By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 12 -- The Washington Redskins spent a large chunk of their bye week in late October focusing on penalties, a recurring theme of their disappointing season. The extra work seemed to pay off, as they largely avoided flags during last Sunday's stirring win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Coach Joe Gibbs hoped the problem had vanished. So did his players.
Well, it hasn't yet. The flags were flying again during Sunday's 27-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. There were eight overall, including seven in the first half, when the Redskins sank into what proved an insurmountable hole. One penalty took the offense out of field goal range. Two more submarined a second-quarter drive. Safety Sean Taylor picked up two 15-yard fouls in the same game for the second time this season. And after the loss, the Redskins were left discussing, yet again, how to remedy a problem they thought they'd fixed.
"This is like a recurring deal, and we've just got to make sure that we decide amongst ourselves," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "It's a decision that we have to make, each individual, that we can't hurt ourselves on penalties."
In the meantime, the Redskins continued to trudge toward a historic level of miscues. They are on pace for 121 penalties, which would be the third-most in franchise history, and 1,104 penalty yards, which would be their most in nearly 60 years. Entering the weekend, the Redskins were tied for second in the NFL with 60 penalties. Their 551 penalty yards also were second in the league.
"Somehow, we've got to overcome the penalty issue," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "Because obviously we're not a good enough team where we can have those calls and overcome them."
Gibbs said he had no explanation for the struggles, describing how coaches employ officials during practices and show film of past penalties to their players. "The persistence of the problem," he said, "is a discouragement for me.
"Why we would have a good week last week and drop back? I don't have an answer for that," he said.
Sunday, most of the damage came when the game was still within reach. Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, the Redskins drove into Eagles territory and had a second and eight at the 27-yard line. Quarterback Mark Brunell was pressured by linebacker Dhani Jones and flung the ball to nobody. The resulting grounding penalty took the Redskins out of field goal range, and by the time they got the ball back they trailed by 10.
"I was trying to keep from getting sacked and losing some yardage. I wanted to stay in field goal range there, and I got the ball off, and there was just no one right there," Brunell said. "It was the right call."
Later in the half, guard Randy Thomas was whistled for a false start, his first penalty of the season. He was still irritated about the mistake nearly an hour after the game ended, lumping it with the turnovers and missed opportunities that have plagued the offense all season.
"I don't usually make those, but it's just one of the mistakes that I'm talking about," he said. "That right there could have been a play where we could have broken it and who knows, could have scored. I've got to be a pro on that play."
The calls against Taylor were less out of character. The notoriously aggressive safety was penalized for an unsportsmanlike act and an intentional face mask in a season-opening loss. Sunday, he helped an Eagles drive with a late hit out of bounds, and then later gave Philadelphia prime field position with a personal foul on kickoff coverage. Taylor declined to address the calls after the game, leaving his teammates to defend him.
"I like when you take a guy and you send 'em to the Gatorade coolers; you know, that sends a message," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "Sometimes when you play hard and you go hard things like that happen. But we've just got to rally behind each other and get 'em stopped."