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.
As a tribute to Taylor, the Redskins played with only 10 players on defense on the Bills' first play from scrimmage. Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense, made the decision Saturday. "It was pretty much a unanimous choice from the defensive staff and the defensive players," Williams said. "We got out there and got to our business after that."
Bills running back Fred Jackson gained 22 yards on a sweep left, but the Redskins played well defensively throughout the game. Buffalo's only points in the first half came on a safety when linebacker Angelo Crowell tackled Campbell in the end zone. But the lead should have been bigger, players said.
"We had a lot of chances to score in the first half, a lot of opportunities to make the end of the game different, and we didn't take advantage of them," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "There were so many more blocks we could have made, so many more catches and throws we could have made. If we do that, everything at the end really doesn't matter."
Running back Clinton Portis scored the only touchdown on a three-yard run with 5 minutes 39 seconds left in the third quarter. The Redskins went ahead 16-5 and appeared to be in a good position despite their problems offensively, which included Campbell committing two more turnovers on a fumble and an interception (he has 13 turnovers in his last six games) and Portis rushing for only 50 yards on 25 carries.
But the Bills kept going behind rookie quarterback Trent Edwards, who was making his fifth start after being named early last week to replace J.P. Losman. Edwards didn't have any turnovers and completed 22 of 36 passes, outgaining Campbell in passing yards, 257 to 216. Meanwhile, Lindell kicked field goals of 38, 43, 24 and 33 yards as the Bills wouldn't go away.
"We weren't able to get the ball in the end zone, but we were moving the ball most of the second half," Buffalo wide receiver Josh Reed said. "We knew that we just had to go out there and fight until there was no time left on the clock."
Edwards began the game-winning drive with a five-yard completion to Jackson (16 carries, 82 yards). Edwards teamed with wide receiver Roscoe Parrish on a 10-yard pass and then found the seam in the Redskins' two-deep zone, dropping the ball in behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties for a 30-yard gain to Reed, putting the ball at the Washington 33-yard line. Edwards then spiked the ball to stop the clock with eight seconds to go.
"It's what we call a 'dig route,' " Fletcher said of the pass to Reed. "He caught a deep 'dig.' The quarterback made a play. Their offense probably made three plays today. The third one was the biggest. Obviously, it put them in field goal range."
Gibbs called the Redskins' second timeout just before Lindell's kick from 51 yards. Then Gibbs asked an official for help.
"I asked, 'Can I call a second timeout?' " Gibbs said. "On the sideline there, I felt like he said, 'Yes,' but that was me. I'm not laying it on him."
Gibbs said the official, whom he did not identify, turned to him and asked, 'Hey, when do you want to call it?' I said, 'Right now,' because they were getting ready to approach the ball. That certainly was my decision. I told the team it was a huge decision on my part. . . . I should know the rule. I can't blame that on somebody else. I got to blame that on myself. Hey, it was heated down there. Things are going back and forth."
The Bills appreciated the help, Lindell said.
"It kind of surprised me," he said. "You know that's 15 yards."