The Redskins are going back to the drawing board in an effort to regain their early-season magic. They better change pens, too. The ones they've been using lately have been filled with invisible ink.
If you thought last month's tie with the Bengals fouled up the Eagles, the Redskins' loss at Cincinnati last week virtually ended Washington's postseason hopes.
First-year coach Jim Zorn said he felt "like the worst coach in America" in losing to a Bengals team that had been 1-11-1, and the Redskins' 6-2 start has disintegrated into 7-7. Whether it's the injuries that have decimated the offensive line or the recent rugged schedule, Zorn has gone from coach of the year candidate to hot seat quicker than the star running back can sarcastically call him a "genius."
"I didn't know people were calling for my head already," Zorn said. "I feel very confident in the direction we're going. I know that I'm patient and I know that I'm competitive. There's certain things I know about myself that I'm not worried about the speculation. I don't really spend my day even listening to it, to be honest with you. There's so much to do. I don't fret over it."
One of the questions, specifically as it relates to the head coach, is whether there is too much to do. Quarterback Jason Campbell suggested the load Zorn was shouldering could be wearing him down.
It's been a long season in D.C., thanks to the Redskins' participating in the preseason Hall of Fame game. In addition to running the show, Zorn is the primary quarterbacks coach and maintains a heavy hand in the offense.
"I would definitely say it's a lot of responsibility. A lot of guys accept the challenge any time, because we all feel like we can do it. But at the same time, it's still a lot of work," Campbell said.
"You have to stay on guys with the offense and quarterback coach and then also have to be the head coach where you oversee the whole team and make sure everything is going in the right order and everything is on the same page. That's a lot going on. That's a lot to be doing your first year. I think he's held his ground, for the most part."
When the calendar changed to November, even the most optimistic Redskins fans had to know some losses were coming, with games against Pittsburgh, Dallas, the Giants and Baltimore on the horizon. The losses to St. Louis in Week 6 and Cincinnati last week are what have everyone feeling as if an opportunity slipped away.
"We win those two games," Campbell said, "and we're 9-5 and right in the thick of the playoff hunt."
They didn't, and now they are in the thick of mediocrity.
There was some sniping last week when running back Clinton Portis derisively referred to Zorn as "a genius" after Portis had only 11 carries in each of the losses to the Giants and Baltimore. Earlier in the season, Portis put together five consecutive games of at least 120 yards and was mentioned as an MVP candidate.
"When you are winning, everything's good, everything's fine. But when you start losing, people try to find reasons to point fingers at people about why we're losing and stuff," Campbell said. "That's something that was between [Portis] and coach. But they've communicated, and they're on the same page now."
Zorn bumped up Portis' workload last week to the tune of 25 carries, but went with fullback Mike Sellers on a pair of goal-line carries early in the third quarter. Sellers was stuffed on the first and fumbled on the second. Washington's offense managed a measly field goal the rest of the way. On Sunday, the Redskins face an Eagles defense that has given up one touchdown in the previous two games.
"Our offense has lagged about; especially our passing game - behind our run game and our defense," Zorn said. "That's where we've suffered . . . We're almost there, but not quite. We haven't been scoring points. That's been our biggest issue: the lack of scoring by our offense." *