The late Sean Taylor, whose indomitable spirit guided the Redskins on an improbable run to the NFL playoffs and carried Washington to the brink of a wild-card upset Saturday, abandoned the team in stunning fashion late in a 35-14 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle.
Taylor was shot during a botched burglary in his Miami home on Nov. 26 and died a day later, and his No. 21 became an emotional talisman for the Redskins and their fans. His tragic death seemed to galvanize a team that was lost on the road to nowhere, and Washington went 4-0 after his funeral to turn a 5-7 afterthought into a 9-7 playoff team.
And then Saturday, Taylor appeared prepared to deliver his greatest surprise yet as he wielded his otherworldly talents to push the Redskins within hailing distance of a shocking win against the NFC West champion Seahawks.
The Redskins entered the fourth quarter trailing 13-0 and appeared dead. But less than 3 minutes later, after LaRon Landry’s interception set up a 30-yard TD pass from Todd Collins to Santana Moss, Washington had vaulted into a 14-13 lead.
If that weren’t strange enough, what followed threatened to make believers of the most God-hating skeptics in the mainstream media. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball seemed to bounce magically away from Seattle’s return men, allowing Washington’s Anthony Mix to pounce on the ball at the Seahawks’ 14.
Suddenly, like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky, the Redskins were poised to deliver the knockout blow. The bizarre turn of events appeared to signify that Taylor’s spirit had indeed taken over the game and that the Redskins were a team of destiny if ever there were one.
But then Taylor seemed to lose his focus, as the Redskins failed to pick up a first down, then came up empty when Shaun Suisham missed a chip-shot field goal.
Seattle quickly scored three touchdowns, two of them on interception returns, and the shell-shocked Redskins were left to wonder where the magic had gone.
“I can’t believe Sean took us this far and then deserted us,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “It just seemed our story was going to be written and Sean was going to take us all the way to the Super Bowl.
“This really sucks. First Sean dies in senseless fashion, and now our season is over. It’s hard to take.”
And there was one final, cruel twist. Fate, which had been so favorable to the Redskins since Taylor’s demise, heaped upon them the final insult of a 21-point defeat.
Twenty-one, remember, was the jersey number worn by the fallen Taylor.
And 21 was the margin of victory for Washington in last week’s playoff-clinching victory over Dallas, a fact that more than one Redskin interpreted as divine interpretation.
“It was no coincidence last week, and I don’t believe it was coincidence this week,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said of the 21-point margin. “It says to me that Sean was telling us that the football gods weren’t in our corner in this one, that he did all he could humanly, or heavenly, do for us. The Great Scorekeeper in the Sky just decided that we weren’t going to win this game.”