John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer 355d

Redskins' failed late-game strategy helped Chiefs on final drive

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden wanted to make sure every situation was covered. He wanted to make sure if they didn't score a touchdown but instead got a first down, they had plenty of time to operate without panic.

But even his brother might have disagreed with his late-game clock strategy. With one minute, 39 seconds remaining Monday night, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said on the broadcast as the clock kept ticking, "Jay Gruden using all the clock. ... Do not leave Alex Smith with anything."

But with the Redskins trailing 20-17, Jay Gruden called for a time out with 57 seconds left in the game, and 27 left on the play clock, before a third-and-2 play at the Kansas City 22. Let's make this clear: Clock management did not cause the loss to Kansas City, who, after the Redskins kicked a field goal to tie the game, drove down for the winning score. But his time out certainly has been debated and questioned. Clock management is always -- always -- easy pickings for second guessing. It's difficult to master -- and impossible to prepare for every situation that arises.

After the Redskins tied the game with a field goal, during the ensuing kickoff Jon Gruden said on the broadcast of the Redskins, "Do they have enough fuel in the tank to get a stop on defense and force overtime? Andy Reid has plenty of time -- and two time outs." Not a direct criticism, but certainly a reason to have bled more time. The answer soon became obvious.

A week earlier, Jay Gruden didn't attack vs. Oakland on the final drive before halftime, punting on fourth-and-1 from the Raiders' 39 rather than trying for a first down. But that made sense: The Redskins were up 14-0 and would get the ball back to start the third quarter. Yes, he could have been aggressive. But the Raiders had zero momentum and the Redskins were in control. Why surrender your advantage?

In this case, with the wisdom of hindsight (at the time, my main concern is prepping a story for a win or a loss; focusing on something like this is difficult), the Redskins needed to let more time run off the clock for the same reason stated above: the way the game had unfolded. The Redskins' defense had already been on the field for 36 minutes -- 32 since the opening quarter -- and had a banged-up secondary with inexperienced players in a situation they had not been in yet in the NFL.

Sure enough, the largest gain on the Chiefs' final series involved an off-schedule play by quarterback Alex Smith, who completed a 37-yard pass to an uncovered Albert Wilson. Corner Kendall Fuller and linebacker Martrell Spaight were in his area as Smith started to scramble to his right. Neither defender ran with Wilson, who easily turned upfield to get open.

Gruden is right: He must prepare for multiple scenarios. Had Kansas City played zone instead of man on the third-down play, Cousins would have thrown underneath to Jamison Crowder or Chris Thompson. They're probably picking up the first down and a couple extra yards. The Redskins wanted to go for a touchdown, avoiding overtime vs. a good team. Gruden wanted as much time on the clock as possible, leaving the ability to run or throw; or to pass anywhere on the field and not be in danger of the clock expiring. I get all that.

If Gruden wanted to make sure of the play, that's smart, too. They had all three time outs remaining. But had they called time with even, say, 10 seconds left on the play clock instead of 27 then they're snapping the ball with 40 seconds left on third down and kicking at 30. Considering the Chiefs stunned them on second down (after only five seconds had elapsed on the drive), maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Still, the less time the better.

Given Cousins' growth, if he'd been left with 30 seconds and three time outs inside the 20-yard line, he'd have been OK. Cousins looked poised and confident on this series.

Other mistakes during the game cost them points -- like lining up offsides on a failed third-and-1, leading to a touchdown on the next play instead of a field goal. Think those four extra points made a difference? And, yeah, on the fateful play tight end Jordan Reed won his route -- a double move off a hitch, a route that suggests they were trying to score a touchdown on this play. Had Doctson completed what would have been an acrobatic catch, the lack of a time out gets buried (unless the Chiefs drive for a touchdown). He didn't.

When you lose a close game, every decision gets picked apart. Yes, the Redskins should have left the Chiefs with much less time.

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