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Coping with loss of teammate

Grieving 'Skins honor slain safety Taylor

LANDOVER, Md. - Maybe the misery ends today.

Today, the Redskins organization will travel to Miami to bury Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, 24.

A week ago, in a bedroom in his Miami home, in front of his girlfriend and their 18-month-old daughter, he was shot in the leg by burglars. The shot hit his femoral artery, caused massive blood loss, which, in turn, damaged his brain and sent him into a coma.

Tuesday, he died.

Yesterday, seconds from cementing a victory that would have been dedicated to him, a coaching mistake helped the Bills to a 17-16 win: Redskins coach Joe Gibbs called a second consecutive timeout to ice kicker Rian Lindell, which is a 15-yard penalty. Lindell made the 36-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play to cap a 60-yard, 52-second, game-winning drive.

"It's like your heart dropped all the way to your feet," erratic Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said.

Campbell spoke for the 85,831 at FedEx Field who hoped Taylor's memory would spur the 'Skins.

Stunned by the loss, still numb with grief and aching with wet and cold, 36-year-old fan Darrell Gross offered this dazed review: "It's a big disappointment. This could have been a big momentum boost, but they blew this game. I thought they would play with a little more intensity, but they were still saddened by the [death]."

Gross, from Hanover, Md., wore Taylor's white No. 21 jersey under a sodden bomber jacket, funereal black.

The shooting, the death, the media's coverage of the incident - Taylor's checkered past prompted implications that he currently associated with a criminal element - all conspired to drain the Redskins, who had lost three straight games entering yesterday.

Clearly spent from the week's efforts, they foundered at the game's end.

"It was hard to get the emotion up at first," Gibbs said.

He wasn't surprised, given the somberness of the locker room before the game. Not even inspirational words from team orator Fred Smoot could shake the drear.

"I was crying," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "Warming up, I was thinking about how tragic it is . . . There was more pressure to win because of Sean."

Today's services will provide a measure of finality, Samuels said: "That will bring closure to the situation."

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Taylor's locker, near the center of the Redskins' locker room, is sealed with plexiglass. The case, of course, remains unresolved.

Four suspects remain in police custody without bond: Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20, all from Fort Myers, Fla. Confessions have been elicited, according to reports, but more arrests might be coming.

And, now, the season hangs on the brink of disaster.

The Redskins (5-7) play here again Thursday night against the Bears, where a fifth straight loss effectively would end their playoff hopes.

Now, a funeral today, a practice tomorrow, a walk-through Wednesday and prime-time attention on Thursday night. The Redskins appreciate the sympathy, but don't waste your pity.

"People die," Smoot said. "Other people, they've got to get up and go to work the next day."

"Death is a part of life," agreed corner Shawn Springs. "We're professionals. We'll prepare. We'll play. That's what Sean would have wanted."

Of yesterday's dedications - a pregame video, the team band playing a dirge version of "Hail to the Redskins," a memorial banner hung above the east end zone - Taylor probably would have liked this one best:

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sent 10 men instead of 11 onto the field for the Redskins' first defensive play.

"We wanted Sean to ride with us one last time," said Williams, who told the defense of his plan at Saturday night's meeting. Williams never even told Gibbs, who afterward said he had no problem with the tribute.

Bills running back Fred Jackson ran for 22 yards on the play; the Bills did not know the 10-man scheme was coming, and said they didn't notice the personnel shortage.

Reed Doughty, once Taylor's injury replacement and now his permanent stand-in, raced onto the field after Jackson's run. He felt chills.

"It's really different, to be honest with you," Doughty said, "taking over for somebody of legendary proportions."

Indeed, the Pro Bowl safety for a football team that is worshiped like few others, Taylor will become its Thurman Munson, its Pelle Lindbergh - a star whose feats and whose potential will grow in retrospect.

The 10-man move stood as the most memorable tribute to Taylor on an afternoon that ended a week dedicated to his memory.

The 'Skins wore a "21" patch on their jerseys and owner Daniel Snyder wore the "21" patch on his black suit. Upon scoring in the third quarter, Redskins running back Clinton Portis lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read, "In Memory of Sean Taylor."

The rest of the league's players wore "21" stickers on their helmets.

Redskins fans wore both No. 21 and No. 36 jerseys; Taylor wore 36 as a rookie. No. 21 was soaped onto cars' back windshields, stenciled in black electrician's tape onto Redskins-gold sweat shirts, even painted onto the side of one fan's closely cropped head.

They mourned en masse, then they left, dejected.

Just like the team.

Maybe that ends today. Maybe they'll be ready to play on Thursday.

"It'll be a real challenge for us," Gibbs admitted. "I'm praying [today] we'll have a day when we can really celebrate Sean's life."

That won't end the reminders.

The player photo on Thursday's game ticket:

No. 21, Sean Taylor. *