Niles Paul couldn’t manage a smile, one of the few Washington Redskins players unable to do so after Sunday’s emotional overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens. That’s because, if it weren’t for instant replay, his late fumble could have cost the Redskins the game, and, perhaps, their playoff chances.
Returning Justin Tucker’s kickoff with under five minutes left and the Redskins down eight, Paul ran toward the sideline and the ball popped out. David Reed recovered and the Ravens celebrated.
“I knew I messed up,” an inconsolable Paul said afterward. “It can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen. It should never happen.”
Because there was a turnover on the play, it was automatically reviewed in the booth. It was unclear if Reed gained possession before going out of bounds.
“I was hoping that the [replay] was turned over and the ball was out of bounds,” Paul said.
When referee John Parry returned with the verdict that Reed did not recover the fumble in bounds, the relief was palpable at FedEx Field. One last chance was still alive.
“It was relief but I know that I took away the possible momentum that we would’ve had, any momentum we would’ve had, on that fumble,” Paul said. “I was down. I was down.”
Even after Robert Griffin III led the offense down the field and Kirk Cousins finished the drive off with a touchdown and tying two-point conversion, Paul was still focused on his blunder.
“I take what I do serious,” Paul said. “I really just wanted another opportunity to go out there and make a play.”
This was Paul’s chance to validate coach Mike Shanahan’s trust in him on kickoffs. Brandon Banks was made inactive Sunday as the Redskins adjusted their game-day roster, and Paul took over kickoff return duties, while Richard Crawford took over punt returns.
Crawford had the 64-yard return that set up Kai Forbath’s game-winning field goal in overtime.
“[I told Banks] ‘We’re a little short in the secondary, so I’m going to give [Crawford] a chance to give him an opportunity to return punts and I’m going to give Niles Paul an opportunity,” Shanahan said. “I said ‘You be ready.’ I said ‘I think these guys deserve an opportunity to show us what they can do both in the kickoff return and the punt return. But we might need you next week or the week after that, so keep on working. I’m not sure when your next opportunity will come, but you’ve got to help our football team win.’ “
Paul was understandably disappointed because his kickoff return mistake didn’t help the Redskins win.