With his latest giveaway versus the Cowboys in Week 14, Antonio Gibson has now fumbled six times this season, with four of those ending up as turnovers. In a lot of instances, a running back who's that reckless would be bumped down the depth chart or relegated to the sidelines for that many mistakes.
The issue for Washington is that benching Gibson at this point of the year would also mean benching its playoff hopes. So, the team is just going to need to live with the second-year pro's major flaw over the final four games of the schedule.
"You keep talking to him, you keep coaching him, you keep teaching him," Ron Rivera told reporters Sunday after the loss to Dallas. "He's shown that he can be a guy that can grind it out, have a good stretch, played four good weeks of football. We're not gonna change anything other than making sure he understands how important it is to protect the football."
When Gibson's on, he challenges Terry McLaurin as the offense's most crucial contributor. What he did during the squad's winning streak was outstanding, as he helped coordinator Scott Turner establish a clock-grinding identity that was based around Gibson's powerful running.
However, he's developed this fumbling problem seemingly out of nowhere — he was stripped just once as a rookie — and what's even more unfortunate is that it just so happens to plague him at the worst times.
On Sunday, Gibson put it on the ground right after the home side scored its first touchdown of the afternoon and then got a defensive stop. In other words, they had finally scooped up much-needed momentum — momentum that disappeared as soon as a Cowboy scooped up Gibson's fumble.
In the franchise's opening matchup with the Chargers, meanwhile, Gibson allowed a defender to pry it loose on his own four-yard line. Los Angeles visited the end zone shortly after. And in the Carolina contest, he lost control of a handoff on the Panthers' 13-yard line, bringing a promising possession to an immediate halt.
In another press conference, this one on Monday, Rivera passed along an observation about the 2020 third-round pick.
"The hardest thing guys have to learn to understand is that when they go to fall, when they're being tackled, that's when they have to truly understand know when to protect the ball," Rivera said. "Because most times, when guys are going to the ground, they're really bracing for the impact of hitting the ground, as opposed to protecting the ball. And it kind of looks a little bit like that because a lot of his problems do seem to come when he is headed down and so we'll just continue to work it."
When it was Gibson's time to speak at the podium on Sunday, he was more blunt.
"You know, it happens," he said. "[Expletive] happens. It can happen, but you just gotta shake it off and keep going."
Following Gibson's last two fumbles, Rivera has opted to bench Gibson temporarily before allowing him to return to the action later on. He then has been quite supportive of the ball carrier when talking to the media.
And what else can the coach do?
Washington's offense — which hasn't gotten anything out of Curtis Samuel all year, is without Logan Thomas, has missed JD McKissic lately and could be missing McLaurin this weekend — is desperate for true difference makers. Gibson, for better or worse, is one of the only true ones the unit has left, and without McLaurin, he'd be the only true one available to Rivera and Turner.
A deeper group could perhaps afford to more strictly limit Gibson's reps or take his workload away entirely. Not Washington, though.
For as long as the team is still playing, it'll simply have to hold onto hope that Gibson can hold onto the football.