By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
As they continued to work through their grief over the death of safety Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins went back to the business of football yesterday, practicing in preparation for tomorrow night's game against the Chicago Bears and hoping to end a four-game losing streak that has brought renewed criticism of Coach Joe Gibbs's game management.
Gibbs is under scrutiny after acknowledging he didn't know the Redskins would be penalized for calling consecutive timeouts in an attempt to "freeze" a kicker, and his ignorance of the rule put the Buffalo Bills in position to kick a game-winning 36-yard field goal in Sunday's 17-16 loss.
"Just like the players, you hold them accountable, you hold yourself accountable, too," Gibbs said after practice yesterday. "I said to them what I needed to say. I felt strongly about that right after the game and I still do. What's important for me to do is address that and say, 'Hey, if I mess up, then I need to say it.' I'm continually going to them and saying, 'Hold yourself accountable.' . . . Hopefully, I'll be able to live through this one."
Although they lost Sunday for the fifth time this season -- and 15th time since 2004 -- in a game in which they led at halftime, the Redskins (5-7) are only one game back in the wild-card chase, in a crowded pack that also includes the Bears (5-7).
In Gibbs's second stint as coach, the Redskins lead the league in squandering halftime leads, with Sunday's game the latest example. With eight seconds remaining and the Redskins leading, 16-14, Buffalo's Rian Lindell lined up to attempt a 51-yard kick. Gibbs called the team's second timeout just before Lindell sent the ball through the uprights in the rain, and then Gibbs sought help from an official, trying to determine whether he could use the Redskins' final timeout before the Bills attempted another kick.
In the back and forth during those final, frantic seconds, Gibbs said he thought the official said "yes" but wasn't sure. Regardless, the decision to call consecutive timeouts in that situation led to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and Lindell made the shorter field goal. Gibbs acknowledged Sunday he should have known the rules.
The NFL agreed.
In an e-mail response to a reporter's question about whether officials are obligated to assist coaches who seek help as Gibbs did, Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations, wrote, "There is no such obligation."
The criticism of Gibbs comes as the team is struggling off the field as well. Some players acknowledged they're still dealing with the loss of Taylor, who died Nov. 27 after being shot the previous morning in his Miami home.
"It's not something that you can just forget about. He was our teammate," linebacker Marcus Washington said. "Only time is going to heal it. With everything that's happened . . . it's tough."
A win tomorrow would help matters. Sunday's loss, the team's fourth in a row, means that, since a 2-0 start, the Redskins are 3-7. They also had a four-game losing streak in the games after Gibbs returned to coaching in 2004. With a loss to the Bears, Washington would match its longest skid under Gibbs, who lost his first five games during his debut in 1981. That team finished 8-8.
The decision to call consecutive timeouts against the Bills was among the worst decisions of his career, Gibbs said, and he accepted criticism as being "part of it. All the great things about coaching in the NFL, you also realize there's that side of it. It's part of what you do. You've got to realize that's part of it."
Lindell is the league's most accurate kicker, having converted 91 percent (20 of 22) of his field goal attempts. He kicked five field goals against Washington and had just made a 51-yarder that didn't count because of the timeout. Although Gibbs's mistake put Lindell in position to make a shorter kick, Lindell may have made a field goal from 60 yards with the way he has kicked this season, players said.
"He had just made one" from 51 yards, defensive lineman Cornelius Griffin said. "It's not just on Coach Gibbs. No way is it just on him."
Said left guard Pete Kendall: "I know that it's easy to blame the guy who strikes out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. . . . But there were was a lot of football played before that."
In their 19-13 loss Nov. 25 at Tampa Bay, the Redskins still were in the game in the second half after losing four fumbles in their first 16 plays from scrimmage. They scored a touchdown on the opening possession after halftime and were in position to kick a field goal on their next drive, but on fourth and one at Tampa Bay 4, with the Redskins still needing to score twice to take the lead, Gibbs decided to go for the first down. Running back Clinton Portis was stopped for no gain.
Shaun Suisham made a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which would have put the Redskins within three of tying the score had they been successful on a short field goal attempt on the drive that ended with Gibbs's gamble. Instead, needing to score a touchdown, the Redskins passed often down the stretch and quarterback Jason Campbell was intercepted on the final two drives.
"We all make mistakes, but when we lose a game, we all lose a game together," Campbell said. "When it comes down to it, you can look at all the close games [the Redskins have lost], it's not about one play. If we had done things earlier in those games that we were supposed to have done, it wouldn't came down to that.
"Coach has a lot of pride. He's been a Super Bowl coach and he's been on top. For the situations that we've been through . . . we all could be criticized a lot. But you do feel for him because this is probably the first time in a long time that people have been criticizing him the way that they have."
Gibbs's passion for his work hasn't wavered this season, he said.
"What I'm focused on is everything here," Gibbs said. "We've had [five] real bitter, tough losses at the end of games, and it's hard to go through that. What we're all focused on is some way for us to find a way to make a play and find a way to win a game. And in my case, make a good decision."