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Insignificant But Not Unimportant

Dec 3, 2007, 1:30 PM EDT

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Let’s be clear on one thing—Joe Gibbs’ decision to call a second consecutive timeout as Rian Lindell was lining up for a game-winning field goal did not cost the Redskins the game. Lindell had nailed his first boot, the one negated by the first timeout, with plenty to spare and there was almost no way he was going to miss the second try from there.

This game was lost on the Redskins’ opening drive when Chris Samuels flinched when the offense was lined up to go for it on fourth and inches on the Buffalo five, setting the first half pattern of having to settle for field goals after getting deep into Bills territory. It was lost when the offensive line couldn’t handle the defensive line of the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL, creating no holes for Clinton Portis and giving Jason Campbell precious little time to throw for most of the game. It was lost the play before the pass that set up Lindell’s winning field goal when Fred Smoot missed a tackle on Roscoe Parrish, allowing the receiver to dash out of bounds. If that tackle is made in the field of play, the clock runs out after that pass to Josh Reed before Lindell ever has a chance to line up. It was lost when Trent Edwards’ pass drops into the hands of the lone blue jersey amidst a sea of white.

And, truth be told, the game was lost at about 3:30 on Tuesday morning when Sean Taylor’s heart stopped beating. Football is a game of emotion and the Redskins had expended a ton of it during the course of the week. When they went up 16-5 it appeared that the Redskins simply ran out of emotional gas. There is only so much in the human tank in a given period of time. Usually, even in a losing locker room, there is some energy there, some adrenaline still flowing. Yesterday there was nothing left but tear-filled eyes and deep sighs.

Joe Gibbs, however, does not get a pass here. Calling the timeout was an inexcusable coaching blunder, period. The fact that it was not why the Redskins lost a game does not make it any less of a colossal mistake or any more excusable. If it was an isolated instance of mangled game management, a rare brain fart in the midst of a season of brilliant strategic maneuvers, that would be one thing. What makes it disturbing, even alarming, is the fact that it wasn’t shocking to see Gibbs make such a mistake.

As strictly a side note, I have to wonder why the official standing near Gibbs apparently indicated that it was OK to call the second timeout. I knew that you couldn’t call consecutive timeouts; I did not know that doing so would result in a 15-yard penalty if the kicker was on the field. I thought that the official simply would ignore the illegal timeout request. Perhaps Gibbs thought so, too. But, the last time I looked at my pay stubs I wasn’t being paid $5 million a year to know these things.

And what about Gibbs not knowing about the “missing man” formation on the first play that the defense ran? Again, if it was an isolated incident of miscommunication or non-communication among the members of the coaching staff, it would be something to be shrugged off.

After the game yesterday I was talking to a writer who has been covering the team for a long time. He told me that there was a growing feeling among those who cover the team that this will be Gibbs’ last year. The theory—and it’s just that, it’s nothing that’s based on any inside information—is that Taylor’s death will make Gibbs think about his own life. Why should he work 80 hours a week when he doesn’t need to? Why put up with the aggravation when he could be bouncing grandchildren on his knees?

It’s Gibbs’ call and it should be. After a couple of years of believing that Gibbs would do what he has said many times and fulfill the full five years of his contract, many are starting to think that the call will be to walk away.

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