Adding 15 Yards to a Long Week

Joe Gibbs talks with head linesman John McGrath following Gibbs's penalty.
Joe Gibbs talks with head linesman John McGrath following Gibbs's penalty. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Mike Wise
Monday, December 3, 2007

Five days after Sean Taylor died, this is almost as impossible to say and equally impossible to ignore: Joe Gibbs, a man of real conviction who held this team and franchise together through its most trying and tragic week, had nothing left at the end to do his job.

The coach of the beleaguered and emotionally beat-down Redskins admitted as much after the most devastating loss of this suddenly devastating season, at cold, gray FedEx Field, where a wake for 85,831 fans masqueraded as a football game.

"To be quite truthful, I made a decision there at the end that very likely cost us the game," Gibbs said afterward, putting a crestfallen 17-16 loss to Buffalo on the same shoulders that bore so much weight already this week.

"Nobody to blame but myself."

We kept reminding each other "it's only a game" all week, which is truly damning because it follows that it took the senseless killing of a young man to remind us. And yet, can anyone imagine a worse scenario to end such an awful, mind-numbing week for the coach and his team, how the moral compass of the Redskins -- not some live-wire assistant or adrenaline-rush player who could not think clearly -- called a second consecutive timeout to ice Bills kicker Rian Lindell?

The unsportsmanlike penalty gave Lindell 15 more yards to make a kick he had moments ago made from 51 yards and gave an already-reeling team a 5-7 record the day before it was to attend Taylor's funeral in Miami.

Now the harder dilemma: How much can one pile on criticism of Gibbs from here on out? How much can a coach who lost the best player on the team not to injury, but death, be taken to task at this moment?

Part of me wants to heap criticism on the coach who has now lost five second-half leads this season and 15 since 2004.

And if it was all right to play football this week -- and use the game as part of the grieving and recovery process, as so many players and coaches said -- well, when is it all right to talk about football? When is it all right to get into the dynamics of a team on a four-game losing streak that is in immediate danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season?

Hours before kickoff and at least up to the Redskins' first defensive formation, in which defensive boss Gregg Williams had 10 players rather than the usual 11 in what was a tribute to the absence of Taylor, this day was about No. 21 and the loss of him.

But at some point it became a football game, and these men are in the business of winning these games -- not pilfering them away with a brainlock decision so close to the end. Of all the on-field indignities Gibbs was capable of, pulling what almost amounted to a Chris Webber was not in the top five.

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