That first season, Howard's performance was explained away by the fact that he had missed training camp and was playing behind Monk, Clark and Sanders. But others knew better. Gibbs himself faced the music after only a month or so of watching Howard on the practice field. He recalled saying in a meeting with Cooke: "Mr. Cooke, we blew it on this guy. It's my fault. I'll take the blame on this one. He's just not the player we thought he was."
Still, optimism was high as the Redskins flew to Dallas for a Monday night opener against the Cowboys. After the tumultuous training camp, Gibbs finally had his team intact. Even though many viewed the cocky young Cowboys as heir to the throne, Gibbs had confidence in his players. He loved their experience and work ethic, and he simply had seen them play too well too many times to feel otherwise.
Then Gibbs made one of the worst mistakes of his 12-year career. For four months, the Redskins had worked on the no-huddle offense that had been so successful at the end of 1991. He believed that with an experienced team, and especially with a quarterback as smart as Rypien, the no-huddle gave the Redskins huge advantages. It allowed the Redskins to dictate the game's pace. It prevented the defense from substituting players and adjusting to what the Redskins were doing. If Gibbs caught the Cowboys with extra defensive backs on the field, he simply would pound the ball inside to Byner and Ervins. If they were stacked to stop the run, he would send Clark down the sideline.
There was one problem that night: Texas Stadium was too noisy. Texas Stadium long had been one of the NFL's most glamorous addresses because of the mystique associated with its cheerleaders, its players and its long list of last-minute victories. But one of the untold stories was the fact that it was an easy place to play because its fans were so quiet.
Gibbs was so confident that Rypien could get the no-huddle plays called that no hand signals had been prepared and the Redskins stepped into a bear trap. Texas Stadium was a mad, roaring place that night, and it threw the Redskins off stride. Rypien was blind-sided on the first play, and things went downhill from there until Dallas won, 23-10. What the Redskins had done was assist in the coronation of a new king. The Cowboys were on their way to back-to-back Super Bowls, and three in four seasons.
The next morning at Redskin Park, Gibbs apologized to his players for his offensive game plan. He told them that he was proud of their effort and that the defeat simply made the next week's home opener against Atlanta even more important.
He always had a knack for knowing when to push players and when to praise them.