LANDOVER, Md. - Fred Smoot cried several times when he looked over to the safety position and Sean Taylor wasn't there. Santana Moss held up his fingers to represent Taylor's No. 21 after catching a pass. Clinton Portis revealed a T-shirt honoring Taylor after scoring the game's only touchdown.
Drained before they took the field, the Washington Redskins somehow steeled their fragile emotions yesterday and played to honor their fallen teammate in front of 85,000 fans waving their No. 21 towels.
Their resolve was shattered, replaced by more tears and disbelief, when Rian Lindell kicked a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left to give the Buffalo Bills a 17-16 victory.
"It makes your heart drop all the way to your feet," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "We wanted to come out here and win one for Sean."
Five days after Taylor died from a gunshot wound in Florida, the Redskins' defense did Taylor proud by not allowing a touchdown. Buffalo's points came on five field goals and a safety.
But a major gaffe by Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs played a key role in leaving Washington's players disconsolate at the final whistle.
Lindell made a 51-yard attempt that didn't count because Gibbs called timeout just as the ball was snapped. Gibbs then called another timeout as Lindell lined up a second time, but consecutive timeouts aren't allowed in the NFL - and they result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when specifically called to freeze the kicker. The penalty gave Lindell a much easier kick in the rain.
Gibbs said he asked an official if it was OK to call a second timeout, and the coach thought the official said yes. Still, the harried moments of a game's final seconds are hardly a good time to be learning the rule book.
"There's nobody to blame but myself," Gibbs said. "I should have known the rule."
Afterward, players spilled their emotions in a room in which Taylor's locker was sealed in Plexiglas, just as it is at Redskins Park, the team's headquarters. They tried to exonerate Gibbs, saying that any number of mistakes and blown plays could have cost them the game.
More than anything, though, the Redskins (5-7) were emotionally spent.
"I didn't show up to play this game," said Smoot, the Washington cornerback. "I showed up for a tribute for my friend, to send him out right, and we found a way to mess it up."
Buffalo (6-6) broke a two-game skid to keep its AFC playoff hopes alive.