A week ago, wide receiver Josh Morgan lost his cool and chucked a football at Cortland Finnegan, which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and potentially cost the Washington Redskins a victory over the St. Louis Rams. After the game, Morgan stood at his locker and answered every question sent his way, apologized and took full responsibility for what he’d done. “You can’t lose your poise,” Coach Mike Shanahan said at the time.
On Sunday, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for something he said to an official at the end of the Redskins’ wild 38-31 loss to the Bengals. The loss of those 15 yards wasn’t the decider in the game, but it sure didn’t help. Afterward, Kyle Shanahan, who normally does not talk to the media after games, was not made available despite requests from reporters. Mike Shanahan addressed the penalty in his postgame news conference, saying, “They threw the flag on us. They called it unsportsmanlike.”
Well, no. They threw the flag on Kyle Shanahan, not “us,” and Mike Shanahan didn’t mention “poise” when discussing it. The flag on Morgan was not on “us;” it was on Morgan, whose number was announced on the field and whose mistake was replayed incessantly. Yet despite taking responsibility for his boneheaded mistake — and it was — Morgan received death threats from idiots on Twitter.
Was it Mike Shanahan’s decision that Kyle refrain from talking to members of the media, or was it Kyle’s? That remains unclear, but Kyle issued a statement Monday through the team admitting his emotions “got the best” of him.
But the club should be ashamed that its players are better able to take the heat than its coaches. Morgan could easily have hidden from reporters after the loss to the Rams; for a player, all it takes is a trip to the training room and he can avoid all those messy questions. Instead, he stood by his locker and faced the media scrum. That took guts, and poise as well. It doesn’t negate his mistake, but at least he took responsibility for it. On Monday, Kyle Shanahan did as well.
“I know that I need to handle those situations better in the future,” he said in the statement. “My emotions got the best of me and I know it’s my responsibility. This will never happen again.”
Perhaps the Redskins feared a fine from the league if Kyle Shanahan spoke about the poor officiating. The official league line is that everything with the replacement refs is fine, and we know by now that Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t like to be contradicted.
Still, that’s a check the Redskins should be happy to write. The officiating Sunday against the Bengals was certainly a cut above that of a week ago, in St. Louis, but it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. Once again, the officials are constantly huddling to try to remember the rule book, and once again, the coaches are telling them what they should be calling.
All this consulting is turning NFL games into delay-filled marathons, and all the blown calls are turning coaches into powder kegs. (See also Belichick, Bill.)
Shanahan’s loss of control came after the Redskins tried to engineer a last second scoring drive without benefit of a timeout (a rare bad challenge by Mike Shanahan was costly). With seven seconds left in the game, the Redskins were at the Cincinnati 34-yard line. Griffin spiked the ball to give the team time to set up for a final shot at the end zone. On the next play, Fred Davis was called for a false start.
The Bengals thought they got a 10-second run-off of the clock in that scenario, and the team — the defense and everyone else — began milling about the field. But in that scenario, there isn’t a run-off. Apparently one or more officials told the Bengals the game was over. Apparently one or more officials told the Redskins the game was over. At least one other official knew it wasn’t.
Kyle Shanahan knew it too, and he pointed out — vociferously, apparently — that it wasn’t. He drew a 20-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, leaving Robert Griffin III to try to engineer a 59-yard touchdown drive in six seconds. He couldn’t do it, and that was the game.
If you watched the CBS telecast, you never found out who drew the flag. The officials didn’t give a name, and the announcers didn’t see it. The network’s Command Central flipped viewers to the Saints-Chiefs game so fast, we got whiplash. (In fact, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get summoned to New York as many times as CBS viewers do. I enjoy James Brown as much as the next person, but enough!)
The Redskins have bigger problems than this. They need to shore up a sieve-like defense that has given up 101 points and 1,050 passing yards in three games. They need to find weapons other than Griffin — it’s unreasonable to expect him to maneuver that crew into 35 points a game — and they need to provide some offensive consistency. Alfred Morris runs well, then he disappears; he had just two touches in the fourth quarter. Davis saw just two passes in the first half, but he ended up as the team’s leading receiver. And then there are the injuries.
But what message does it send Redskins players when their coaches won’t stand in front of the cameras and answer questions after a gaffe like that? To his credit, Kyle Shanahan took responsibility for his mistake. But as Morgan demonstrated, true accountability is facing the criticism in person when it’s loudest, not a day later behind the shield of a written statement.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.