By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 6, 2006
Three weeks ago, Troy Vincent settled on joining the Washington Redskins as an unrestricted free agent, and two weeks ago he began playing in the base defensive package despite participating in three practices with the team. Saturday night, Vincent learned he would be joining Washington's kick-blocking unit after a near 10-year hiatus from special teams, and yesterday afternoon he misdirected Dallas's potentially game-winning kick in the final seconds for the most significant play of the Redskins' season.
His block led to Nick Novak's game-ending field goal in Washington's 22-19 victory at FedEx Field to prolong the hopes of salvaging a playoff appearance this season. Next week Vincent travels to Philadelphia in another NFC East slugfest to face the team he once led. To expect much more from a 15-year veteran would be brazen, and for Vincent, 35, to have become a key performer after two games with the Redskins is shocking enough.
"I was a Troy Vincent fan before, and if I wasn't his biggest fan then I am now," said defensive tackle Joe Salave'a. "He's a great character guy to have in the locker room, and he gave us a momentum swing in matter of seconds today, not minutes. People probably turned off their TV set when the Cowboys were getting ready to kick that field goal, but we knew we had to get that one."
Special teams coach Danny Smith, who declined to comment by deflecting all praise to his players, put in a "goal call" to the left side of Dallas's line, using Vincent, who had five straight Pro Bowl seasons with the Eagles, and cornerback Carlos Rogers to overload tight end Jason Witten. The Redskins honed it all week in practice, and Vincent, one of the elite defensive backs of his era, played a large role even though he guessed he had not playing special teams since the late 1990s.
"Danny has flashbacks to my old days in Philadelphia," Vincent said. "But I don't complain. That's where I needed to be to help this team win."
Witten, whose 28-yard catch at the expense of safety Adam Archuleta set up the field goal try, was talking a little trash on the field, and everyone assumed kicker Mike Vanderjagt would convert from 35 yards. But when Witten opted to block Rogers aside, Vincent came free, angling across to his left to smack the ball down for his first career block (200 games).
"I understand the game, understand my block points, and I just took my steps," Vincent said. "I never left my feet."
Vincent did not retrieve the ball, but safety Sean Taylor snatched it and rambled 30 yards toward the Dallas end zone, breaking some tackles and wiggling away from others, with a 15-yard face mask penalty helping to set up Novak's 47-yard field goal with time expired.
"If I was going to put the ball in someone's hands, it would be his," Coach Joe Gibbs said of Taylor. "He has an unusual way of making things happen."
It was fitting Vincent and Taylor would combine on the play. Vincent, whom Buffalo allowed to depart after a lengthy injury, has replaced Archuleta, a huge free agent signing, in most situations. He is a calming influence on Taylor and brings stability to what has been one of the worst defensive backfields this season.
"I thought he did a tremendous job, and we needed that," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense. "We needed that focal point back there."