ATLANTA — Swarmed by controversy all week, his Washington Redskins coaching tenure seemingly hanging by a thread, Mike Shanahan proved aggressive as ever as he ordered a gutsy two-point conversion attempt with 18 seconds left on the clock rather than settling for a tie and likely overtime Sunday.
The Redskins failed in their attempt and lost, 27-26, suffering their sixth consecutive defeat while dropping to 3-11. But Shanahan’s players said they agreed with the coach’s call and drew encouragement from the gamble.
“He’s trying to win,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “No matter what, he’s trying to look at what’s best for the organization and the team and trying to figure out how to get a win for anybody — for every man in this locker room. I’m not going to say anything negative about him because he’s a heck of a coach, who’s getting killed right now, but he’s fighting to the end.”
A week ago, Shanahan came under scrutiny in the wake of a report that suggested he considered quitting following the 2012 season because of displeasure with Robert Griffin III’s relationship with owner Daniel Snyder. Redskins officials believed that Shanahan had leaked the report in an attempt to provoke Snyder to fire him.
Two days later, Shanahan decided to bench Griffin for the remainder of the season — reversing his stance that the second-year quarterback needed to continue to play through his struggles to continue his development.
Shanahan declined early in the week to address whether he wanted to return to the Redskins next season, and he refused to discuss the media reports or refute the notion that he had leaked them. Later in the week, Shanahan said that he still hoped to coach the team a fifth season, but that his focus was on getting a win in Atlanta.
Despite the controversy, Redskins players said Shanahan continued to carry himself in his usual manner. In the game, Shanahan appeared to give the same effort as he typically does, players said.
“He was the same Mike,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “Everyone liked the going-for-two call. We’re 3-10. You’ve got to be aggressive. We tried to get a win, but it didn’t work out for us. But we liked that he tried to put the game in our hands.”
Said running back Alfred Morris, “I was actually excited. We had nothing else to lose, you know? I think it was a great call. We had momentum on our side. We just drove down the field and got the touchdown and we had some key pickups on third down as well. . . . I just knew we were gonna get the two-point conversion. But it didn’t [go] in our favor. . . . We gambled on it and we lost. It happens. But at the same time, I’m 100 percent with Coach and I’m pretty sure everyone else in this locker room is 100 percent with Coach’s decision.”
The Redskins trailed the Falcons 27-20 with 3 minutes 25 seconds to play when Kirk Cousins directed a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Cousins completed 10 of 13 passes — the last being a three-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 18 seconds left to pull Washington within a point.
Rather than send on the kicking unit for a game-tying point-after attempt, Shanahan kept the offense on the field and went for the win.
“Well, we had a timeout and I was down there by the official on the sideline and through that if we had the right defense, or not, then I could call the timeout and kick it,” Shanahan said. “I thought we had the right defense, so we went for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Cousins took the snap and went for Pierre Garcon in the back of the end zone, but Desmond Trufant cut in front of the wide receiver and broke up the pass, sealing the victory for Atlanta.
“Great play call by Shanahan,” Garcon said. “We liked the play. I was all for it.”
Linebacker Brian Orakpo agreed, “There’s [two teams] not fighting for the playoffs so you might as well go for two, man. The way the offense was moving, it’s not a bad idea. We were all egging Coach on to do it. We all had a lot of confidence. It just didn’t fall our way. But I’m very proud of the way guys fought.”
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