Moving Taylor tributes render outcome almost meaningless

LANDOVER, Md. -- The eye saw only 10 defenders on the field when the Washington Redskins' defense lined up for the first time since Sean Taylor's shooting death.

The heart knew there were 11.

The heart never felt Taylor's presence more strongly.

No. 21 was at FedEx Field in spirit, if not in uniform.

"Look around," public-address announcer Mark Kessler told the 85,831 fans before kickoff. "See for yourself."

The Redskins honored their fallen safety with dignity before and after Joe Gibbs' coaching error helped Buffalo emerge with a 17-16 victory. Gibbs violated the rule preventing teams from calling consecutive timeouts to ice the opposing kicker, moving Buffalo's game-winning attempt 15 yards closer.

Rian Lindell's 36-yarder damaged the Redskins' playoff chances, sure, but no one with an ounce of perspective will remember Dec. 2, 2007, as the day Washington's record slipped to 5-7.

Gibbs' gaffe qualifies as a topic for another day, but not this one. Not with more than 300 team employees heading to South Florida for a funeral Tuesday.

"I am thoroughly disappointed that we lost a game," guard Pete Kendall said, "but tomorrow we have to go about the business of burying a teammate and a friend, and that is obviously light-years worse."

Losing the game prevented the Redskins from celebrating a victory they never intended to celebrate, anyway. Honoring a fallen teammate should never be contingent on a final score.

"Even if we had won the game," tackle Chris Samuels said, "it wasn't going to bring Sean back. We wanted to go out there and play as hard as we could for Sean because I feel like he would have laid it on the line for us. I felt like we played hard."

The Redskins have done right by Taylor and his family from the moment the organization learned its Pro Bowl safety was lying in a Florida hospital, unresponsive after intruders shot him in his home.

They honored him when team owner Daniel Snyder, running back Clinton Portis and other team officials flew to Taylor's side this past Monday.

They honored Taylor when Snyder pledged at least $500,000 to a trust fund for Taylor's 18-month-old daughter, Jackie.

They honored him by flying in Taylor's family, notably his father Pedro, who delivered an emotional midweek speech to the team.

The Redskins honored Taylor by painting "21" into the grass outside FedEx Field, the centerpiece of a memorial featuring signs, cards and other mementos.
They honored Taylor by handing out No. 21 towels to fans as they entered the stadium.

Perhaps most movingly, the Redskins honored Taylor with a four-minute video tribute shortly before kickoff.

"It's difficult to put into words how we loved and felt about this man," said Kessler, the public-address announcer, in introducing the video.

The tribute began with an image of Taylor, in uniform but without helmet, holding up his left arm triumphantly. Down on the field, the Redskins' band played the soothing spiritual "Going Home" while stadium personnel slowly inflated the giant Redskins helmet for players to run through.

There was a game to play, but that wasn't the story.

Taylor's image remained on the board as the Redskins band transitioned to an appropriately understated rendition of "Hail to the Redskins."

The video showed Taylor playing at the high school and college levels, dominant as an athlete can be. Then, out of nowhere, came the most riveting portion of the tribute, a shot of a blissfully carefree Taylor explaining what playing for the Redskins meant to him.

"My favorite part is when we get home games and the fans are cheering and we have the 12th man and everybody is excited," the clip showed Taylor saying. "That is my favorite part about being a Redskin, staying home and playing in front of our home crowd."

Goose bumps.

"The only way we can honor him right now is to go out on that field and play football," the video showed a teammate saying.

Some of Taylor's most forceful hits shot across the screen in rapid succession. The stadium morphed into sea of Sean Taylor towels, waved furiously, though emotions needed no artificial stirring.

The video cut to Gibbs. An unsteady voice delivered a heartfelt message: "Sean, thanks for all you meant to us, and God take care of Sean until we get there with him."

"WE WILL MISS YOU SEAN," the video postscript read.

Redskins players ran onto the field to their usual pregame fare. "Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight," the lyrics dutifully blared.

The moment was fleeting. Players along the Redskins' sideline fought back tears as the national anthem played. For some, breathing appeared exaggerated, almost forced, as they fought to keep their composure.

"Sometimes it felt good," cornerback Shawn Springs said of the pregame ceremony. "Then you would see something like his banner up there and you would get sad. It was pretty tough."

The Redskins did not limit their tributes to before kickoff. Opening the game with only 10 defenders drove home the broader point that the outcome meant little.

Stopping the Bills became less important once safety LaRon Landry leveled Bills running back Fred Jackson to end that initial play.

Washington built a double-digit lead, only to allow a 30-yard pass over the middle while trying to protect a 16-14 lead in the final 30 seconds.

In life, Sean Taylor might have broken up such a play with a devastating shot to the ribs. He might have stood over Bills receiver Josh Reed, playing to an approving crowd.

In death, Taylor can do so much more. Samuels, mindful of the four young men arrested in Taylor's killing, grasped the opportunity.

"We have to get ahold of our youth and do the best we can to lead these kids in the right direction," he said. "Parents need to step up and do a better job. Role models need to step up and do a better job. I've got to get out this summer and do some things in the community.

"We just need a lot of people to stand up because it's such a tragedy. Sean did not have to die."

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.