By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006
For nearly the entire season, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and his offensive staff have searched for consistency in the kicking game. Gibbs began the season with John Hall, only to have Hall miss a game-tying field goal with four seconds remaining Sept. 11 against Minnesota. Hall then suffered groin and quadriceps injuries that ended his season a month later.
So Gibbs signed Nick Novak, the former University of Maryland place kicker who went 5 for 10 and annoyed Gibbs with short kickoffs. Enter Shaun Suisham and exit Novak last Tuesday.
In Sunday's 21-19 loss to Philadelphia, Gibbs finally got what he wanted: long kickoffs and a perfect day from his kicker. Suisham made all four of his field goals and no kickoff was fielded before the 5-yard line.
But even on a day when the kicking game did not frustrate the offense, Suisham enjoyed too much success to suit Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense. As much as Saunders was pleased that the Redskins were not betrayed by the kicking game, he was more dismayed by the missed opportunities and costly penalties that forced the Redskins to trade potential touchdowns for field goals.
"You go up and down the field but have to settle for field goals," Saunders said. "That's not going to get it done."
What Saunders did like was that for once the kicking game did not ruin the Redskins' momentum by failing to produce points. On the Redskins' opening 10-play drive, which covered 75 yards, Suisham kicked a 31-yard field goal. Saunders grimaced, but the Redskins' ability to make field goals would later put them in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.
But the problem was the Redskins in the red zone. On the first drive, on third and four from the 13-yard line, quarterback Jason Campbell overthrew Brian Kozlowski, which led to Suisham's kick.
In the second quarter, as the Eagles built a 21-3 lead, the Redskins countered with more field goals, a byproduct of committing costly penalties. On third and seven from the Philadelphia 26 with 1:12 left in the half, wide receiver Santana Moss was whistled for a false start. On the very next snap, left guard Derrick Dockery was hit with a false start penalty. Consecutive penalties turned a third and seven to a third and 17 from the Eagles 36. The sequence ended when Suisham hit a 45-yarder.
On its face, such victories appear small. But for the Redskins, points matter. Novak was 3 for 6 between 40 and 49 yards and just 1 for 3 between 30 and 39 yards.
The Eagles would not score in the second half and the Redskins would make a comeback, but small details would be their undoing. Trailing 21-6 on their opening drive of the half Campbell scrambled 10 yards on a third and 12 from his 24. Gibbs chose not to go for it on fourth and two from the Eagles 14. Suisham stood on the sideline, waiting for the call, and kicked a 32-yarder that made it 21-9.
"I thought with each case it was the right thing to do," Gibbs said of taking points instead of going for it on fourth down.
Suisham kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 21-19 with 5:02 left but confusion likely cost them the chance to take the lead. On the goal line, the Redskins struggled, taking a penalty with 12 men on the field when offensive lineman Jim Molinaro went into the huddle after alerting officials he would be an eligible receiver. That, and a sack of Campbell by safety Brian Dawkins transformed a first and goal from the 3 into fourth and goal at the 17, with the Eagles leading 21-16.
"There were a number of things that happened to us," Gibbs said. Center "Casey Rabach broke his hand and had to come out, so that changed our goal-line substitution. That's how we got caught with 12 guys in there, and we had a guy that has never been, but had to play tackle and wasn't aware that you can come off the field after you signal that you are in as an ineligible receiver that becomes eligible."