LANDOVER, Md. - Here it was: another Sunday, another loss and another helpless walk down the corridor from the Washington Redskins locker room for their Coach Jay Gruden. He frowned. He looked at the floor. A team worker offered him a copy of Sunday's box score, a pink sheet that said his team had lost again, this time 33-7 to the New England Patriots. He shook his head.
What did he need to see?
That the Patriots's Tom Brady threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns against his team? That New England had 12 more first downs, 222 more yards and sacked Colt McCoy - his third quarterback this season - four times for a total of 36 yards?
He didn't need to look at any paper to understand the Redskins are 0-5, that the stands in the stadium above him were filled with Patriots fans who chanted "Brady! Brady! Brady!" throughout the fourth quarter. About 200 feet away, owner Daniel Snyder and team president Bruce Allen were leaving the stadium in a fleet of black limousines and SUVs. It seemed that his job had been spared, at least for the night. But in that corridor nothing seemed certain anymore.
"If the key works on Monday, I'll keep working," Gruden said.
Provided his office locks have not been changed before sunrise Monday, when Gruden likes to get to his desk, he will have yet another fiasco glowing from his computer screen. He will see more missed passes, more offensive drives killed by penalties, more defensive stops wiped away with the officials' drop of a yellow flag. He will see a team whose players insist they are much, much better than 0-5, but playing like an 0-5 team.
And he will have to figure out a way to stop it.
"At this time of year you aren't going to install a new defense or a new offense, with all the new [players] we have around here and some of the injuries we have piling up," Gruden said, when asked after the game whether he was going to fire any of his assistant coaches.
But inside the locker room, his most famous player was suggesting just that - and more.
"It's clear that something has to change," future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson said, his frustration mounting. "That's one thing you do know, because we are 0-5. We haven't won. We haven't been productive as an offense.
"You got to go back to the drawing board and say, 'OK, as a coaching staff . . . what can we do better to put our players in better position to be productive as an offense, to be better as a defense?' " Peterson continued. "It's their job to do that. We 0-5. What we've been doing, obviously, isn't working."
A few things did work early for the Redskins. Rookie wide receiver Steven Sims took a first quarter handoff, cut around the right edge of the line, ducked two tackles and ran 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that put Washington up 7-0. And for the first half, the Redskins held in, allowing just a touchdown and two field goals, going into the locker room at halftime down just 12-7.
But as has happened again and again this season, the Redskins folded in the second half. The Patriots thundered back, rumbling over Washington's defense for three touchdowns in four possessions on drives that went 75, 88 and 45 yards. The Patriots fans who filled the stands howled with delight at the team's 5-0 start.
"Ridiculous," Brady later said of the sea of New England white and blue. "That felt like a home game."
Meanwhile, the Redskins's offense sputtered. It ran just 27 plays in the second half. No possession went longer than six plays. At one point, left tackle Donald Penn turned to one of the officials to whom the offensive linemen had been complaining about penalty calls and said: "You can't be mad at us, we're just frustrated. It's built up for weeks."
Surprisingly, the official seemed to understand, Penn said later. The same couldn't be said for the Redskins fans who did come to the game. Around the time Patriots Coach Bill Belichick replaced Brady in the fourth quarter - the way a college coach would replace his starter in a blowout over a lower-tier opponent - those clad in Redskins jerseys headed up the stairs, leaving their home stadium to New England.
Soon, Washington's players were trudging off the field in much the same way, shoulders slouched, faces filled with shock.
"They showed a lot of exotic stuff on film," Peterson said of the Patriots defense. "But against us, they didn't really. You know? It was like, 'hey, we'll sit back here and see what you guys do, allow you guys to mess up.' "
With Snyder gone and no need to stay at the scene of another football bloodbath, Gruden put on a sport jacket and tie, walked out of the locker room, got into an SUV and left the stadium - apparently hopeful that back at his office in Virginia, his key will still work and the game film that awaits will provide some answers to the weekly disasters that keep coming.