The 12th Man
MINNEAPOLIS Clinton Portis was high-stepping along the back of the end zone, galloping for glory, goading more than 62,000 people who never saw this coming, this 32-21 knockout of their vanquished Vikings.
Portis was doing his jig because his coach had challenged a crucial call and won moments earlier, because Joe Gibbs's game-management skills had the same serrated edge as his team Sunday night.
He stood firm, an I-know-what-I'm-doing look crossing his mug. Gibbs would never describe it as vindication, but there had to be something so sweetly satisfying about winning such a crucial replay challenge with 8 minutes 58 seconds left in the game.
A number of assistants noticed 12 Vikings on the field, and Gibbs was told plainly in his headset before he threw the flag. Minnesota had recovered a fumble, had its mojo working and wanted so badly to send the Redskins back down the road to second-half ruin they had come to know so well.
But those dunce-cap days seem so far away. The coach who admitted he didn't know the rules about freezing a kicker on back-to-back timeout calls three weeks ago against Buffalo brought all his smarts to bear against the Vikings. That call crushed Minnesota's momentum and, amazingly, sent Gibbs's team home for a date with Dallas on the last weekend of the regular season.
After further review, Redskins' ball. After further review, the Redskins are stunningly one victory from the postseason.
This one was a little surreal and, given the rout on the scoreboard, completely unexpected. Gibbs and his maligned staff, who kept getting their wires crossed at the end of games, have called so many right plays and timeouts en route to a defining turnabout. These players who had given back so many games in the second half, who kept bemoaning their need to "finish the job," delivered the signature performance of this increasingly unpredictable season.
"Coach, how do you explain this journey -- 5-7, four-game losing streak, obviously mourning [Sean Taylor] off the field?" he was asked afterward.
"It's hard to really put in words, I think," Gibbs said. "We had four brutal, real tough, last-second losses. And four in a row. You figure that would probably take the life out of most teams. And then to emotionally lose Sean the way we did. I think all of that for us . . . I don't know if you can put it in words. I think it's just been a real long journey. I'm so proud of our guys that they're able to bounce back and play as hard as they have over the last three weeks."
If Joe Gibbs tales are your bag, all of this could have only happened here at the Metrodome. Indeed, beyond a resurgent Redskins team, the Vikings had another intangible going against them: a legendary coach's past.
This is the building where Gibbs has not lost a game. It is the place Gibbs won his last Super Bowl and where he won his last game during his first tenure as coach of the Redskins.
The Metrodome is a place for memories, sweet little reminders of a team and a time that exist mostly in the mind of a 67-year-old man who has tried in vain to recapture that feeling for four years. These players did their best to take Gibbs back Sunday night.