The Detroit Lions might be 0-6 and well on their way to late-night joke status, but don't expect Jim Zorn to find any humor in Detroit's struggles.
Washington's first-year head coach balked at the suggestion that Detroit's pedigree as a football team was reflected in the standings.
"Even though the media can observe and have an opinion, you don't really realize," said Zorn in Wednesday's conference call with the Detroit media. "Like the opinion of the media for us is that: ‘Boy you're just barely winning games.'
"But it's hard to win in the NFL – really hard. For whatever reason we have five wins; I'm very happy about that. But we're just winning as well. We're not the elite football team like the Cowboy's have been, and the Patriots have been and all that kind of stuff, we're not there yet."
Two weeks ago, Zorn was in a similar situation. Facing a winless St. Louis Rams team that had been as equally pitiable as the Lions, Zorn's upstart Redskins (4-1 at the time after four straight wins) lost after a last second field goal by the Rams' Josh Brown. It serves as evidence, explained Zorn, that every team in the NFL is good -- even one residing in Detroit.
"Both teams are very good," he said. "I think the thing that I'm looking at and I think we started the same way, is to understand that for every team in the NFL, not just us, I think every team is good and that's my premise, and certainly the Detroit Lions are that.
"If you don't look at the scores and you look at how they battle and how they fight and those kinds of things, they're just like everybody else. They're really exciting on defense. I haven't really watched a lot of their offense yet because I've been concentrating on this side of the ball, but special teams and defense, you know they're playing. We're not overlooking. I guess you don't want to say anything. We're not saying: ‘it's just easy because of the record.' I'm trying to get our players to realize it's an NFL team. There is parity in this league, and just like the Rams, the Rams got it going, and they started with us."
Zorn, who worked as a quarterbacks coach in Detroit during the Bobby Ross-era, also said he respects maligned head coach Rod Marinelli. According to Zorn, the Lions have demonstrated on film that they still perform every play -- despite having been outscored 54-0 in the first quarter of games in 2008, along with their inability to collect a win dating back to last season.
"You just look at the individual battles that are going on, and what I appreciate about Rod, I mean they might be 0-6, but those guys play hard every game," he said. "I don't see anybody quitting, or I don't see anybody holding back. I think he's got them going. He would love to have the record different. I don't do anything like that. We just look at it, we try to look at the team and look at it realistically."
Added Zorn: "This is what's special about Rod and his staff: those guys aren't giving up and they're going to find a way. That's why this game is as long as it is. You can go back in and adjust and regroup and come back out. That's why you have to play the game. It was proven to us last week; it was proven to us the week before. We lost one the week before against the Ram's in the final seconds, and last week we just happened to come out on top 14-11 in the last few minutes of the game as well.
"So, I think every game is hard fought, and the score doesn't always reflect the ability of the teams playing.
Memories of Detroit
Zorn, who departed Detroit for Seattle in 2001 before taking over in Washington, recollected fondly of his team spent in Detroit. And while he was complimentary of Ross, referring to him as a "tremendous man ... also a tremendous coach," his most fond memory involved No. 20. Sanders retired following Zorn's first year with the team.
"We had Barry Sanders, what a great memory of watching Barry Sanders run, and the thing I always remember about Barry Sanders, because I was on the sideline: when our offense was on the field, no matter whether we were 10 points up or 10 points down, whenever our offense was on the field, both sidelines were standing up close to the out of bounds line to watch Barry Sanders in case he got the ball. That's how electric he was when he was in the backfield. So there are some good things there.
"Sorry that took so long, but you took me back to memory lane."