By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs delivered an animated defense of several critical decisions from Sunday's 33-25 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles during his weekly news conference yesterday, including using a timeout early in the second half and a failed draw play near the goal line with about five minutes to play.
The loss marked the 13th time since 2004 that Gibbs's team has dropped a game it led at halftime, and brought renewed scrutiny of the Hall of Fame coach.
Gibbs was adamant that what he called "such a bad spot" of the ball after a third-and-one rushing attempt by fullback Mike Sellers forced him to use a timeout in order to kick a field goal on fourth down. He could, however, have taken a five-yard delay of game penalty and been left with a 28-yard kick. The Redskins were out of timeouts when Gibbs lost a replay challenge with eight minutes to play, limiting their ability to come back once the Eagles pulled ahead.
Washington (5-4) has failed repeatedly to get in the end zone when near the goal line, and his decision to run the ball Sunday rather than throw it on third and goal from the 7 was second-guessed as well. The Eagles stopped tailback Clinton Portis and forced another short field goal.
Gibbs, who has a 26-31 record since returning, has been scrutinized for game management throughout his second tenure. Issues with getting plays called on time, timeouts and replay challenges have flared up for four seasons. Decisions whether to kick a field goal or what play to run on fourth down and the use of timeouts have been questioned repeatedly this season. The coach insists his choices were sound, including taking a timeout before calling for a 23-yard field goal to provide a 15-7 lead on the opening drive of the third quarter.
"This is one of the key points in the game," Gibbs said. "Do I want an eight-point lead at that point, or do I want to go for it? Now, standing here today there's probably a lot of people in here who would say you should have gone for it. But for me, I thought it was a smart thing to do at that point, and certainly that's something I could be scrutinized for. That's part of it, but I thought the smart thing to do was kick a field goal."
Gibbs said several times yesterday that Sellers's mistimed leap from three yards behind the line of scrimmage should have been at least near a first down; it was in fact spotted at the 5 for no gain. Gibbs considered challenging the spot, but those challenges are exceedingly difficult to win, so, incensed, he began screaming for a first-down measurement that never came. Measurements are at the discretion of the officials, who deemed the spot not close to a first down.
Several members of the field goal unit began trickling onto the field with about eight seconds left on the play clock, but there was uncertainty among the players coming on and off the field as to what they were to do. Gibbs used the timeout with about three seconds left on the play clock.
"There was a lot involved with that and also I wanted to make sure we had the right people in there," Gibbs said. "That was the right time to call time out."
Lineman Lorenzo Alexander, a member of the field goal unit, said that by the time a decision to kick came from Gibbs, time was running out.
"We were just waiting on the word so we could run out there and kick it," Alexander said. "And then by the time we got out there I don't think we had time to get it done."
Kicker Shaun Suisham said, "I just waited to go on the field until I'm told to, and we were going to run out of time there and then they made the decision to call time out."
Gibbs was unflinching in his defense of the draw play as well, although Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson commented after the game that he expected it. Gibbs allowed quarterback Jason Campbell to decide at the line whether to run the draw or pass. He praised Campbell for opting for the draw play, although Portis fell three yards short of the goal line. Gibbs also had a terse assessment of Johnson's comment: "Normally they do [know what play is coming] after it's over with. . . . They're always pretty sharp on that."
Early in Gibbs's second tenure, issues with play-calling and time management were chalked up to his lengthy retirement and the natural kinks of a new coaching staff.
When Gibbs brought in associate head coach Al Saunders to call plays in 2006 it was supposed to help streamline the operation, leaving the head coach to focus on crucial decisions such as when to use timeouts, kick field goals or go for two-point conversions. Yet the problems persist.
In their first meeting with Philadelphia, trailing 6-3 late in the first half, there was puzzlement on the sideline about whether Gibbs would opt for a field goal on second down from the 11, with the unit finally scrambling to the field. Eagles Coach Andy Reid called time out, and with the chance to rethink, Gibbs opted to go for it, resulting in a touchdown pass for a 10-6 lead the Redskins never surrendered.
Against the Giants in September, Gibbs was asked about calling for a spike on first down at the 1, to allow run personnel to get on the field, then opting for a pass play on second down after New York called a timeout. The pass was incomplete and Washington lost the game.
There was also confusion in the fourth quarter at Green Bay as to whether Gibbs would call for a long field goal trailing by three with seven minutes to play. After using their second timeout, the Redskins called for a fourthdown pass to reserve tailback Ladell Betts on a route not intended to cross the first-down marker, Betts said. It was stopped, and they lost 17-14.
Several veterans said they have learned to brace for confusion on the sideline in crucial situations, and doubt it will change nearly four years into the regime.
"It's frustrating, but it's not anything new to us," one said. "We look at it like it's something we have to overcome."
Another veteran said that players talk among themselves about the coaching decisions, but that he did not sense the players would begin turning on Gibbs, who has praised their effort each week. Tackle Chris Samuels, a Redskin since 2000, said the players have more than their own share of problems to overcome, rather than worrying about coaching decisions.
"I just take care of my business, I don't question what the coach calls," Samuels said. "He gets paid a lot of money to do his job."