Shanahan's 'go for it' attitude wins over Redskins
ASHBURN, Va. (AP)
Fourth-and-3. Ball at the 18. Trailing by eight with 5:23 left. All three timeouts remaining.
Go for it? Or kick the field goal?
For Mike Shanahan, it was a no-brainer. The offense stayed on the field, and Rex Grossman found Santana Moss in the end zone for a touchdown. The play was a vital moment Sunday in the Washington Redskins' 22-21 comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals.
''That was basic football,'' the coach said. ''There wasn't even a question about that.''
Basic football. And percentage football. Mathematical studies have always shown that coaches should go for it on fourth down a whole lot more than they do.
But many, if not most, coaches don't play the percentages. They would kick the field goal to cut the lead to five, then rely on the defense to make a stop and postpone the needed touchdown until later. For one thing, it keeps the coach from looking bad - and maybe getting fired - for making a risky choice.
''I've always leaned to the other side, not very conservative,'' Shanahan said Monday. ''I usually take chances. That's usually my mindset, but sometimes it all depends on the tempo of the game, what type of team you're facing, how good's your defense, how good's your running game going. A lot of ingredients will go into something like that.''
It's that type of attitude that makes Shanahan so popular in the locker room. Offensive players throughout training camp kept saying how much they love the aggressiveness shown by Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, when it comes to calling plays and attacking the game.
If anything, that praise has grown now that the Redskins are off to a 2-0 start and alone in first place in the NFC East.
''I love this offense, man. That's one of the reasons I didn't want to go anywhere,'' said Moss, who opted to re-sign with the Redskins this year when he became a free agent. ''It took me this long to be a part of something like this. ... I just love what Kyle does when it comes to his play-calling, and how he prepares us. He prepares us to go out there with that mentality and say ... whatever we did on those other downs, just put all that behind us and this is the down that matters.''
Grossman certainly played into that mindset on the fourth-down touchdown, which came with the Redskins trailing 21-13. The first option was a simple pass to Jabar Gaffney in the right flat. Gaffney was open and would have had a short, tidy gain, enough for a first down in front of cornerback A.J. Jefferson.
''The play was designed to go to the flat,'' Grossman said. ''And (the cornerback) just kind of settled his feet and jumped towards the flat. And I'd rather have the touchdown.''
So Grossman threw to Moss, who had plenty of space ahead of rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Adrian Wilson.
''I didn't see nothing - but the ball,'' Moss said. ''It was one of those situations, we kind of had everybody in a bunch on that side, and it was almost like `Choose who you want to cover.' We've got so much talent out here, we've got so many weapons, guys aren't going to be able to cover one guy all day. They chose to come down on Jabar and I was open in the corner.''
The 2-point conversion failed, so the score was 21-19. The Redskins still had to ask their defense to make a stop, but all they needed was a field goal instead of a touchdown when they got the ball back. Graham Gano came through with a 34-yard field goal with 1:45 to play to settle the game.
''Some people kick a field goal, some people go for it,'' Shanahan said. ''Either way, you've got to do what you think gives you the best chance to win. I just felt at that time of the game, we needed to score a touchdown. And the percentages were with us with that down and distance.''
Shanahan said he's examined the studies about fourth down percentages, but it's also important to note that cold numbers can't replicate intangibles such as emotion and momentum. When it comes time to make the call, it's usually based on good old coach's instinct.
''You go through all of them. When you're backed up, if you go for it on fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2, on your 2-yard line, on your 1-yard line, what's the percentages after three-and-out of getting a field goal,'' Shanahan said. ''You go through all those stats, but usually it comes down to a gut feel.''
Notes: Shanahan said CB Josh Wilson has a combination of lower back, head and neck injuries from Sunday's game. Asked about Wilson's chances for next week's Monday night game at Dallas, the coach said: ''He was little more sore today than he was after the game, so we'll wait and see.'' ... Shanahan wouldn't say whether Fred Davis has surpassed Chris Cooley as the No. 1 tight end. Davis leads the team in receiving after two games with 191 yards, while Cooley didn't have a catch Sunday and is still working his way back from a knee injury. ''We've got two excellent football players,'' Shanahan said. ''Those are the problems that we want. We will play the best players. If we have four tight ends that are the best players, we won't have wide receivers out on the field.'' ... Fourth-round draft pick Roy Helu is the latest Redskins rookie to impress early in the season. He had 74 yards on 10 carries Sunday. ''Once you've got to figure out how to teach a running back to run, then you've got the wrong running back,'' Shanahan said. ''When you've got a guy like Helu, you don't know why guys make plays, but the great ones do, and I think Helu has given people the idea that he does have skills.'' ... A week after declining Victory Monday, the players accepted the day off this week. For one thing, the team has an extra day to prepare for a Monday game.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP