- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

Before the obligatory thanks to the fans, the owner and the players, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs — in a moment of rare postgame candor — succinctly summed up the disastrous 5-11 season.

“Long, hard, tough year for us,” Gibbs said after the New York Giants defeated the Redskins 34-28 last night, making 2006 Gibbs’ worst as a coach.

The long, hard, tough year is finally over for Gibbs and the Redskins, a late comeback from 20 points down coming up a touchdown short. While the Giants (8-8) could be headed to the postseason for a second straight year, the Redskins — who also reached the playoffs last season — face days, weeks and months of reflection.

“This is something I would have never thought about,” right guard Randy Thomas said. “It’s going to be a very motivating offseason.”

And, possibly, an offseason of change.

“I’m already, in my mind, thinking about what needs to be done,” Gibbs said. “I’ve got to find a way to do a better job. It’s my responsibility to win games, and we didn’t win games this year.

“I think I know quite a bit about what we want to do.”

Gibbs, whose previous worst season was 6-10 in 2004, is now 21-27 since his return to the Redskins. And with his third season as coach in that tenure complete, his fourth offseason as team president will be crucial if his return to the Redskins will be deemed a success.

One area Gibbs doesn’t need to change is quarterback. Jason Campbell completed the season 2-5 as a starter, but he finished with a solid performance: 21-for-31 for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

But an area in which Gibbs must consider changes is on defense. The Redskins not only set the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a 16-game season (12), but Tiki Barber’s 234 rushing yards were the most allowed by a Redskins team in franchise history

“The first two years, we played exceptional football on defense,” Gibbs said. “We have to find a way to get back to that. … The explosive plays against us are something that’s really bothered us.”

Added defensive end Phillip Daniels: “I just hope we can get back to where we were the last two years. We don’t point fingers around here. When our offense wasn’t putting points up [in 2004], we said if they could get 14 points in any game, we would win. We’ve got to get back to that.

“This year, we fell a long way. I’m embarrassed. You never want to have a record like we have for fewest turnovers. That record sums up the season.”

The Giants (8-8), who won for only the second time in eight games, are on the cusp of the postseason. They need Chicago to defeat Green Bay tonight to clinch. If the Packers win, the playoff berth comes down to strength of victory between the Giants and Packers and that involves several other games.

Barber, playing his last regular season game, scored touchdowns of 15, 55 and 50 yards.

The Giants needed each score. New York jumped to a 27-7 lead, but Campbell led three Redskins scoring drives in the second half and twice got his team to within a touchdown: 27-21 with 9:25 remaining and 34-28 with 3:22 remaining.

Taking over at the Redskins 22 with 2:18 remaining, Campbell threw four consecutive incompletions to end the comeback hopes.

Campbell played well in the second half despite being shaken up late in the second quarter on a hit by the Giants’ Brandon Short.

“I was trying to turn up field and make a play,” Campbell said. “When I tried to cut behind my lineman, I saw their linebacker, and it felt like a helmet to helmet hit. My helmet hit the ground, and I blanked out. Everything went out for five seconds. But as soon as I was running off the field, I wanted to come back to the game.”

It took a 20-point deficit for the Redskins to wake up.

New York built its lead on two field goals by Jay Feely (one set up by a Ladell Betts fumble on the opening series), two touchdown runs by Barber and Eli Manning’s 6-yard pass to Tim Carter.

The Redskins cut the lead to 27-14 when Campbell threw a 7-yard touchdown to Betts on fourth-and-4.

Following a three-and-out by the Giants, the Redskins put together a 9-play, 66-yard drive, capped by T.J. Duckett’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 9:25 remaining. Campbell completed all four of his passes (for 67 yards) on the possession.

“We got into a rhythm, and I felt like I was on a roll,” Campbell said. “No matter what defense they were playing, it was a situation where I felt we couldn’t be stopped.”

Clinging to a 27-21 lead, Barber scored a 50-yard touchdown with 6:13 remaining. The Redskins responded with 68-yard drive, ended by Campbell’s 1-yard touchdown throw to Mike Sellers.

The Redskins outgained the Giants 393-355. Betts rushed for 92 yards, coming up short in his quest to finish the season with six consecutive 100-yard rushing games.

“I was more worried about the win,” Betts said. “I figured if we got the win, the yards would take care of themselves.”

Now the Redskins begin the process of taking care of the things that plagued them throughout the last four months. To a man, despite the record, the players feel they’re close to contending in the NFC East again. Their final five defeats came by a total of 27 points.

“We just didn’t make enough plays,” left tackle Chris Samuels said. “We lost a lot of close games, the type of games we won last year. That was the difference.”

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