ASHBURN, Va. -- Saying he feels "like the worst coach in America," Jim Zorn began a two-day self-evaluation Monday into the meltdown that has plummeted his Washington Redskins out of the playoff race and prompted questions about his future.
Looking worn out and at least 10 years older than he did at training camp, Zorn had visible sweat on his brow at his weekly news conference. He reversed course from his season-long theme that his schemes were solid but the players' execution was lacking.
Instead, after the Redskins' fifth loss in six games -- a truly embarrassing 20-13 defeat at lowly Cincinnati on Sunday -- Zorn seemed to channel predecessor Joe Gibbs when he uttered the Hall of Fame coach's over-worn phrase: "It starts with me."
"I need to check my plan of attack," the first-year coach said. "And all of our staff, we need to re-evaluate what we're doing to see if we're going in the right direction.
"I really believe we're building a good foundation, but certainly when these things get strung across the board I certainly have to take -- and do take -- the responsibility for some of these games that just are not turning out like we have planned."
Zorn gave his players the day off so that he could take Monday and Tuesday to examine, as he put it, "all of the above." The easy-to-like coach's ebullient optimism -- a natural fit when the team was 6-2 -- is undergoing quite a test now that the record is 7-7.
"Where do I need to improve?" Zorn said. "Not only on Sunday, but on Wednesday, on Monday, all the days, all the game-planning, all the paying attention to detail. I need to make good use of this time and I will -- because it hurts. I just feel like the worst coach in America, to have to lose the way we're losing. ... I feel sick to my stomach even thinking about having to go and do this kind of evaluation."
Around Halloween, Zorn was being touted as a possible NFL coach of the year. Now, given owner Dan Snyder's heavy turnover rate with coaches, there's open doubt as to whether Zorn will make it to New Year's.
For his part, Zorn spoke positively of his conversations with Snyder and front office chief Vinny Cerrato.
"I feel we have tremendous support from both those guys, I really do," Zorn said. "They are very passionate about this football team and want the best for it. I can say that emphatically. I can tell you that honestly."
Cerrato, away on league business, did not host his usual radio segment Monday. He did not respond to an interview request made through a team spokesman.
While there's plenty for Zorn to examine, he is in part a victim of his own early success. The Redskins right now are where most people predicted they would be -- around .500, in last place in the tough NFC East. But blowing a 6-2 start creates an undeniable sense of a wasted opportunity to have a special season.
It all seemed to go wrong against a 1-11-1 team on Sunday, when, as linebacker London Fletcher put it, "The energy was terrible to start the game."
Reliable tight end Chris Cooley fumbled. The Redskins fell behind 17-0. The defense again couldn't get pressure on the quarterback.
Santana Moss, a veteran who should know better, had the audacity to make a spectacle of scoring a touchdown, drawing a 15-yard penalty. With the ball at the 1-yard-line, Zorn decided to give the ball on back-to-back plays not to Clinton Portis but to fullback Mike Sellers, who fumbled the second time.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers was surprised to learn shortly before kickoff that he wasn't starting, a sign of lack of communication between coaching staff and player.
All those issues are on the checklist to be reviewed, but one thing Zorn can't fix right away is the talent he's been given. Even if the coach returns next season, the Redskins are due for a massive overhaul.
The offensive and defensive lines are getting old and creaky. The defense needs a playmaker or two, and the offense still needs a reliable receiver other than Moss.
Unheralded stat of the game Sunday? Of the 49 Redskins plays that were either runs or receptions, 38 involved Moss, Cooley or Portis. It's hard to win when the options are so limited.
Zorn, naturally, declined to put the blame on the front office.
"We can win some of these games, we really can," Zorn said. "I have a hard time looking at talent and saying, 'Well, it's just talent -- no brainer.' "
Zorn, who is calling the plays as well as running the offense, said he didn't feel overwhelmed with all his duties, but he was willing to examine that possibility as well.
Perhaps the most radical, uncharacteristic comment came when the aggressive, let's-score-right-away coach said he might decline the ball next time he wins the coin flip to start the game.
"Maybe it won't hurt to defer if we win the toss," Zorn said. "I'm willing to try anything."