LANDOVER, Md. - She was pretty, young, blonde - and about to cry.
Under a white canopy in front of FedEx Field, on a cold, gray afternoon, Lindsay Campbell brought flowers to the makeshift memorial, a rectangle of grief. There were pictures of the deceased, flowers, balloons. A Washington Redskins burgundy jersey with an ironed-on tribute: "21 Forever." Handwritten signs: "Give Tom Landry Hell, Sean."
And there was Lindsay Campbell, who'd come from Stafford, Va., with her father, Scott, to place their bouquet alongside the dozens of others. A young black boy stood in front of an old white woman who had a Redskins helmet painted on her face. A line of people formed, mostly silent, cell phones in hand, to take pictures of a scene with the solemnity of a wake.
Why has the death of Sean Taylor, a football player almost none of these people ever met, touched them so?
"Just because he was a great player, and there are great Redskins fans," Lindsay Campbell said. "I mean, he was young. He was 24. It's something that shouldn't have happened. He had an awesome life that was ahead of him, as a father, as a friend and as a player."
Washington tried both to pay tribute to Taylor and get on with the business of football yesterday against the Buffalo Bills, but it was a difficult balancing act, and eventually, impossible.
"It was hard not to think about Sean during the game," linebacker London Fletcher said. "I know I did."
The Redskins played distracted all day. And ultimately, not paying attention to detail cost them, as Buffalo's Rian Lindell kicked a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left to give the Bills a 17-16 win, bitterly disappointing most of the 85,831 at FedEx Field.
This time, it was Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach, who apparently didn't know that in 2005, the league changed its rules regarding the use of consecutive time-outs in an attempt to freeze an opposing kicker.
Previously, officials could simply ignore the second time-out request. But the rule was changed two years ago, and the team that attempts to call a second straight time-out now receives a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
Gibbs called time once to freeze Lindell as he lined up for a 51-yard attempt with eight seconds left. But after the first time-out, Gibbs asked for another. Officials had no choice but to mark off 15 yards against Washington, making the much-harder kick for Lindell into a near gimme.
"The last play, to be truthful, I made a decision at the end that very likely cost us the game," Gibbs said. "That's on me. I told the team that. I want to tell everybody out there that. I should know it. I should know the rule."
No doubt some in Washington will call for the 67-year-old Gibbs, 26-34 since his return in 2004, to fall on his sword after his giant brain lapse. All season, the Redskins have wasted time-outs, looked disorganized at key moments, and frittered away second-half leads, and Gibbs has been second-guessed over and over.
But the recriminations can wait. This week, addled thinking in the organization - and especially on Gibbs, who's been the public face of the team since Taylor's death early Tuesday morning - was understandable.
The team asked fans to be in their seats early for a pregame tribute to Taylor, and the gesture further choked up the players, who were already missing Taylor's presence in warm-ups.
"Everything just felt weird before the game," quarterback Jason Campbell said.
The Redskins Marching Band, normally upbeat, played the military dirge
and a slow, mournful version of
Hail to the Redskins
. A video tribute to Taylor played on the JumboTron, complete with good-byes from players and from Gibbs, who said, "Thanks for all you meant to us, and God, take care of Sean until we get up there with him."
And on the Redskins' first defensive snap, Taylor's unit honored him in a most unusual way, playing with just 10 men on the field, leaving Taylor's safety spot empty. But even this well-meaning gesture wasn't fully thought out; the defense made the decision Saturday night and didn't bother to tell Gibbs.
(Only a grinch would mention that Bills halfback Fred Jackson promptly ripped off a 22-yard run.)
"I'm going to have to talk with Gregg [Williams, the defensive coordinator] about that before I comment further," a perturbed Gibbs said afterward.
It was fitting. In his four seasons in Washington, Taylor often was a feast-or-famine player, with his huge physical gifts creating collisions and turnovers, but also occasional penalties and blown coverages. The Redskins played the same way yesterday - big hearts, good intentions, big mistakes. It is a lost season for Washington, in so many, many ways.