By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 22 -- The Washington Redskins took self-destructive penalties to a new level of absurdity in Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. They followed their high point of the day -- taking the lead on an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antwaan Randle El late in the first half -- by having to kick off from their 5-yard line because of three penalties in rapid-fire succession.
"I've never seen that before," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said.
It wasn't only that the Redskins continued to hurt themselves with mistakes by being penalized 10 times, compared with three times for the Colts. It was the timing and nature of the penalties. A second-quarter scoring opportunity was lost when wide receiver Santana Moss head-butted Colts cornerback Jason David in retaliation for what he thought was a late hit by David that went uncalled. Then Randle El got an excessive-celebration penalty following his punt-return touchdown, and punter Derrick Frost followed soon thereafter with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for ripping off his helmet to yell at an official.
"We're putting ourselves in stupid positions," tailback Clinton Portis said. "We know we can't have penalties. We know we can't have five-yard penalties, much less 15-yard penalties."
Said cornerback Shawn Springs: "We're not good enough to have penalties. We have to eliminate those things. We can't have penalties and turnovers. I don't think we had any turnovers today, but we can't have the penalties."
Gibbs took the blame.
"That's my responsibility," he said. "All those things are."
But several players said the Redskins' reputation for committing penalties may be preceding them.
"I think officials sometimes come into the game, if a team is known for penalties and there's kind of one in a gray area, they may throw the flag," linebacker Marcus Washington said. But "you have to be smart. You have to eliminate the penalties."
Said guard Randy Thomas: "You like to be aggressive. You like to be tough and hard-nosed. But you've got to know when enough is enough. You can hurt your team. But it's got to be equal, you know what I mean?"
On a third-and-eight play from the Colts 9-yard line in the second quarter, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell dropped the ball in the pocket with no one around him. He fell on the fumble for a seven-yard loss.
But it got worse for the Redskins because David plowed into Moss as the play ended. Moss reacted angrily and head-butted David in retaliation. The officials called a 15-yard unnecessary roughness personal foul on Moss.
On a drive on which they had moved inside the Colts 10, the Redskins sent in place kicker Nick Novak to try a 49-yard field goal. The ball clanked off the left upright, and the Redskins got no points.
"A lot of the penalties were guys out there flying around, busting their behinds," Moss said. "Some of them were unsportsmanlike because something happened and the guys retaliated."
Asked if he felt he'd been hit late before his penalty, Moss said, "It was evident."
The Redskins' defense then forced a punt, and Randle El provided the sort of electric play that the team was seeking when it signed him as a free agent in the offseason. Randle El fielded the punt and sprinted straight up the middle, breaking through the initial wave of would-be tacklers. He cut toward the left sideline and badly outmaneuvered punter Hunter Smith en route to the end zone.
But Randle El jumped into the goal post as part of his touchdown celebration and was assessed a 15-yard penalty. One of the guidelines put in place by the league last offseason, when it approved a rule cracking down on excessive celebrations, was that the goal post couldn't be used as a prop.
"It's an emotional thing and he hits the goal post and goes on his back," Gibbs said, "and the rule is you're not allowed to do that. . . . The guy makes a fantastic play and he's all excited about things. . . . Really, right now we're at a point where we ought to say what you can do on a celebration instead of what you can't do."
That cost the Redskins 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, and they moved back another five yards because of an offside penalty on their first kickoff try. Backed up to their 10-yard line, the Redskins sent in Frost for the free kick. Frost got off a booming punt, but did so before the officials had signaled play to restart. The play quickly was whistled dead but Frost reacted with an angry outburst, yelling at the officials and ripping off his helmet as he was restrained by teammate Mike Sellers.
That unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed the Redskins back another five yards -- half the distance to the goal line -- and Novak reentered to kick off from the 5.
"He hit the ball very well there," Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith said of Frost. "I think that's what frustrated him. [But] you can't lose your cool in that situation."