He never forgot the need to celebrate victories and keep losses in perspective. More than once, he heard his coaches bitterly criticize this or that player in post-game staff meetings. He would sit silently, looking at the game films again and again, before stating his view. "Don't blame him for that throw," he once told an assistant. "He's got a hand in his face right there. He couldn't see the play. If our protection is better, he doesn't throw that interception."
After the Dallas defeat, the Redskins rebounded by winning six of their next eight games. But each victory exacted a toll. Jim Lachey was gone with a knee injury. Darrell Green broke an arm.
In defeating Seattle on the road in Game 9, an injured Joe Jacoby was forced to come off the bench and finish the game for an also injured Moe Elewonibi. Jacoby played despite an extremely painful pinched nerve in his neck. Around the NFL, the 16-3 score may have been seen as part of the continuing struggle of a defending Super Bowl champion. But the next day at Redskin Park, Gibbs was effusive in his praise: "What Joe Jacoby did for us yesterday is not going to be forgotten around here for a long time."
Gibbs always stressed the importance of praising players in public and criticizing them in private, one-on-one sessions. He knew that players loved to have the admiration of their peers. Fat contracts and media coverage were nice, but nothing meant more to a player than the respect of those he went to war with.
So Gibbs gave out something called the "Leather Balls" award after each victory. That was for a tough guy. He awarded reserved parking spaces for the player of the week or the special-teams star. When a player was having trouble, though, he would bring him into his office and begin the talk with something like: "Is everything okay at home?"
Another remarkable individual effort followed the next week in Kansas City, where the decimated Redskins simply were no match for the hot Chiefs. But even though they lost, 35-15, a hero emerged. After the game, cornerback Martin Mayhew approached a team doctor and said, "My arm is really hurting." He had complained about it in the first half, telling defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon that he was unable to crowd the line and make contact with a receiver because of the pain. The doctor ordered an X-ray and it revealed that Mayhew had played the second half with a broken bone in his arm. Mayhew buried his face in his hands and cried when he heard the news.