- Hunter Smith watched helplessly while Graham Gano scrambled to recover the botched snap on what would've been a game-tying extra point kick. (Photo: Jay Westcott)
Washington Redskins punter/holder Hunter Smith said that he should be blamed for his team’s loss, not kicker Graham Gano, who missed two field goals in the 17-16 defeat, and not long snapper Nick Sundberg, whose high snap got pass Smith and kept Washington from being able to attempt a kick that would’ve tied the game and forced overtime.
The Redskins had driven 75 yards and pulled within a point when Donovan McNabb completed a six-yard pass to Santana Moss with nine seconds left on the clock.
Washington lined up for the extra point, which should’ve been automatic. But given that Gano was 0-for-2 on field goal attempts on Sunday, even the PAT was no sure thing.
Sundberg’s snap appeared to be a little higher than eye level for Smith, and it glanced off of his hands, up and over his head and up field. Gano scrambled for it, but Tampa Bay safety Corey Lynch recovered it to seal the victory.
Smith was asked about the play, and if Sundberg’s snap was high, and he said, “It really doesn’t matter because I can catch it. It’s like if a pass is thrown to Santana and it’s in the vicinity of his body, he should catch it, he knows that and he’d agree with me. Put this one on me. If anyone needs to take the blame, I’ll willingly take it.”
Sundberg admitted that the ball was higher than he would’ve liked, and although he didn’t go into great detail about the play because he needed to re-watch it, Mike Shanahan said “it looked like it was up by [Smith's] face. That's what it looked like.”
High snaps were something Sundberg struggled with in the preseason, and it prompted coaches to bring in veteran long snapper James Dearth to push him. But Shanahan decided to go with the second-year player out of Cal.
Gano has also had his share of struggles in his first full season of NFL action, entering the game having missed eight field goals, and he missed his ninth and 10th Sunday against the Bucs.
Smith still insisted that those two players were not deserving of being blamed for the loss.
“Tonight, we did what we needed to do in this game to win it,” he said. “I think if anyone needs to be concerned about their job, it’s me. But I trust in God, lean on him and let the powers that be make the decision. But I would think it would be a mistake -- personally, and they don’t ask me -- but I would think it would be a mistake to blame this game on our young snapper and our young kicker because they are great talents.”
Gano did blame himself, however. His miss in the first quarter would’ve given Washington a 3-0 lead after their first possession of the game, and then he missed a second early in the second quarter. Had he made those two, the touchdown to Moss would’ve put Washington up 22-17 as Gano trotted out for the PAT.
Gano said he wasn’t sure what went wrong on either of his failed kicks, and said that although it was wet out, his footing felt fine.
“ I thought they were good both times,” he said. “They felt good off my foot. Normally I can tell if it’s not a good kick, so when I looked up on both the ones I missed, I was in shock. I thought both were good kicks. It’s frustrating. I could’ve been the difference in that game, but I have to just stay confident and move on to next week.”
Shanahan was asked if the Redskins would bring in kickers for tryouts this week, but the coach declined to answer the question.
"I wouldn't talk about that at this time anyhow,” the coach said. “It's like I told you from the beginning, it was a tough game today. It was rough. Gano missed a couple short field goals and an extra point. Everybody's disappointed. He's been real consistent for us in practice. He's young. I think he's got a great future. Hopefully he can put this behind him and when he gets in the same situation, put it through the uprights."