A Kick to the Gut

Fred Smoot sits dejectedly after the Bills' decisive field goal with four seconds left. The kick was shortened by 15 yards to 36 after Coach Joe Gibbs called consecutive timeouts, resulting in a penalty.
Fred Smoot sits dejectedly after the Bills' decisive field goal with four seconds left. The kick was shortened by 15 yards to 36 after Coach Joe Gibbs called consecutive timeouts, resulting in a penalty. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

In the final, frantic moments of another close game after the most difficult week the Washington Redskins could remember, Coach Joe Gibbs sought help before making a key decision yesterday against the Buffalo Bills. It was Gibbs's leadership that had helped the Redskins move forward in the wake of safety Sean Taylor's death from a gunshot wound last week, but Gibbs needed someone to guide him while the Bills lined up for the second time to attempt a potential game-winning field goal.

Unsure about the rules regarding the use of timeouts in an attempt to "freeze" a place kicker, Gibbs said he consulted an official along the sideline, asking whether he could call another timeout after the one he had used a moment earlier, before Buffalo's Rian Lindell sent the ball through the uprights from 51 yards away. Regardless of what the official told Gibbs, his decision to call consecutive timeouts in that situation led to a 15-yard penalty.

"To be quite truthful, I made a decision there at the end that very likely cost us the game," Gibbs said. "That's on me."

Put in position to make a shorter kick in the rain because of Gibbs's gaffe, Lindell connected again, this time on a 36-yard field goal with only four seconds remaining on the clock. The Bills rallied for a 17-16 victory in front of 85,831 at FedEx Field, writing an ending that Washington and its fans had hoped to avoid in the team's first game since Taylor's death. The Redskins got the ball back with three seconds left and ran two plays. Quarterback Jason Campbell's final pass landed incomplete and the Redskins had a four-game losing streak for the first time since Oct. 10, 2004.

"First off, we can't have consecutive timeouts. That's number one," referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter. "Number two, if that timeout is called to freeze the kicker, it becomes unsportsmanlike conduct."

On a day the Redskins (5-7) honored Taylor, the offense again bogged down near the end zone. Washington, however, remained in the race for an NFC wild-card berth as it stumbles to the finish, losing for the fifth time this season -- and 15th time since 2004 -- in a game in which it had led at halftime.

The squandered leads have coincided with Gibbs's second stint with the Redskins, and his game management again was in question against the Bills. But this time, Gibbs directed the spotlight at himself, acknowledging he should have known the rules.

"I asked the official on the sideline. I asked, 'Can I call a second timeout?' " Gibbs said. "It's something I shouldn't have done. I should have known. That's on me to put the blame on that."

Most players offered their support for Gibbs, whom they said has shouldered a heavy burden since Taylor died.

"When I first saw the commotion, I was hoping it had been a procedural penalty on Buffalo," left guard Pete Kendall said. "After that, after it was explained, my first thought was I felt for whoever called that. To find out that it was Coach Gibbs, after the week that he's been through, my heart just breaks for him."

Trailing 16-14, the Bills took over on their 22-yard line with 56 seconds to play after the Redskins, with a chance to run out the clock, gained only one first down on their previous possession. Washington had opportunities to break the game open early against the Bills (6-6), who were playing without their top two running backs and had lost two in row.

The Redskins were on an emotional high before the game dedicated to Taylor's memory (linebacker London Fletcher shouted at his teammates to "fly around like Sean" while they lined up in the tunnel), and they were within Buffalo's 15-yard line three times in the first half. But the Redskins settled for Shaun Suisham field goals of 27, 28 and 33 yards in taking a 9-2 halftime lead.

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