By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Throughout the final weeks of the season, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has maintained a healthy, if somewhat morbid sense of humor. Last week, Gibbs doused a rumor that he had been injured in a car accident by saying: "The report was wrong. There were just some people who wished I was in a car accident."
During his news conference on Monday, Gibbs deflected criticism for not trying to convert on fourth down late in Sunday's 16-10 win at New Orleans and praised place kicker Shaun Suisham by saying Suisham saved him from fans who would have been rabid for his hide had Suisham failed.
With 4 minutes 19 seconds remaining and the Redskins leading 13-10, Gibbs opted to have Suisham kick a 22-yard field goal instead of going for a first down, which would have given the Redskins a chance for a touchdown that would have put the game out of reach.
As it turned out, Gibbs left ample time on the clock and the Saints moved the ball as far as the Redskins 15-yard line before Carlos Rogers broke up what would have been a game-tying touchdown pass in the end zone with 47 seconds remaining.
Gibbs said that when the Redskins returned home, he immediately was asked by fans if kicking the field goal was the correct call.
"I would have been hung out there if we'd missed that one. I'd have been right out there in that parking lot right now if we'd missed that one," Gibbs said. "It was a big decision and I knew it, and I appreciate him making that last one. So thanks, Shaun. I would have been in deep trouble."
But humor aside, a kicking game that had been in chaos since the first game of the season has found a sudden degree of stability. Suisham is the Redskins' third place kicker this season, and he has made seven consecutive field goal attempts after missing his only attempt in his Redskins debut, a 24-14 home loss to Atlanta on Dec. 3.
"Certainly, it's been a while since we've had seven straight," Gibbs said. "That would be great for us to have a young guy like that kicking that well."
Before Suisham, 23, was signed, the Redskins' kicking game was in disarray, costing the team both points and momentum. John Hall, who maintained Gibbs's support throughout the summer and the first month of the season, missed a 48-yard field goal attempt against Minnesota with 17 seconds remaining in the season opener. A field goal likely would have sent the game into overtime; instead the Redskins lost, 19-16.
Against the New York Giants on Oct. 8, the Redskins surrendered a 15-play drive that broke open a 9-3 game. But on the ensuing possession, quarterback Mark Brunell engineered a 12-play, 55-yard drive that stalled when Hall missed a 42-yard field goal try.
The Redskins turned to former Maryland place kicker Nick Novak, who had won Gibbs's confidence by kicking a game-winning field goal against Seattle in 2005. But Novak struggled with kickoffs and field goals this season. Novak made just 5 of 10 field goal attempts and was only 1 of 3 between 30 and 39 yards.
Suisham's success provides some measure of vindication for the Redskins, who faced some criticism for not signing place kicker Mike Vanderjagt, the former Dallas Cowboys place kicker who was released the day before Suisham was signed.
"He's hot right now," Gibbs said. "It's a good thing to see."
For his part, Suisham does not talk much about his work. He started his career with Dallas last season and played in the Cowboys' first two games this season before being cut for the second time. He kicked in the 2005 preseason with Pittsburgh and worked out with San Francisco before this season, but was out of football when the Redskins called following a 17-13 win over Carolina on Nov. 26 that was marred by a Novak miss from 37 yards.
"I don't think too much about it. It's my job. That's what I'm asked to do," he said. "I'm happy that I can help and do what they brought me in here to do."
Gibbs remains concerned about Suisham's kickoffs. On Sunday, one of Suisham's kickoffs went out of bounds and, following his final field goal, his kickoff was short, landing at the 12-yard line.
"We were trying to directionally kick. He got that thing out of bounds and it kind of shook him up some. Thank goodness it didn't shake him up on the field goals. On kickoffs he wasn't very effective," Gibbs said. "The reason he is here is because he has a very good leg. Hopefully, we will improve the kickoffs."