Gibbs Has the Redskins Cramming Just in Time for Finals
TEMPE, Ariz. -- To what degree are the Redskins becoming a typical Joe Gibbs team? And to what degree are they still falling far short?
Deep into the second season of Gibbs II, what is the progress report? And, with three games left, is this Washington team inculcated with enough of Gibbs's teachings, toughness, talent and temperament to make a true playoff challenge?
The first and perhaps most essential element of a Gibbs team is chemistry. Without that, nothing truly good can follow. Contrary to Redskins mythology, not all of his earlier Washington teams had such harmony, but all of the best ones did. This may be the only area in which the current Redskins measure up to Gibbs's standards. If you had to pick a strength, you could hardly choose a better one, though team spirit has never won a world title.
Game after game, Gibbs praises his players' effort. To him, football "character" is a combination of physical toughness and refusal to quit in the face of either mid-game adversity or two- to-three week streaks of bad play. Such qualities might seem a minimum NFL requirement, yet many teams lack them.
In his first term in Washington, some Gibbs teams heard the dreaded phrase "not ready to play." This season, Gibbs has repeatedly gone far out of his way, as he did again after Sunday's ugly but crucial 17-13 win over Arizona, to underline that his team's commitment seldom droops even though its performance occasionally stinks.
"A lot of things didn't go well for us early on. Our defense kept us in it. . . . That's happened a lot this year. We didn't get discouraged," Gibbs said. Translated, this means that the Redskins could hardly have looked worse for 30 minutes, trailing 10-3, as Mark Brunell's three interceptions negated four forced turnovers by the Redskins' defense.
After Gibbs reworked the Redskins' play-calling patterns at halftime, emphasizing more runs and trying different approaches to blocking the Cardinals' blitzes, the offense drove 80 yards in 13 plays to tie the game at 10. "We had a great drive to start the second half," said Gibbs, beaming.
Picture-perfect halftime adjustments were always a Gibbs trademark. Since his return, his halftime touch has seldom been as obvious as it was in this game. With games at home against the Cowboys and Giants the next two weeks, Gibbs's ability to reinvent his game plan on the fly will surely be tested again, just like the old days.
"We focused up, changed some things in our line play and blew them off the ball," said tackle Chris Samuels.
During Gibbs I, the Redskins always emphasized superior special teams play, often keeping less talented -- but more reckless or unselfish -- players who pretended to love the suicide squads. Four weeks ago against Tampa Bay, Ladell Betts returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and was virtually untouched on the play. The game-winning play against the Cardinals was a similar 91-yard kickoff return by Antonio Brown, who also was untouched. In fact, he was so far ahead of the pack that, with several yard stripes still to traverse, Brown blew kisses to the crowd.
"We got a great play from Antonio," said Gibbs, "but we also had several good plays on our own [kick] coverage."
Until the past month, there was little evidence that Gibbs-quality special teams play had returned to town. A trend?