The Redskins don’t want to start this season 0-2, they really don’t. An 0-2 start wouldn’t just open a can of worms, it would open a can of scorpions. It would be “Snakes on a Team Charter” with Jim Zorn cast in Samuel L. Jackson’s part. The Redskins don’t want to find out what happens next if they lose at home to the Saints.
Apocalyptic thinking? Maybe. But the New Orleans game just feels like one of those forks in the road. As raggedly as the Redskins played at the end of the preseason, and as impotent as they often were in the opener against the Giants, they simply have to get their cleats under them - sooner rather than later. Preferably beginning Sunday at 1 o’clock.
It’s hard, after all, to win in the NFL until you believe you can - and a lot of the believing revolves around the coach and the quarterback. Zorn, as is frequently pointed out, has never been a coordinator in the league before, never mind the head man. Jason Campbell, meanwhile, has an 8-13 record as a starter and has never taken a team to the playoffs. An 0-2 start would do neither any good. Indeed, it could lead to all kinds of questioning and second-guessing and who knows what else.
Want some cold, hard facts? OK, here they are: Since they moved to Washington in 1937, the Redskins have lost their first two games 14 times.
Only two of those teams finished with a winning record.
Only one made the playoffs.
Both were coached by Joe Gibbs (the 1984 club, which finished 11-5 and lost its first playoff game, and the ‘85 club, which went 10-6 and just missed the postseason).
More often than not, 0-2 turned into 0-3 (1951 and ‘56) or 0-4 (‘64) or 0-5 (‘54, ‘65, ‘81, ‘01) or 0-7 (‘98) or 0-9 (‘61). Translation: Things don’t usually get better after the Redskins drop their first two games, they get worse.
This is the situation Zorn finds himself in - the same one, interestingly, Norv Turner faced in his first year in ‘94. Turner’s Redskins got stomped at home by the Seahawks (who would end up 6-10) in their opener, then went on the road to play, yes, the Saints in Week 2. Fortunately for Norv, Brian Mitchell had one of his greatest games that day, returning a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and running back a kickoff 86 yards to set up another score, to help the new coach avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.
Alas, Zorn has no Brian Mitchell at his disposal. He’s also going up against a New Orleans team that’s only two years removed from the NFC title game. The Redskins, you may recall, actually beat the ‘06 Saints; it was Campbell’s first road win as the starting QB. But the current Saints look to be much more balanced than those Saints. Those Saints had some defensive issues - as witnessed by 63 points they gave up in their two playoff games. As for the current Saints …
“They’ve got [middle linebacker Jonathan] Vilma [acquired from the Jets] playing with a lot of speed in the middle,” Randy Thomas says. “Their first-round pick [nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, the seventh selection overall] is showing strength in the middle. We’ve got more things to worry about than we did [in ‘06].”
Campbell, on the other hand, is still feeling his way, still coming to grips with his latest new offense, Zorn’s West Coast Cirque du Soleil. So, really, how different are things from the last time he faced the Saints? Granted, he might be, as he says, more comfortable with “the speed of the game,” but he’s probably also - as he was in ‘06 - playing more mechanically than instinctively. And so are his offensive mates.
“Two years ago,” he says, “the other guys had already been in the offense for two years. I was the only one trying to adjust. But now the whole unit is trying to adjust.”
Mention to Zorn that Sunday’s game seems a bit more important than Just Your Average Game, and he nods and says, “You can probably ask me the same question next week, and I’ll agree with you. That’s the thing about the NFL season - it just builds.
“I remember in Seattle a few years ago, we’d be saying to one another, ‘[A game] can’t possibly get any bigger than this.’ But they did keep getting bigger - first playoff game, NFC Championship game, Super Bowl.
“Had we won last week and you asked me, ‘What does [the Saints] game mean?’ I would have said, ‘This game’s bigger [than the opener against the defending Super Bowl champs] because we want to get to 2-0.’”
He’s right, of course. The NFL season is like the gradual tightening of a vise - on a coach’s head. Still, Zorn getting off to an 0-2 start wouldn’t be like Marty Schottenheimer stumbling out of the gate in ‘02 or Gibbs losing his first two in ‘06. Marty and Coach Joe were proven winners; Zorn, on the other hand, is a coach who could really, really, really use a “W.”