Down 14 points at halftime to a bad Philadelphia team in December 1986, Joe Gibbs went berserk in the Veterans Stadium visitor's locker room.
The Washington Redskins already had clinched a playoff spot and already knew they would be a wild-card team. But coming off two straight defeats, Gibbs wanted the Redskins to regain momentum, and trailing the Eagles sent him over the edge. He picked a fight with a table, sending oranges and cups of water flying.
"Joe doesn't use foul language," safety Curtis Jordan said after the Redskins rallied to win 21-14. "He was just telling us that we were the worst, that we stunk. He was screaming and yelling so bad you couldn't understand what he was saying. I thought we were going to have to get him a hyperventilating bag. ... They got him to the coaches' room before he went over the edge."
Nineteen years later, there have been no turning over of tables, tossing of chairs or declarations of "You stink" by Gibbs in the aftermath of Sunday's 36-0 loss against the New York Giants, the first regular-season shutout and the most lopsided loss of his Hall of Fame coaching career.
"It's the game all coaches dread," Gibbs said. "It's the one we all think about. ... I really thought we would play well up there. But across the board, it was a nightmare."
If Gibbs has shown anything since returning to the NFL last year following an 11-year sabbatical, it's that he is Mr. Even Keel with the media and his players. Given ample reason to scold his players following the Giants game and during Monday afternoon's team meeting, Gibbs took the level-headed approach, according to several players.
"He started by saying, 'You win together, you lose together, you bounce back together and the measure of a team is how they get up when they get knocked down,'" linebacker LaVar Arrington said yesterday at Redskin Park. "He said what was wrong, how everybody has to be accountable for taking a whipping like that and what we can do better."
During his postgame briefing and Monday during a 25-minute press conference, Gibbs said, "It starts with me." Especially this week, following a blowout loss and with a critical divisional home game against Philadelphia coming up, it will be up to Gibbs to set the tone. And his modus operandi is never to panic, at least in full view of the players.
"I'm pretty sure he's [ticked] off because we didn't perform the way he thought we would," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "But he's not a coach that will panic, and that's what I like about him. He's been in situations like this before and knows how to get from under them. He's our leader, and he's going to lead us out."
Samuels, Arrington and Jon Jansen have heard postgame and day-after speeches from five Redskins coaches: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Gibbs.
"They've all had different personalties and ways of getting their point across," Arrington said. "Marty wouldn't have beat us down, not if he saw that we had fought to the end. But he probably would have gotten a little emotional."
Going into his Marty impersonation, Arrington said the Redskins coach in 2001 "would have started, 'We're not that type of team. We will not -- and I mean will not -- go out there and lose that way again.' Some people might imagine him saying, 'You guys [really] stink,' but it wouldn't have been that way."
Gibbs doesn't have a lot of experience dealing with defeats like this. During a 228-game career with the Redskins, he had lost by 15 or more points only 18 times before Sunday's game. In the week after a 15-plus point loss, Gibbs is 8-7. (Three of the big defeats came in the playoffs and ended the Redskins' season). Among those 15 games is a 6-3 home record.
Before moving on to the next game, teams first spend Mondays looking back. Gibbs' policy is honesty.
"My best thing is telling them exactly the way it is," Gibbs said. "If I see them missing tackles and playing poorly, I tell them."
Redskins players admire Gibbs' it-falls-on-me stance, but in the big picture, it falls on everybody. The offense dropped nine passes and had three turnovers; the defense was abused by Tiki Barber; and the special teams fumbled a kickoff and did nothing in the return game.
"He'll be the first one to take the blame, but we all have to take the blame because when you lose like that, the bottom line is that it's not one guy, it's the team," receiver David Patten said.
Patten played the previous four years for Bill Belichick in New England and won three Super Bowls. The Patriots weren't immune to blowout defeats, either. The Patriots lost the 2003 opener at Buffalo 31-0 but bounced back to win at Philadelphia the next week. Patten said losing Sundays equaled brutal Mondays.
"When we lost, he -- and I don't condone it or agree with it -- treated us like dogs," Patten said. "He came in and he was in our faces and talked about accountability. And that's what it's all about.
"Belichick, whatever he had to do to push your buttons, he did. Coach Gibbs is more of the understanding type, but he will express to you what needs to be done. Belichick is a barker who backs it up; Coach Gibbs is humble but means what he says."
Pressed to tell how he moves on from a lopsided loss, Gibbs' way is simple.
"My approach is great preparation," he said. "You can see what can happen up here from week to week. Look at some of the teams we've beaten: The 49ers beat Tampa Bay. Seattle is leading their division. Chicago turns around after we beat them to beat Detroit, and they lead their division. The NFL today is about being ready every week."
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