By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007
On the walk from his office beneath FedEx Field to the postgame interview room yesterday afternoon, Joe Gibbs frowned. His face seemed drawn, his glasses sagged on the bridge of his nose. Even though the Washington Redskins' 33-25 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was more than a half-hour old and the interview room was warm, Gibbs still wore his team jacket, zipped to the neck.
Never has he looked all of his 66 years of age more than he did yesterday afternoon. Once again, his team had betrayed him. Once again, a game the Redskins seemed to have won slipped away, just as games had earlier this year against the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.
This time the play that broke them was a touchdown by Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who caught a short pass, then cut through and out-sprinted the Redskins' defense to the end zone. But Washington's fate was sealed by a series of blunders, fumbles and penalties. And if that reality had not become clear to Gibbs during the game, it was all too obvious as he tried to explain another defeat that defied explanation.
A television cameraman sitting in the front row at the news conference said to Gibbs that the 6-3 record the team would have had with a victory might look better than its 5-4 mark -- particularly with a game in Dallas next Sunday -- and Gibbs nodded at the obvious point. "A whole lot better," he said.
Then Gibbs said the coaches talked endlessly to the players all week about the fact that the team could have gotten off to its best start in more than a decade with a win. It was a game the Redskins were widely expected to win given that they already had beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia in the season's second week.
"We knew there was a lot at stake and we made great preparation for it," Gibbs said. "All of us together made too many mistakes and we didn't capitalize on things."
On the wall several feet away from where the Hall of Fame coach stood, a television showed the game between the Cowboys and the New York Giants -- two NFC East rivals that are ahead of the Redskins in the standings. On the other side of the room, highlights of Green Bay's shutout victory over Minnesota played on another television. Juxtaposed, as they were, with Gibbs in the middle, one couldn't help but sense that the NFC's elite were pulling away from Washington, pushing the playoffs further and further away.
At 5-4, the Redskins probably need to win at least four of their last seven games to even have a chance at making the playoffs. And given that they are 3-3 against NFC teams, they likely need to win five. The problem is that five of those games are against teams with winning records, including two with Dallas (8-1), which is tied with Green Bay for the NFC's best record.
What made yesterday's loss sting even more was the fact that the Redskins led from late in the second quarter until only 3 minutes 16 seconds were left in the game and Westbrook made his run. For most of the day, Washington's stagnant offense had shown signs of life and quarterback Jason Campbell, still in his first full season as a starter, was trusted to throw the ball more. He passed for 215 yards and three touchdowns and ran a no-huddle offense as if he had been starting for years.
But a knee injury to safety Sean Taylor hobbled the defense, contributing to Westbrook's touchdown, and Campbell faltered in the final minutes, fumbling on one play that led to another Philadelphia touchdown and throwing several erratic passes in desperation at the end.
Standing in the interview room Gibbs looked perplexed as someone asked about the growing number of second-half collapses.
"I don't think anyone has the answer for that," he said.
Back in the locker room, Redskins left guard Pete Kendall said such games are the result of a league that wants parity among its clubs. It is by design, he said, with a salary cap and free agency system that doesn't allow many players to stay long with a team, which leads to situations such as yesterday's where something falls apart at the end.
When told Gibbs had looked drawn in his news conference, Kendall laughed dryly.
"These ones will do that to you," Kendall said. "I can relate and I'm only 34."
At the end of Gibbs's address, the coach was asked how someone like him who thrives on order could have a game in which his team ran out of timeouts early in the fourth quarter and was penalized for having 12 men on the field. He put a measure of blame on himself before eventually saying, "I'll take a long look at it."
Then he left the room, walking slowly down a concrete corridor and toward the hallway that opened to his game-day office. A security guard opened the hall door, then quickly shut it behind the coach. Despite his 150 regular season victories, Gibbs is just 26-31 in his second tour as coach, leading many to wonder if he will end his coaching career for good at season's end.
Later, after Gibbs changed out of his coaching clothes, he walked into the locker room, stopping to talk briefly to tackle Chris Samuels. Then he disappeared again.
"I feel bad for coach," Samuels said after Gibbs left. "We've got to find a way to win and learn to put people away. I respect Coach Gibbs. He's been the best coach I've ever had -- for who he is, his Christian leadership and the person he is. For us to lose these kinds of games is just not right."