Seventeen unanswered points put the Washington Redskins in a nice spot, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals with just over a quarter remaining. In getting there, though, they used two timeouts … and then they were driving in Cincinnati territory early in the fourth with a chance to take the lead.
It was decision time: 13:41 left, fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 44. Go for it or punt the ball away?
Coach Mike Shanahan wound up changing his mind, a decision that ultimately cost his team dearly.
“I was going to go for it,” he said. “I thought they were really tired, and when they did call the timeout, I just said, ‘Hey, our defense is playing good, I thought we had the fans behind us, the crowd noise,’ and I said, ‘Hey let’s put ‘em back.’ “
The timeout altered things. Shanahan instead leaned on punter Sav Rocca to pin the Bengals deep in their territory. Going for it on fourth down would have been a risk-reward play.
“I thought it put our team in position to back them up and let them earn it,” Shanahan said. “Let’s not give them the ball at midfield in case we didn’t make it.”
The punt presented another issue. It was ruled a touchback when it bounced on the goal line before Crezdon Butler and Lorenzo Alexander could get to it.
“Crez definitely made a play on the ball, had an opportunity to make a play. We’ve got to make those plays,” Alexander said. “Talking to him about it, the ball, you’ve got those receiver gloves on, it kind of got stuck to his hand and he couldn’t toss it to me. It comes down to inches. It barely touched the line. I was able to knock it out, but the refs were able to see it and made a good call on the ball.”
But Shanahan took a look at the replay on the video screen and decided to throw the red challenge flag. The Redskins’ final timeout was on the line.
After further review, it was a touchback and the Redskins’ earlier mistake of burning two timeouts on consecutive plays looked even worse. The decision to challenge was a second-guessing moment, too.
“I probably saw what everybody else saw,” Shanahan said. “It looked from my perspective looking at the screen that it did not hit the line. I thought it was worth the challenge. And obviously when we went back, I don’t know if it was in HD, but you could clearly see that was on the line. But I thought it was worth the challenge at that time.”
Five plays later, the Bengals were in the end zone, and the Redskins had another hole to dig out of. When they had to rush on the final drive of the game, the clock ran out on their chances of forcing overtime.
• Stephen Whyno can be reached at email@example.com.
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