self before team, Moss putting self before team and the Redskins suffering yet another loss, their fifth in six games, to all but kill their postseason chances. It’ll be interesting to see whether anybody else puts self before team this week - or whether the players, imbued with the holiday spirit, recapture their togetherness.

Portis, standing sullen-faced in front of his locker, contemplated the wreckage of the past seven weeks and said, “I’m sure no one in the organization imagined” it would happen. Actually, there have been a number of things about this season that have been beyond imagination. On Sunday, for instance, we had Mike Sellers fumbling while going for the tying score on third-and-inches in the third quarter. Initially stopped, he reached out with the ball, and it was knocked loose by linebacker Corey Mays, who recovered.

“I felt like we were rolling,” Zorn said. “We lost all the momentum.”

Sellers’ gaffe joins Pete Kendall’s Regrettable Reception - the one that resulted in a fumble that cost the Redskins the Rams game - as the two most disastrous plays of the season. And they were freaks, really, the kind of plays that come up about as often as a solar eclipse.

There’s no escaping the fact, though, that the Snydermen have now lost to two of the worst teams in the league, teams that have gone a combined 2-23-1 in their other games. That’s why, “when you look back at it after the season, there’ll be a lot of soul-searching,” London Fletcher said. “A play here, a play there and things might have been different.”

For the Redskins’ brain trust, Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, that soul-searching may already have begun. Do they keep the coach if the club finishes 1-7 in the second half of the season? Do they stay with the quarterback who contributed to that 1-7 finish? So many difficult questions loom.

Then there’s this uncomfortable truth: In their biggest game of the year, a virtual elimination game as far as the playoff picture is concerned, the Redskins couldn’t match the intensity level of a 1-11-1 team. If that doesn’t have Dan and Vinny crying in their eggnog, nothing will.

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