The Washington Redskins long had taken pride in their special teams, but earlier this season those special teams were struggling. So, some changes were made and the pride is back.
Gary Anderson wishes his Pittsburgh Steelers would do the same thing.
"We just backed ourselves up against the wall with our special teams and that cost us the game," said kicker Anderson, who had three field goals in his team's 30-23 loss to the Redskins in front of 59,293 at Three Rivers Stadium. "I thought Scotty Campbell did a good job (at quarterback) under the circumstances, and we scored enough points, but we just gave them too many."
Ken Jenkins ran back Anderson's opening kickoff to the Steelers' three, which set up George Rogers' one-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Jenkins finished with 167 yards on three kickoff returns and 30 yards on two punt returns.
"The thing that hurt us the most today, obviously, was the kicking game," Steelers Coach Chuck Noll said. "We got lousy field position and they got touchdowns and field goals off that."
Asked if there was a specific breakdown on the opening kickoff, Noll said, "Yeah, they blocked us. That's a breakdown."
Anderson isn't doubting the talent on the Steelers' special teams, but he does question the aspirations.
"I don't think we set high enough goals," Anderson said. "We seem to be content to make the tackle on the 25-yard line. If we make a tackle between the 20 and 25, we think we're doing well, whereas most teams only consider that to be so-so.
"From watching the Kansas City game (a 36-28 Steelers victory) a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that we start pulling up when we get to the 25. We don't have any penetration, guys getting down there."
The Redskins have a special teams coach, Wayne Sevier. The Steelers' special teams are coached by Noll. Perhaps he's spreading himself too thin?
"I just try to do my job," Anderson said diplomatically. "All I know is that we're not very good on special teams. It's sad to say, and I try to keep my mouth shut, but something's got to be done about it now. But, in a way, it's too late. It's cost us. That (kickoff return coverage) and other aspects of the special teams, like not getting the right formation on a punt and having it blocked. It's too bad when you have to learn from really bad mistakes that cost you a game."
The punt was blocked on the Steelers' second drive, the first having ended with Anderson's 22-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Punter Harry Newsome's kick was blocked by the Redskins' Otis Wonsley and the ball was recovered by Steeler Darryl Sims at the 19. Three plays later, Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder hit tight end Clint Didier on an 18-yard touchdown pass for a 14-3 lead.
Wonsley was in position to get to the kick because of Raphel Cherry. On the punt, Cherry, who started at strong safety, lined up against the Steelers' wide man. As the ball was snapped to Newsome, Cherry charged instead of blocking as he normally might, and caused chaos in the Steelers' blocking scheme.
"The snap was good but they were right there," Newsome said. "I didn't see where they all came from, and I don't want to name names, but I think Gregg Carr missed the block."
Carr had moved outside to help on Cherry, which allowed Wonsley to go up the middle for the block.
Ironically, the idea for that play came from the same film Anderson cited in diagnosing his team's kickoff coverage problems.
"We had seen Kansas City do a similar thing a couple weeks ago," Sevier said. "We thought we could take that one step further. If they overreacted to Cherry, that would free Otis, and that's what happened. They did a good job of picking up Cherry but they didn't get Otis."
The other major Steeler gaffe belonged to left defensive end Keith Willis.
With 38 seconds to go in the first half, Schroeder threw incomplete on first down. As the play ended, Willis and Redskins guard Ken Huff got in a shoving match, and Willis then landed an overhand right to Huff's face mask. The 15-yard penalty set up Mark Moseley's 39-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.
"Personally, I probably hurt my team," Willis said. "But I wasn't thinking of that at the time."
Willis didn't like some of tackle Mark May's tactics, even if he couldn't remember May's name.
"Mike May was doing it," Willis said. "Huff came over, I guess he figured Mike May couldn't hold his own. Both were coming at me, and it was the type of thing where I swung at the first guy in front of me. He (May) was playing up in my face mask. I disapprove of that quite a bit."