Last week the Washington Redskins faced off against the NFC leading Cowboys. The Redskins lost. This was not a surprise. The Cowboys were clear favorites. Terrell Owens scored four touchdowns. The Redskins were missing Sean Taylor. This was a game the Redskins were supposed to lose. Something surprising happened last Sunday afternoon though. The Redskins should have won the game.
Despite troubles in the secondary and a career game from TO, the Redskins should have won. They were in position to do so and I am not referring to only the final couple drives where all the pressure was on Jason Campbell to deliver in the most difficult of situations. Admittedly, Campbell came up short at the end of the best game of his young career. However, it was Joe Gibbs and his staff who put Campbell in the position to fail.
Two times in the second half, when it was apparent that the Redskins could not stop the Cowboy passing game, the Redskins did not go for it on fourth down and less than three yards to go. Late in the third quarter the Redskins punted from the Cowboys forty yard line. The Cowboys promptly drove down the field for a touchdown. Halfway through the fourth quarter, trailing by a touchdown and facing fourth and one, the Redskins opted for a field goal instead of going for it. Again the Cowboys responded by marching down the field for another TO touchdown catch.
The Redskins should have had a play that will gain two yards when they were needed. Especially on a day when the offense was clicking. Especially with an offense that is supposed to be centered around hard nosed running. The commentators were impressed with how well the Redskins were moving the ball but all the Redskins had to show for it was three points. But the Redskins were playing well enough to win. Twice they were marching. Twice they had good field position. If there were ever times to be bold those were the times. Instead the coaching staff played it safe, taking the game out of the hands of players. They were rewarded with a loss following awkwardly rushed final drives.
Later that day I sat watching the Patriots game. One play stuck out in my mind. Facing third and ten from the Bills forty yard line Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a touchdown. This by itself is not particularly surprising or interesting. However, on the replay I noticed something strange about how Moss got so open. Randy Moss and Wes Welker both lined up wide right and both ran deep patterns. Welker ran a deep post up the middle, pulling the safety along with him, leaving Moss with only a cornerback to attempt to cover him one on one. Touchdown. This is notable because Belichick showed no fear in his play calling. There was no ten yard crossing route that the linebackers could sit on. Belichick was rolling the dice on a well designed deep passing play, letting his best players make plays for him. He was rewarded for his bold but logical decision making. In a league that is always becoming more risk averse the bold play is often the smart play. Belichick regularly goes for it on fourth down and short because he knows that more than likely his team, as with almost every team in the NFL, can gain those one or two yards whenever they are needed. In a copycat league this is something that should probably be copied.
This week Joe Gibbs adjusted well. Twice he went for it on fourth and short in the second half when the Redskins needed to put points on the board. Once he even passed up an easy field goal to take the risk. His players failed to convert on one of them. I still stand by his call. His players should have been able to find a way to push their way to a one yard gain. A first down would likely have led to a touchdown which would have meant the lead. Considering how poor the Tampa Bay offense played taking the lead in the fourth quarter would have almost guaranteed a victory. Joe Gibbs let his players decide the game and this time it was they who came up short, not him. Even with the failed fourth down conversions the Redskins were in a position to win with Jason Campbell marching the team to within striking distance of the winning touchdown. The situation was eerily similar to last week’s and once again Campbell came up short. Not a good omen for the future. This time however, it was Campbell himself and the players around him who put him in a position to fail. Six turnovers ended up being too much to overcome. The Redskins were the better team today and once again should have won. My faith in Joe Gibbs has been temporarily restored as he adjusted well and gave his players a chance to win. This time they let him and themselves down. Hopefully today’s result won’t deter him from continuing to be open to some smart risk taking.