Loyalty Can't Be Questioned

The strain of late-game losses is becoming more visible for Coach Joe Gibbs.
The strain of late-game losses is becoming more visible for Coach Joe Gibbs. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Behind his usual Monday lectern, Joe Gibbs tried to explain what went wrong Sunday. As he always does, he skewered himself and emphasized, "We're all in this together."

Some of the people behind the cameras and microphones rolled their eyes at that one. We wanted more than answers; we wanted a pound of flesh.

Gibbs faced the most relentless barrage of questions about game specifics in the three-plus years of his Monday news conferences -- and maybe his career. For 36 unsparing minutes, he engaged in an uncomfortable game of Monday Morning Quarterback over decisions that led to Washington being out of timeouts with more than eight minutes left in the game. He got fed up enough with the contentious nature of the news conference that at one point he asked a reporter, "What would you have done?"

It wasn't a particularly good moment for anyone, especially for the man in the camera lens: the 66-year-old with the weathered creases in his temple, sifting for answers as best he could.

So how come 5-4 feels like 3-6 or 2-7 around here? "This is Washington. This is the Washington Redskins," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "This is a lot of history. This is Joe Gibbs."

A walk around the locker room revealed more of what Jansen was trying to convey. Besides making the playoffs, Gibbs's players have one other goal: They don't want to be associated with permanently tarnishing his legend, to be members of the team that sent a Washington icon back into coaching retirement.

It's one thing to play for self-respect, a new contract, a Lombardi trophy; it's quite another to also play for someone else's legacy.

"That's the Gibber," Antwaan Randle El said, with affection. "What he's done in the past, we want to try and get back to that. You ask yourself, 'Why isn't it working?' "

"You don't want to lose, period, but going through it with Coach Gibbs is a whole other plateau," Fred Smoot said.

For those waiting for any of the Redskins to turn on Gibbs -- to see whether a single soul will deign to call out the coach who, in the past three-plus years, has botched timeouts and replay challenges and whose team can't quite be disciplined enough to not commit procedural penalties in the crucible of a tight NFC East game -- keep waiting.

"We got one of the best coaches ever," Smoot said. "Why would you turn on him? That's stupid."

"If guys were here for 10 years and never won a game, I don't think the players would still turn on Joe," said Jansen, who is the longest-tenured Redskin, having played here since 1999. He remains months away from recovering from a broken leg that ended his season.

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