As the Washington Redskins flew home Sunday afternoon from Cincinnati after arguably their worst loss in nearly a decade, veteran players said the mood was deathly quiet - “as low as I’ve ever seen it,” one put it.
Co-captain London Fletcher instead termed it “a state of disbelief.
“It’s a situation where you really don’t have words to explain what has happened,” he added. “We start the season 6-2, obviously a very promising season, feeling real good about ourselves. But the last six or seven ballgames, we’ve struggled tremendously in a lot of different areas.”
That has the rumor mill churning, both in and out of the Redskins’ locker room. In particular, the futures of Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell have become fair game for discussion among players and on the talk radio airwaves, which devoted most of Monday to the topic.
Quarterbacks and coaches typically are the first to catch blame when a season goes south, and few have spiraled out of control so spectacularly as Washington’s has. The Redskins have sunk from 6-2 at midseason to 7-7 after Sunday’s loss to the lowly Bengals. Heading into this weekend’s home game against the Eagles, they stand on the brink of elimination from the NFC playoff race.
“When they told us after [Sunday’s 20-13 defeat to Cincinnati] that we didn’t have meetings today, I wondered if something big was going to happen,” said a player who has endured more than one of owner Dan Snyder’s frequent coaching changes.
And though that “something big” didn’t happen Monday, players and pundits have speculated that Zorn’s tenure could be short-lived, especially if the Redskins were to end the season with losses to Philadelphia and at San Francisco. It would not be an unprecedented move for Snyder, who fired Marty Schottenheimer after one season and parted ways with Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier when both had years remaining on their contract.
Zorn has remained publicly supportive of Campbell, but some veterans believe that if the coach returns in 2009, he will bring in a veteran quarterback who has experience with the West Coast offense - perhaps setting things up for Colt Brennan to take the reins the following season.
If Zorn went that route in 2009, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Garcia, who will be a free agent at the age of 39, could be an option after posting a good season. Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck is under contract, but he’s having a career-worst year and has missed half the season with injuries. The 33-year-old is a Zorn favorite from their seven years together in Seattle.
As open and outgoing as Zorn has been in public, some veterans complained that he had laid the blame on their failure to execute the schemes and never pointed the finger on himself. That changed Monday in a big way when Zorn spent much of his day-after deconstruction of the loss to the Bengals taking responsibility for the nose dive.
“I’ve got to look at myself,” said Zorn, adding that he gave the players the opportunity to stay away from the media on Monday. “It’s all about me. I need to check my plan of attack and all of our staff. We need to re-evaluate what we’re doing to see if we’re going in the right direction.”
The Redskins already were headed in the wrong direction before Sunday, having lost four of five games, but those losses were to the NFC East champion New York Giants, the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the formidable Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens. Losing to the previously 1-11-1 Bengals was a whole different matter.
There was some feeling in the locker room that the Redskins went to Cincinnati demoralized by their downturn and exhausted from enduring the earliest start of training camp, the most preseason games and the latest bye week of any team.
“So when we turned the ball over on the first series yesterday, it was like ‘whoosh,’” a player said, imitating the air coming out of a balloon.
The resiliency that the 2007 Redskins showed by winning their final four games under coach Joe Gibbs in the wake of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor’s death and with career backup Todd Collins playing for the injured Campbell seems as long gone as the 6-2 start to 2008.
While Zorn is still learning how to be a coach, Gibbs was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1996, just three years after the end of his first Redskins tenure in part because of his ability to handle such dire situations.
Zorn said Monday he will do an extensive self-evaluation that will include the handling of players. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache surprised Carlos Rogers by benching him just before the game, although he has been Washington’s top cornerback for most of the year.
There were rumblings in the locker room about how Rogers was replaced by Shawn Springs, who had not sucked it up to play at less than 100 percent in recent weeks while others have.
“I haven’t felt that we’ve kept players in the dark, but it’s something to look at,” Zorn said. “Shawn had the opportunity to play this game because he was healthy. DeAngelo [Hall] was playing very well. We have four very good cover corners [including Fred Smoot], and unfortunately we can [only] play two at a time when we’re not in nickel.”
Asked whether Rogers and weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh, whom Blache benched at halftime for Alfred Fincher, would start against the Eagles, Zorn said it was too early to make those decisions.