ASHBURN, Va. -- On a wall near the Washington Redskins' locker room hangs a huge photo of the team's six captains. They make up an imposing, handsome group, decked out in their best suits and ties.
For the most part, the all-dressed-up haven't had much to do. These were the no-drama Redskins. Asked one month ago what impact he and other captains were having this season, OT Chris Samuels replied: "a schedule change here or there, nothing major."
This week, those guys are earning their keep. A 1-4 skid prompted the captains to call a players-only meeting Wednesday morning, and the team-wide angst was compounded when RB Clinton Portis took some potshots at coach Jim Zorn on a radio show.
"I guess you can say that we're trying to earn our money," KR Rock Cartwright, one of the captains, said with a chuckle Thursday. "Guys come to us when we have problems, and we bring it to the coach, but this is the first time we've really had to call anything like this."
The strong, solid chemistry built early in the season paid off this week. Many teams in similar circumstances will go into crisis mode, battening down the hatches and shying away from anyone with a notepad or microphone. The Redskins (7-6), by contrast, have remained accessible and relatively upbeat, with the veteran leadership reinforcing the fact that the team can still sneak into the playoffs by winning its last three games.
"There's no reason to panic," Cartwright said. "When you panic sometimes, that's when you go out and try to do too much."
During the preseason, Zorn allowed the players to vote for their choices for captains. The offense chose Samuels and QB Jason Campbell, the defense picked LB London Fletcher and DT Cornelius Griffin, and the special-teams units selected Cartwright and LB Khary Campbell.
The group meets with Zorn informally once per week after a practice, and Fletcher has more or less emerged as the leader. It was Fletcher and Cartwright who did most of the talking at the players-only meeting.
"It wasn't a lot of yelling," Fletcher said. "It was really just understanding that we're too good of a football team to be playing the way that we've been playing, and we need to turn this thing around."
There has been speculation this week about Zorn's job stability if the Redskins continue to struggle. The first-year coach has rubbed a few players the wrong way from time to time with his play-calling -- how dedicated should he be to his beloved West Coast scheme? -- and with his blatant candor when discussing who messed up on a certain play.
Fletcher, in the team meeting, wanted to make sure the players were still fully behind the coaches.
"That was also one of the messages, about believing in what's being called from a play standpoint, believing in each other, believing in the man next to you and not letting him down," Fletcher said. "And when you take that attitude of, 'I don't want to let the guy next to me down, I believe in what we're doing, whatever the call is, I believe in the preparation,' then this will transfer to Sunday. We're going to have a successful football team, and we'll be happy around here."
Zorn was pleased to see his captains take charge.
"They are trying to keep control of our team going in the same direction, and they're doing a nice job of that," Zorn said. "Guys are pretty calm about it, they're all working hard. There's good leadership there. I think they should be proud of what they're doing and what they're all about."
Zorn and Portis met and resolved their differences Wednesday, but most of the players didn't consider the outspoken running back's comments to be a big deal. As center Casey Rabach put it: "It's Clinton -- we've had this before."
The losing? That's another matter. And while it's no shame to drop games to Pittsburgh, Dallas or the New York Giants, a loss Sunday at Cincinnati (1-11-1) will put the Redskins into a full meltdown. The captains' leadership abilities -- and those of the rookie coach -- would be tested to the extreme.
"I think he's handled it well," Cartwright said of Zorn. "I think the big question will be what happens on Sunday. If we come out and win, then everything will be fine."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press