Troy Vincent had a question for the Washington Redskins when they recruited him in mid-October: What, the five-time Pro Bowl pick wanted to know, would my role be?
True, the Redskins were struggling on defense, but their secondary already included four first-round draft choices in Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, Sean Taylor and Adam Archuleta. And Vincent, just released by the Buffalo Bills, had been a starter throughout his 14-year career.
Vincent, it turned out, would fit in just fine.
In just his second game with the Redskins, Vincent not only started but wound up the hero. With six seconds remaining, Vincent blocked a Mike Vanderjagt attempt at a game-winning field goal for the Cowboys. Vincent's play set up a 47-yard field goal by Nick Novak that gave the Redskins a 22-19 victory and kept their hopes for the season faintly alive.
Vincent had never blocked a kick in his career. But special teams coach Danny Smith decided to insert him anyway against a Cowboys field goal unit headed by Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
"Troy's a playmaker, and I'm going to use him where I can use him," Smith said of his bold move.
Said Vincent: "I didn't know I was going to be on the field goal block team until last night until I saw the depth chart. Whatever it takes. Thank God the opportunity presented itself. [The Cowboys' Jason] Witten never blocked down. He went out to get Carlos, and I got a good jump on the ball. I saw the center snap it, went through my block points and came up with the block. I tried to scoop it, but Sean got it."
Taylor returned the blocked kick 30 yards to the Dallas 44. A 15-yard face mask penalty on the Cowboys' Kyle Kosier put the Redskins on the Dallas 29 and Novak in position for a game-winning field goal.
Leave it to the wise, old Vincent -- he's the president of the NFL Players Association -- in the midst of a jubilant locker room to point out how fortunate the Redskins had been, fortunate to avoid the oblivion of a 2-6 record, fortunate not to be heading to Philadelphia next week on a four-game losing streak.
"I'm happy that we got the victory, but we never should've been in that situation," Vincent said. "I think about the things that we didn't accomplish. We played well on first and second downs, but we gave up some crucial third downs. Third-and-10, third-and-12, third-and-13, good defenses get off the field in those situations. That's something we're going to have to correct. Good teams get off the field in those situations, and we didn't."
Assistant head coach Gregg Williams, frustrated by such failures by his once-dominant defense, benched Archuleta in favor of Vincent during the Oct. 23-29 bye week.
Archuleta, whom the Redskins in March made the richest safety in NFL history, is a hitter but admittedly has struggled in Williams' complex scheme. Yesterday, for example, he was beaten in the final seconds by Witten for 28 yards, a lapse that set up what ordinarily would have been a game-winning field goal by Vanderjagt.
Archuleta's struggles reverberated throughout the defense, starting with Taylor, who hasn't played as well without departed running mate Ryan Clark in the secondary.
Vincent, however, already knew the defense. He played the past two years in Buffalo under cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray, a Williams protege.
"From a secondary leadership position, Troy will make us all better in the long run," Williams said. "He was constantly saying, 'I want to know what you're thinking.' Troy always had everyone on the same page, even if it wasn't always the right page."
That was evident yesterday as the Cowboys gained 374 yards over the final 47:18, but the final result was satisfying for Vincent.
"I felt I played well, much better than I did in Indy," Vincent said. "I'm getting a little more comfortable with the system and the personnel around me. I felt like I made some plays with the run and the pass. If I don't bring value as a player and as a leader, then I don't need to be in any locker room.
"When they courted me some weeks ago, my question was how do I fit in. I'm not the answer. I just want to be a piece of the puzzle."
There was no bigger piece yesterday.