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Kurt Streeter

Redskins let Taylor's absence reflect the void

December 03, 2007|Kurt Streeter

WASHINGTON -- Linemen crouched, linebackers barked, cornerbacks shifted. But something was wrong. For their defense's first play from scrimmage Sunday, the Washington Redskins fielded only 10 men. They were one man short.

Sean Taylor was missing, and he hadn't been replaced.

In tribute to their fallen teammate, shot and killed last week in his suburban Miami home, the Redskins lined up without him at safety -- indeed, without anyone.

Reed Doughty, for one, wasn't worried.

"We knew we were going to be fine," Doughty told me, standing at his locker after the game and remembering that first play, a 22-yard Buffalo run. "I didn't think of it like it was one less man out there. I could feel Sean."

Never again will Taylor, one of the best athletes in the NFL, sprint across the grass with those long, powerful strides. But on the field and throughout the stands on this drizzly day, Sean Taylor was here. He wasn't gone.

You could feel him in the game, from the roaring, heartfelt beginning to the roaring, crushing end.

An All-Pro, Taylor last played for the Redskins a month ago, when he hurt his knee. While he rehabbed, Doughty, a 2006 sixth-round draft pick from the University of Northern Colorado, did his best to hold down his position.

Before the Redskins game against Tampa Bay during Thanksgiving week, the two spoke. "Be ready, Doughty," the 24-year-old Taylor told his teammate, a straight-A student in college. Poking fun at Doughty's cerebral tendencies, Taylor added something about not thinking so much on the field and having more fun.

Then Taylor flew home to Miami.

What happened next was tragic. Last Monday morning, police say, several men broke into Taylor's house, in a wealthy Miami suburb. There was a confrontation. One of the intruders shot a gun. A bullet hit Taylor. He died the next day. Four men have been arrested. After six days of investigating, the police say it looks like a botched robbery.

Something like that could happen to any of us.

"If it happened in a car accident, you kind of would not take it as hard," said James Briscoe, a 73-year-old bricklayer, standing near his car before the game.

Everywhere I went in the parking lot at FedEx Field, the talk was slow, sad and the same. How senseless.

"What a cheap way to go," Briscoe said, shaking his head. "There's just something wrong with the world these days."

We have ways to ease our pain. The Redskins' marching band played a dirge before the game, and Taylor's face flashed across the Jumbotron. Throughout the stadium, people stood, hugged and held on. Many wore jerseys with Taylor's number -- 21. Many wiped their tears on No. 21 towels they were given at the stadium doors.

During the game, they waved the white towels in silent tribute.

For Doughty, 25, the hardest parts were during warmups and while he stood on the sideline during the first play. Usually he watched Taylor, a man he admired. This time, he looked over at patches of lonely grass.

But in Taylor's honor, he shook it off. On the second play, he stopped a Buffalo wide receiver for a two-yard gain.

Doughty is tough and dependable, but he is not Taylor. The Redskins will feel the loss all season.

Doughty is fast, Taylor was lightning.

Doughty is fierce, Taylor was fierce and devastating.

But during this game, the stubble-cheeked kid from Greeley, Colo., gave it his almighty everything. He made key tackles. He covered receivers who dashed in front of him.

At first, the Redskins let loose days of pent-up pain. They took it out on the Buffalo Bills as if all this were their fault. The third quarter ended, and the Redskins led by eight.

But then, their offense sputtered. Two Buffalo field goals later, and the Redskins led by just two.

Finally, the Bills launched one last drive. The concrete stands shook.

Faces tightened. People held their breath. Buffalo's Trent Edwards tossed a long, arcing pass.

Doughty missed the interception.

The Bills were now at the Redskins' 33-yard line.

Who could have guessed it would end like this? Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, a legend who won three Super Bowls and was now on his second tour of duty after 12 years away from the game, made a crucial mistake.

Hoping to chill the Buffalo kicker's heart, he called timeout -- twice. Afterward, he said he didn't know that consecutive timeouts at this stage of a game would cost the Redskins a 15-yard penalty.

The Buffalo kicker found himself eyeing an easy, 36-yard boot.

It was unforgettable bad luck. Buffalo's kick cleared the uprights.

Three more plays, and the game was over.

Buffalo 17, Washington 16.

"It's just really hard," Doughty, said afterward, grimacing. He looked spent and shocked. "We just came up short.

"At least we did leave it on the field. . . . It was different out there without him, but at least he was there."

--

Kurt Streeter can be reached at kurt.streeter@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.

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