Redskins' loss to Vikings a temporary setback
Danny Smith, the Redskins' special teams coach, came back from the parking lot to explain. Left his car running, probably. He'd heard that his rookie, nice kid named Perry Riley, had bolted the locker room when he saw the waves of media at his locker.
We wanted to ask him about his block-in-the-back penalty that cost the Redskins a fourth-quarter touchdown for sure, a win most likely and virtually ended the team's hopes for a December playoff run. Little stuff like that. No pressure, just a few questions.
"It's a tough play. We'll have to look at the film," said Smith, who knows full well what he'll see. But that's what a craggy, hoarse 35-year coach says when it hurts too much to tell the truth. That's how you hide, just a little bit, when one flag costs Brandon Banks a 77-yard punt-return touchdown and what looked like a 20-17 Washington lead with seven minutes to play suddenly degenerates into a 17-13 win for Minnesota and cheers for star jerk Brett Favre.
"Inexperience shows. It's his first game playing full time in his career. He's hardly been active at all since St. Louis in September. This was his first full week of practice" as a starter, Smith said. "I'm not dissatisfied with him. He responded pretty good."
Actually, Riley responded better than that, phoning back to FedEx Field later to do some answering.
"Banks did a good job of setting the dude up. I thought I hit him on his shoulder rather than his back. Apparently, I hit him in the back and the call was made," said Riley, who also drew an illegal block penalty on a Banks return in the third period. "Of course I feel bad about it . . . I feel terrible.
"I'm going to go home and try to find [the replay]. I'm sure it's going to be on 'SportsCenter' or something."
This, presumably, concludes the Redskins' annual pursuit of a nonexistent visit to the Super Bowl. If they'd won to reach 6-5, their visit to the Meadowlands next Sunday to play the Giants would have been trumpeted as a chance for Mike Shanahan's team to join the December hijinks much sooner than expected.
At 5-6, a much more difficult, and perhaps more realistic, future comes into focus. The Redskins may well be underdogs in all five of their remaining games. And, given their waves of injuries, they'll have to stay fiercely committed to remain competitive.
This is a team that started the year with an offense that had been in shambles for a decade and has now been reduced to rubble. Injuries have promoted utterly unknown running backs to workhorse duty: Keiland Williams, who didn't start in college, and James Davis, activated Sunday. The offensive line is a desperate patchwork with a rookie, Trent Williams, as its strongest link.
Real pros hate excuses. But Smith, eventually, told the bare facts about why rookie Riley was playing full time on special teams: There's nobody else. "We had a lot of guys missing. We had to mix and match," he said. "There are a lot of guys laboring. On a lot of teams by this time [in the season], you come in Monday and say, 'How are we going to field a team?' "