Monday, December 4, 2006
Did one bad series sink the Redskins?
ASHBURN, Va. -- In the first quarter, the Washington
Redskins made it clear they were going to run the ball. The Atlanta
Falcons couldn't do anything about it.
Ladell Betts to the left for 15 yards. Betts to the right for 9
yards. T.J. Duckett up the middle a couple of times. The Redskins
ran plays with an extra lineman and only one wideout -- blocking
receiver James Thrash -- leaving no pretense that a pass was even a
Jason Campbell threw only two passes in 14 plays during the
team's two first-quarter drives Sunday. The Redskins took a 14-0
Then came Series No. 3. With good field position near midfield,
play-calling coach Al Saunders decided to go for the kill, even
though the run had been working so effectively.
"We had the defense on their heels," Campbell said. "We
thought it was time to take advantage."
First down was a pass caught by Santana Moss -- out of bounds.
Second down was a gadget play, a reverse to Antwaan Randle El that
lost 2 yards. Third down was an incomplete pass to Randle El.
The Redskins punted. The Falcons drove the ball downfield for a
field goal. The momentum was lost for good. The Redskins never
scored again and lost 24-14, dropping their record to 4-8 and
ending all talk about a late-season surge to the playoffs.
"I never want to pinpoint one series," Moss said. "But, as a
player, I was kind of disappointed that we didn't so something more
That one failed series was the subject of analysis and
over-analysis at Redskins Park on Monday. Some players, while
delicately avoiding direct criticism of Saunders' play-calling,
wondered why team went away -- even temporarily -- from the
smash-mouth identity coach Joe Gibbs is trying to forge once again.
To be fair, the third drive is only one of many reasons why the
Redskins lost. The defense, missing secondary starters Shawn
Springs and Troy Vincent because of hamstring injuries, allowed a
season-high 256 yards rushing and a 62-yard pass play to a tight
end. When Saunders got back to basics in the third quarter,
Campbell ruined a promising run-dominated drive by throwing an
On the next drive, the run-first mentality was thwarted when
Betts was swamped by massive defensive tackle Grady Jackson for a
6-yard loss. On the following drive, two runs set up a third-and-5
pass that was tipped incomplete. It wasn't until the fourth
quarter, when the Redskins were trailing by 10, that Campbell had
to pass more.
For his part, Gibbs was less bothered about the third series and
more concerned with the fact that his team was once again dominated
in the second half. The Redskins have been outscored 141-90 after
halftime this season.
"These next four weeks, we've got to finish ball games," Gibbs
said. "It's not only got to be Redskins football for a half, we've
got to finish an entire game."
The final four weeks becomes audition time for coaches and
players. Saunders is the first assistant coach Gibbs has ever
trusted with play-calling duties. Will that arrangement stay intact
next season? Assistant Gregg Williams' irascible ways were
tolerated when the defense played well in 2004 and 2005, but how
about now -- when his defense is ranked 28th? Veterans and rookies
alike will be playing for jobs. Campbell's performance will
determine whether he's really the quarterback of the future.
"I'm curious to see how we finish because that's going to have
a lot to say about the way people look at us," Gibbs said. "And
the way we feel about ourselves."
As for Gibbs himself, after initially declining to answer
questions about his future, said he plans to return next year.
"There is no equivocation. I plan on going forward and being
the coach again," Gibbs said. "As long as I feel like this is
where I'm supposed to be, I'm going to be here."