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Zorn, Redskins Try to Stay Focused Amid Uncertainty

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It was the Redskins' high point of 2008--and perhaps the entire Jim Zorn era.

The Redskins had recorded consecutive road victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in Weeks 4 and 5, improving to 4-1 on the season.

Flash forward to 2009.

The Redskins have dropped to 3-8 following consecutive road losses to the Cowboys and Eagles.

Washington lost to the Cowboys 7-6 on Nov. 22 and the Eagles 27-24 on Sunday. In both games, the Redskins had fourth quarter leads only to lose in the end.

This is not progress.

As the regular season heads into its final stretch, Zorn has had to make sure that players don't lose focus.

Change beckons--as it always does after a disappointing season in Washington--but for now the Redskins still have five games left to play.

"I'm going to call for them to dig down deep," Zorn said. "They have been doing it all year. They're not trying to create any fantasy that's not there. We kind of know what the real situation is for us.

"These have been excellent players and I'm very proud of our football team. I'm proud of the way that they've played. They hurt after every loss. It's not the type of thing where we come in after the game and just take showers and leave. It hurts. It hurts the coaches, the ownership and the fans.

"There is nothing good about the end result. The only thing I can say is, what were pushing towards is that pride in doing a good job and being professionals."

Zorn has said time and again that, in tough times, he relies on his team captains to keep the team together.

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Rock Cartwright has had to work overtime to keep morale up and keep teammates from going their separate ways on and off the field.

"We have a great group of guys here," Cartwright said. "Guys are still fighting, guys are still competing, and guys are still coming to work every day trying to get better. That's what we're going to continue to do for the next five weeks until the season is over."

London Fletcher, who led the defense with 11 tackles and a sack in the Eagles game, leads with his play on the field, in his words in the locker room and by example.

"We haven't been able to finish games off these last two weeks and have that killer mentality," Fletcher said on Monday. "We had Philadelphia, up eight [points], on the 10-yard line before they got the tying touchdown. You can't do that. You cannot allow that. You're not going to win many football games like that.

"That's when you have to dig down deeper, give a little bit more, expect a little bit more, focus even a little bit more late in ball games, and say, 'We're not going to let this team score on us.'"

As for Zorn, he knows much of the team's uncertainty swirls around him.

The second-year head coach has admitted to a "frustrating" time as the losses have mounted this season and in mid-October he yielded play-calling duties to offensive consultant Sherman Lewis.

"With the responsibility that every head coach has, the accountability factor is [the ultimate] determinant in success or failure," Zorn said. "I certainly am accountable for our football season--no question about it--and I'll be held accountable. It's awful, it really is. I'm trying not to lose heart myself, I want to stay positive.

"Our players inspire me, and our coaching staff inspires me because we're working hard to try to make good decisions and sound decisions. It's difficult, but I'll be a better coach because of what I'm going through. It's just hard to go through it."

Zorn points to improvement by 2008 draft picks Devin Thomas, Fred Davis, Malcolm Kelly and Justin Tryon as reasons for optimism.

On offense, Thomas had four catches for 46 yards, Davis had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown and Kelly had two clutch catches for a team-high 50 yards. On defense, Tryon had a fourth quarter interception to help set up a field goal.

Speaking of Thomas, Davis and Kelly, Zorn said: "They're getting things more. Their route running needs to continue to improve, but they're all catching the ball. Jason [Campbell] is putting the ball out there, giving them opportunities, and they're competing for it...They're starting to show flashes of being the receivers that we want them to be."

Maybe they can provide Zorn with another high point or two before the Redskins' offseason of uncertainty begins in early January.

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