By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
On three occasions during the 10 days leading up to Monday's 19-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said the season-opening contest would be one of the "most important games" he'd ever coached.
The reason, Gibbs explained, was in part because of the overwhelming expectations placed on this season, expectations that Gibbs has spent the last few weeks attempting to temper. Another was Gibbs's feeling of personal responsibility to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who spent heavily in the offseason to provide the talent Gibbs now has at his disposal. More than once, Gibbs has spoken of wanting to win for Snyder.
But a day after Monday's opener, which the Redskins lost after John Hall missed a 48-yard field goal attempt with 17 seconds remaining, Gibbs did not wear the mask of ashen anxiety that illustrated his demeanor as the season approached. Yesterday, he appeared optimistic despite the home loss, which put the Redskins in a winless hole as they travel to Dallas for Sunday night's showdown with the Cowboys.
Gibbs said the breakdowns that contributed to the loss were more the byproduct of correctable inconsistencies in the three major phases of the game than a sign that the Redskins were overwhelmed by their opponent.
He reiterated support for Hall, said he was confident enough in cornerback Carlos Rogers's skills that he was comfortable with defenses attacking him, and added that there were enough moments in the game that gave him cause for optimism.
"I think in general, for all of us, offense, defense and special teams, the best way to characterize everything was that we were just inconsistent," Gibbs said. "We did some good things at times, but in general, what really hurt us was an inconsistent performance. So it was kind of across the board. The good news is that it was all of us, and I include myself in that."
Moreover, Gibbs said he would send two important and controversial officiating decisions to the NFL offices for review. The first was a 15-yard personal foul in the fourth quarter against free safety Sean Taylor that provided a turning point in the game. The second occurred on a similar hit to Redskins wide receiver Brandon Lloyd in the final seconds that was not called on Vikings safety Greg Blue. It would have given Hall a shorter field goal attempt.
But if Gibbs was optimistic about the inconsistencies of his offense (the Redskins were 4 for 13 on third-down conversions), his victimized defensive secondary that allowed five players to catch passes of 20 yards or more, and his wobbly special teams -- all problem spots that existed in the preseason and were again apparent against the Vikings -- there was one area where the Redskins were fatally consistent. And it had nothing to do with the officiating. At almost each crucial moment in the game where a big play needed to be made, the Redskins could not make one.
"We left a couple of plays out there, missed opportunities for a big play, and we definitely need that," middle linebacker Lemar Marshall said. "It's a momentum-shifter. It gets the offense, the crowd, the defense into it."
It was an important concession that Gibbs's players were all too willing to make.
"We had them on third down, had them down a few times," strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington said. "But we didn't stop them. We gave them new life."
On special teams, where the Redskins -- with the exception of Antwaan Randle El -- struggled all night, poor plays thwarted great ones.
After a mighty struggle, punter Derrick Frost nailed the kick of the night early in the fourth quarter, a 49-yarder that was downed at the Vikings 2-yard line. The Redskins were poised to make a defensive stand that, at the very least, would have Minnesota punting from its end zone.
But on second and five from the 8, Taylor was called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on an incomplete pass after hitting Vikings wide receiver Marcus Robinson deep down the left sideline. Though the Vikings did not score on the drive, the penalty unpinned the Vikings from their goal line and cost the Redskins crucial field position.
Gibbs and his players seemed enthusiastic about the unveiling of associate head coach Al Saunders's offense, but the offense sparked and sputtered intermittently.
"There were some things that we could have done, and every player probably had a chance to win the game," Gibbs said. "So it came down where one big play could have made the difference."
But where the Redskins' mistakes were most glaring was in the secondary, where the Vikings gambled to make big plays and challenged the Redskins to stop them. With cornerback Shawn Springs still out after abdominal surgery and his status for the Dallas game in doubt, Rogers was the Vikings' target most of the night.
"Carlos has got to remember that he's still a second-year guy," Springs said. "He still has to prove himself. He's got all the talent in the world and I think Carlos can be a dominant corner in the NFL. But it's hard to get that off your back of going out each week and starting to perform. The only way to get them off your back is if you make plays on the ball. He has potential to do that, but right now everybody in the NFL is like, 'We haven't seen that yet.' So they're going to throw bombs at you."
Gibbs was angered by the penalties, but seemingly less so by the ones that were committed and more by the two he felt the officials missed. However, through three quarters, the Redskins were disciplined, committing just three penalties for 15 yards. In the fourth quarter, the Redskins nearly tripled the yardage amount after being flagged for 40 yards in penalties over the final 11 minutes of the game.
Minnesota also was victimized by penalties. On a third and seven from the Vikings 21 with 3 minutes 19 seconds remaining in the first half, Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson's nine-yard completion to Troy Williamson, which would have resulted in a first down, was erased by an illegal formation penalty, one that forced the Vikings to punt, gave the Redskins the ball with 2:21 remaining and set up Hall's 27-yard field goal.
In the third quarter, on third and three from the Minnesota 21, Vikings defensive end Erasmus James was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty on Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. The penalty helped set up a 22-yard field goal by Hall that tied the game at 16.