So Close, And Yet So Far Away
Monday, September 24, 2007
As the Washington Redskins' offense sprinted toward the end zone and the clock dipped below a minute, the largest single-game crowd in FedEx Field history prepared to celebrate. The Redskins, down a touchdown to the New York Giants, had first and goal from the 1-yard line, and nearly 60 seconds to advance that final yard.
Instead, the offense's final four plays left the Redskins farther from the end zone than they had started, and staring at a dispiriting 24-17 loss.
How this running-based offense had failed to gain that final yard was one of the primary topics in a glum postgame Redskins locker room.
The first play was the simplest: As he ran up the field, quarterback Jason Campbell looked to the sidelines and saw coaches calling for him to spike the ball and stop the clock, which he did. The Redskins had already spent their third timeout for the half. Coach Joe Gibbs said the spike was intended to allow the team to bring its "jumbo" package onto the field. After the ball was downed, the clock showed 51 seconds.
"As a quarterback, you look to the sideline," Campbell said. "We wanted to spike the ball, so that's what you do. But at the same time, we still had three other opportunities to get into the end zone from the 1."
The next opportunity called for Campbell to roll right, with what he described as three options. First, he could throw in the flat to fullback Mike Sellers. Barring that, he could look for tight end Chris Cooley in the back of the end zone, or attempt to run the ball himself. Gibbs said coaches counted on either Sellers scoring, or the pass falling incomplete, which would stop the clock. Campbell rolled right, and Sellers -- who was covered by linebacker Kawika Mitchell -- briefly appeared open. But the pass was low and slightly behind Sellers, and the ball dropped to the ground, leaving 47 seconds on the clock.
The coaching staff decided now was the time to run the ball, calling two plays together, for third and fourth downs.
"We took a shot with our two best running plays at the end," Gibbs said, "then called those into the huddle and told Jason we'll just go two of 'em in a row, because we felt like that was our best chance."
Some players said the two running plays called for were almost identical, while others said they were identical. Ladell Betts, the ballcarrier, said the call was the same as on a running play in the first quarter, when Clinton Portis easily scored from the 1. But this time, Portis watched from the sideline.
"It didn't look as pretty as when Clinton ran it," Betts said.
"We feel real comfortable with both our guys," Gibbs said, when asked why his starting running back was not in the game. Said Campbell: "You can go with either or."
On third down, Betts ran left for no gain.
"I tried to do as best I could," Betts said. "It's probably going to be hard for me to go to sleep without thinking about it over and over, but it is what it is."
Sellers -- a 6-foot-3, 284-pound veteran who has been lobbying for more touches in short-yardage situations -- was asked whether he would have liked to carry the ball in that situation.
"I'm not the offensive coordinator; I just play," he said. "I don't think I'm Superman, but I'm very confident that I can churn out the hard yards. I guess I've got to keep begging a little more."
After third down, the game clock showed one second more than the play clock, meaning the Redskins could have waited until the closing seconds to snap their final offensive play. But the snap came with about 25 seconds left -- "We were kind of scrambled," Betts said -- and as the left side of the offensive line was pushed backward, Betts was tackled for a two-yard loss.
"We're supposed to be driving them back; some guys are getting pushed back, some guys are missing blocks," Sellers said.
"Those are plays that we feel like we can get into the end zone, and we just didn't get the job done," Campbell said. "We just didn't finish the drive. It hurts, it's tough, but we've just got to move on."