While the Chargers’ would-be touchdown to Danny Woodhead was being reviewed on Sunday, it seemed like a painful delay of the inevitable. Like, the police officer pulls you over, and tells you you were speeding, and before he can write a ticket he gets a phone call from his cute niece Mabel, and he pauses to laugh and coo at Mabel over the phone, and maybe even a single tear of joy drips down his grizzled chin when Mabel tells him how much she loves him, and then he hangs up and writes you the ticket anyhow. The ticket was the ensuing rushing touchdown. I guess. I’m confused.
Anyhow, the Advanced NFL Stats numbers had the Chargers at a win probability of over 90 percent there. It sure felt like it should have been higher than that. Three chances from the 6-inch line — with the aid of two timeouts — and all the momentum in case the game did go to overtime.
But the Redskins, obviously, came out on top, and Thomas Boswell then asked readers for similar victory-from-the-fangs-of-defeat moments in franchise history.
Q: What is closest Skins have even been to loss in last seconds but won? ’73 Houston tackle of Garrison at goal in 14-7 win is one. Thks
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) November 3, 2013
Frankly, I would have loved to read an entire column about that topic, but Boz obviously had to focus on this particular game, and what he wrote on the past — with help from readers — was snipped from the final product. But the internet has no limits on space, and my editors are nicer than Boz’s, so here’s an opportunity to rescue the lost paragraphs:
Until this game, perhaps the most-frequently mentioned last-second play that won a Skins game came 40 years ago when Hall of Famer Ken Houston met the Cowboys’ rugged Walt Garrison at the goal line on the final play in RFK Stadium and wrestled him down less than a yard from the goal line to save a 14-7 win over Dallas. The stakes were far higher then. Washington and Dallas were at the height of their rivalry and near the top of the sport.
There are others, and truly important ones, like Joe Gibbs on his knees on the sideline as Darrell Green breaks up a goal-line pass on fourth and four on the last play of the ’87 NFC Championship game. On the way to another Super Bowl win [in 1991], the Skins got their record to 9-0 with an overtime win after Houston’s Ian Howfield missed a 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation. And in ’06, in a lousy season, the Skins beat Dallas 22-19 after a blocked-kick Sean Taylor-return and a facemask penalty, all rolled into one in the final seconds, set up a 47-yard Skins field goal.
Those are some crazy finishes. Although in two of them, the worst-case last-second situation was overtime, not a loss. Since Skins fans love them some history, here are the next-day leads from each of those four crazy games. Which was the most improbable? And what games are we missing?
The Ken Houston Tackle (Story by Leonard Shapiro)
In a stunning reversal of their fortunes in the previous 56 minutes, the Washington Redskins scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes, then got a phenomenal goal-line tackle by strong safety Ken Houston to save a 14-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last night at RFK Stadium.
Before an emotionally drained crowd of 54,314 and millions more watching the national telecast at home, Houston stopped Cowboy Walt Garrison inches from the touchdown that could have tied this wild and wacky affair had the Cowboys converted the extra point.
The play came on fourth down at the Washington four, with 24 seconds remaining.
Cowboy quarterback Craig Morton, a third quarter replacement for Roger Staubach, sent Garrison out of his backfield and hit him over the middle at one.
The ball and Houston arrived at the same time, and the Redskins’ appropriately named strong safety stopped the Cowboy running back’s momentum before he could step across the goal line.
The Redskins took over at the one, quarterback Sonny Jurgensen fell down as the previous 10 remaining seconds ticked off and the full house went wild.
The ’87 NFC Championship Game (Story by Christine Brennan)
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs went to his knees as the Minnesota Vikings’ final play unfolded yesterday afternoon at raucous RFK Stadium. As he knelt, Gibbs said a little prayer, uncertain whether his team was headed to the Super Bowl — or simply to overtime.
When he stood up moments later, he knew.
With one last, crunching hit by cornerback Darrell Green, the Redskins had won the NFC championship game, 17-10, and were headed to Super Bowl XXII Jan. 31 in San Diego. There, they will face the Denver Broncos, who defeated the Cleveland Browns, 38-33, today in the AFC championship.
They are going back this year because when their offense sputtered, their defense came to the rescue. Twice in the fourth quarter, holding a slight lead, the Redskins stood their ground when the Vikings drove inside the Washington 10. The first goal-line stand forced the Vikings to kick a field goal. The second defensive effort, at the Washington 6, shut out the Vikings and effectively ended the game.
The Howfield Miss (Story by Richard Justice)
The Washington Redskins knew this kind of a game awaited them at some point. A day of stumbles and bumbles and injuries, a day when they seemed emotionally drained and finally overcome by the odds of a 16-game season. A week after defeating the New York Giants, they ran up a laundry list of mistakes — including four turnovers and eight penalties — and were pushed to the edge before defeating the Houston Oilers in overtime, 16-13, before 55,096 at RFK Stadium.
How close to the edge? With four seconds left and the game tied in the fourth quarter, Houston’s Ian Howfield lined up to kick a game-winning 33-yard field goal.
His kick sailed wide left, and in a season when the Redskins have done almost everything right, they had added a dash of luck. Cornerback Darrell Green intercepted Warren Moon’s first pass in overtime, and 4:01 into the extra session, Chip Lohmiller’s 41-yard field goal kept the Redskins the NFL’s only undefeated team and improved their record to 9-0.
The Sean Taylor Return (Story by Howard Bryant)
If they had lost, they were finished. They all admitted it in one way or another, and relied on their belief systems more than at any point in the season. There was the players-only meeting last week, where the common thread was to believe in “it,” in finding some impossible way over the next few weeks to resurrect the season.
And when yesterday’s bizarre and wholly surreal 22-19 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field was complete, when the Washington Redskins first mobbed place kicker Nick Novak for making up for missing a critical field goal in the final minute with a 47-yard game-winner with no time remaining, and then safety Troy Vincent for blocking what would have been a season-crushing 35-yard field goal by Dallas place kicker Mike Vanderjagt that gave Novak his second chance, the players say they found something else: an emotional formula, however unlikely, that gives them hope.
“We won the first game of our one-game season. Next week, we have another one-game season,” said middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, who made his first super-sized play of the season by dumping Cowboys running back Julius Jones for a first-quarter safety. “If we keep winning these one-game seasons, one play at a time, one quarter at a time, well, we’ll see what happens.”