By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007
There had been some talk among players and coaches on the Washington Redskins' defense during the week about the possibility. But it didn't become official until Saturday night at the team's hotel, when Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, told his players they would begin yesterday's game against the Buffalo Bills with only 10 men on the field as a tribute to slain safety Sean Taylor.
"It was [Williams] who made the decision and we agreed," defensive end Phillip Daniels said in the Redskins' locker room after their 17-16 loss. "We did it [Saturday] night. We just felt comfortable starting the game that way. No one disagreed. Everyone said, 'This is what we're gonna do.' I think it was a great tribute to him. That's what we had to do. We had to put him somewhere out there with us."
The Redskins lined up their lone safety, rookie LaRon Landry, extremely deep on the play to try to prevent the Bills from completing a long pass. The Bills handed the ball to tailback Fred Jackson on a sweep to the left, and he got to the outside for a 22-yard run before being knocked out of bounds by Landry. Safety Reed Doughty jogged on the field for the Redskins' second defensive play, giving them a full complement of 11 players for the remainder of the game.
"That was something we talked about as a team and we kept it under wraps," Doughty said. "It was important for us to know as a team that Sean was with us. That was special. . . . It was just something we wanted to do. I think it was an important tribute to him."
Williams said he didn't inform the Bills beforehand of the Redskins' first-play intention, but added: "Everybody can count."
However, Bills Coach Dick Jauron said after the game he'd been unaware that the Redskins had begun with 10 players on the opening defensive play.
The Bills ended up punting to conclude their opening drive, so the Redskins were at no competitive disadvantage. Still, Coach Joe Gibbs mostly avoided the topic when asked about it during his postgame news conference.
"It's probably better for me to talk to Gregg about it before I comment on it," Gibbs said.
Williams said later: "Defensively we got together and we knew we could minimize any kind of explosive play. We were gonna let [Taylor] ride with us one more time. It was pretty much unanimous, the defensive staff and defensive players. After that, we got down to our business."
On a day filled with tributes to Taylor, his defensive teammates thought theirs was appropriate.
"He's always with us. [Number] 21 was out there," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "He didn't have a jersey on, but he was with us. We had faith they wouldn't score. Coach Williams thought of it and we all came aboard on it."
Said veteran cornerback Shawn Springs: "It just came about. We went out there as a way to honor Sean. It was a sad moment for us, but it was a way to honor him."
Springs said perhaps the most difficult moment of the difficult day was having to dress at his locker before the game without Taylor at the next locker. Smoot said he had tears in his eyes for much of the Bills' first two drives.
"I didn't show up to play this game for the playoffs," Smoot said. "I showed up to play this game as a tribute to my friend. We found a way to mess it up."
For the Redskins, the trying day became a disappointing one when they lost on a field goal.
"Everybody just wanted to honor Sean as a football player and as a man," cornerback Leigh Torrence said. "The football problems, we fought the same ones we've been fighting all season. I feel terrible that we came up a play short."
Said Springs, "Winning a football game would have been really honoring Sean."
But just making it through the day was an accomplishment of sorts.
"Every down time, you'd think of Sean," Daniels said. "We tried to put our pain aside and play football. It was hard. But under the circumstances, I think we did the best job we could. It wasn't easy to go out there and play [yesterday]. But I just told myself to go out and play the way Sean did. . . . We wanted to win this game for him. For us not to win it, it hurts. At least he started the game with us."