By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
During his first stint as coach of the Washington Redskins, no one preserved a lead like Joe Gibbs. With an 86-11 mark when leading at halftime, his teams were virtually invincible. In fact, the Redskins lost just three times at home in the regular season when leading after two quarters from 1981 to 1992.
Gibbs's second stint as Redskins coach, however, has been a different story. Since ending his retirement in 2004, no NFL coach has lost more times despite leading at the start of the second half.
There are many reasons for the Redskins' second-half collapses in recent years. In certain games, Washington's offense has appeared to go conservative too quickly, often forcing it to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. In others, the offense has abandoned its strength -- the running game -- or turned the ball over too frequently, or has seemingly been victimized by questionable play-calling or clock management. And at times, the defense has simply been overwhelmed by a superior offense.
But whatever the cause, since 2004 the Redskins have lost 11 times with a halftime lead, tied with Oakland for most in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, which specializes in sports statistics. The most recent collapse was the final game before last week's bye, when the Redskins blew a 17-3 halftime lead and were outscored 21-0 by the New York Giants over the final two quarters.
The second-half performance against New York left Gibbs and his staff searching for answers ahead of Sunday's game against Detroit.
Gibbs, asked about the trend this week, said he saw the issue as a series of isolated incidents and said it was not indicative of a systemic problem with the team or how it played in the latter stages of a game.
In Week 1 against the Dolphins last month, Washington trailed Miami 7-3 at the half but came back to win 16-13; in the second game of the season, the Redskins led Philadelphia 10-6 at halftime and outscored the Eagles by the same margin in the second half to seal a 20-12 victory.
"For us I think each year is a new year," Gibbs said. "Hopefully for us what [the Giants loss] was this year was a lesson for us. You've got to have great intensity for a full four quarters, certainly we do as a team. We've played three games this year, and it's all come down to the last play and any lead is not a safe lead. And we come out in the third quarter and always talk about it, but more than talking about it we've got to play it.
"So hopefully that was a real lesson for our football team, and each year is different and you'd like to get it going the right way in the third quarter and in the last game it didn't. Last year we didn't do very much from a real quality standpoint all year. We had a real upsetting year for all of us and I look at each year is a new year and in the first two games this year I would say we won it in the second half. So hopefully this is something that won't repeat."
While Gibbs prefers to view each season individually, the problem cuts across all four seasons.
The Redskins have lost despite a halftime lead at least twice in each of his three full seasons back, and have lost a game at home despite having a halftime lead seven times since 2004.
The last four times the Redskins have held a halftime lead at home, they have lost, dating from the season opener in 2006. They have lost six of the last eight games at home in which they held a halftime lead dating from November 2005. Washington went 47-3 with a halftime lead at RFK Stadium between 1981 and 1992; the Redskins are 9-7 at FedEx Field in those situations since 2004.
"I wonder if Coach is aware of that," veteran defensive end Demetric Evans said when informed of the statistics. "That's a good point to bring up, because it shows we need to be a better second-half team. Everybody can come in all hyped up and ready to play off the bat, but the mark of a good team is that second half. And we need to get a spark somewhere -- offense, defense, special teams -- and we can't keep going into halftime with a lead and blowing those games. That's hard on you, man, especially at home. In this league you've got to win at home, and we've let too many get away."
Said quarterback Mark Brunell: "No one really keeps track of it or thinks about it going back to 2004. I think guys pretty much just think about the last time it happened, and unfortunately for us that's fresh in our minds. Certainly, it's something we don't want to happen, and we've got to keep from happening. We just haven't won a lot of games, period, the last few years. That's what's really frustrating."