LANDOVER, Md. (AP)—Fred Smoot cried several times when he looked over to the safety position and Sean Taylor wasn’t there. Santana Moss held up his fingers to represent Taylor’s No. 21 after catching a pass. Clinton Portis revealed a T-shirt honoring Taylor after scoring the game’s only touchdown.
Drained before they ever took the field, the Washington Redskins somehow steeled their fragile emotions and played to honor their fallen teammate in front of 85,000 fans waving their No. 21 towels.
“It makes your heart drop all the way to your feet,” quarterback Jason Campbell said. “We wanted to come out here and win one for Sean.”
Five days after Taylor died from a gunshot wound in Florida, the Redskins defense did Taylor proud by not allowing a touchdown. Buffalo’s points came on five field goals and a safety.
But, on this of all days, a major gaffe by Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs played a key role in leaving Washington’s players disconsolate at the final whistle.
Lindell made a 51-yard attempt that didn’t count because Gibbs called timeout just as the ball was snapped. Gibbs then called another timeout as Lindell lined up a second time, but consecutive timeouts aren’t allowed in the NFL—and they result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when specifically called to freeze the kicker.
The penalty gave Lindell a much easier kick in the rain. His game-winner extended his streak to 17 consecutive made field goals, tying the franchise record.
Gibbs said he asked an official if it was OK to call a second timeout, and the coach thought the official said yes. Still, the harried moments of a game’s final seconds are hardly a good time to be learning the rule book.
“There’s nobody to blame but myself,” Gibbs said. “I should have known the rule.”
Afterward, players spilled their emotions in a room in which Taylor’s locker was sealed in Plexiglas, just as it is at Redskins Park, the team’s headquarters. They tried to exonerate Gibbs, saying that any number of mistakes and blown plays could have cost them the game.
More than anything, though, they were emotionally spent.
“I didn’t show up to play this game,” said Smoot, the Washington cornerback. “I showed up for a tribute for my friend, to send him out right, and we found a way to mess it up.”
On Wednesday, Taylor’s father, Pedro Taylor, addressed the Redskins and urged them to win five games in a row and make the playoffs. But Washington (5-7) has now lost four straight and is fading quickly from the postseason picture. The Redskins will fly to Taylor’s funeral Monday, then must try to find a way to focus for a Thursday night game against Chicago.
“I just hope as a team we can get down to Miami for the funeral and get some closure so that we can move forward,” defensive end Phillip Daniels said. “It’s been tough for everybody. … It wasn’t easy to get out there and play today.”
When the Redskins defense came on for the first time, Taylor’s safety position was vacant: Only 10 players were on the field for Jackson’s 22-yard run around the left end. Then Taylor’s replacement, Reed Doughty, ran out, and he was the one who made the tackle on the next play, a short pass to Josh Reed.
“It was important for the team to know that he was with us one last time on the field,” Doughty said. “That was special. It’s really difficult to be running out there taking over for somebody who is of legend proportions. It was really hard.”
Buffalo (6-6), with solid performances from rookie quarterback Trent Edwards and third-string running back Fred Jackson, broke a two-game skid to keep its AFC playoff hopes alive. But the Bills were unwelcome outsiders on a day that was part memorial service and part celebration, one that fittingly ended in a chilly autumn shower.
“It was a very emotional day for everybody,” Buffalo coach Dick Jauron said. “I’m sure more so for them, but we have a number of players on our squad that were very close to Sean—played with him in college or in the NFL. I thought that both teams really played hard, and that would honor him. That’s how he played the game. He played it all-out. It was a 60-minute game; that’s how he played the game.”
Fans held posters that called Taylor the “eternal 12th man.” Another read, “4-ever a Skin, 4-ever a Cane, 4-ever 21,” a reference to Taylor’s stellar college career at the University of Miami before the Redskins drafted him in the first round in 2004.
When Moss, one of Taylor’s closest friends on the team, caught his first pass, he pounded his chest and held up his index and middle fingers and his pinky. It was his way of spelling “21” for all to see. He repeated the gesture throughout the game, sometimes with both hands.
Portis, another close friend of Taylor’s, lifted his jersey to reveal a white shirt that included the words “In memory of Sean Taylor” after the 3-yard run that gave the Redskins a 16-5 lead in the third quarter and seemed to realize the promise that they would, indeed, win one for their departed teammate.
The gestures contrasted with the hard, cold facts of a football game. The Redskins offense had the same problem as in recent weeks: an inability to finish drives. Washington kept settling for 3 points instead of 7, with Shaun Suisham kicking first-half field goals of 27, 28 and 33 yards.
The Bills never did get a 7. Their only points in the first half came when Angelo Crowell sacked Campbell in the end zone for a safety. Lee Evans’ juggling catch set up a second-half field goal, and turnovers by Campbell on back-to-back possessions—defensive tackle Larry Tripplett forced a fumble and made a diving interception of a tipped ball—led to two more field goals.
Buffalo started its final drive at its 22 with 56 seconds remaining and no timeouts. A 31-yard pass to Josh Reed set up the winning kick that broke so many hearts.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jauron said, “that one of those teams had to lose on this day.”
Jackson, making his first NFL start because of injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Anthony Thomas, ran for 82 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 69 yards. … Edwards, who this week regained the starter’s job from J.P. Losman, completed 22 of 36 passes for 257 yards and improved to 4-1 as a starter. … The Redskins’ injuries included CB Shawn Springs (bruised back) and RT Todd Wade (bruised knee). … Redskins WR Antwaan Randle El (hamstring) missed a game for the first time in his six-year NFL career.