September 14, 1987: WILLIAMS RELIEF-PITCHES REDSKINS TO VICTORY
In case the NFL as we know it isn’t playing football in two weeks because of a players strike, several subsequent Sundays could be filled by remembering the injuries, improbable heroes, strange plays, chaos, laughter and tears that were compressed into 3 1/2 hours yesterday at RFK Stadium.
The Washington Redskins survived and won their first game of the regular season, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 34-24, before 52,128. The Redskins had 10 injured players coming into the game, many of them starters and key reserves. Coming out of it, they had five more injuries.
Kicker Jess Atkinson has the worst injury of all. He was carried from the field on a stretcher after Andre Waters rammed him on a successful extra point. He will be out indefinitely, perhaps for the season, with a dislocated his left ankle. The Redskins plan to bring in several kickers for tryouts this week, with veterans Ali Haji-Sheikh and Florian Kempf topping the list, according to General Manager Bobby Beathard.
Quarterback Jay Schroeder sprained his right shoulder four minutes into the game and was replaced by Doug Williams, who took advantage of the rare regular season playing opportunity to pass for 272 yards and two touchdowns to Art Monk. Schroeder’s only appearances the rest of the game were to hold on extra points and field goals for Steve Cox, Atkinson’s equally brilliant replacement. Schroeder likely won’t be able to play quarterback for “two, three, four weeks,” Coach Joe Gibbs said.
Running back George Rogers also sprained his right shoulder and probably will be sidelined as long as Schroeder, Gibbs said. Rogers hurt himself lunging for a one-yard touchdown with 38 seconds left in the first half that put Washington ahead, 17-10. Center Russ Grimm strained his back early in the second quarter and never returned and will be out for a while, according to Gibbs. He was replaced by Jeff Bostic, who had been demoted this summer.
Two starting defensive linemen -- tackle Darryl Grant (pulled calf muscle) and end Markus Koch (torn tendon in finger) -- also had to leave the game.
But injuries were only part of the story of a game that defied convention. Williams said that, six days ago, Gibbs telephoned to say the team was considering trading him to the Los Angeles Raiders for a second-round draft choice. The Redskins decided not to do it, and, yesterday, Williams showed why. For the first time since he joined the team before the 1986 season, he was needed. And he came through.
He completed 17 of 27 passes. He won the game with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Monk on the first play of the fourth quarter. He led the team with fist-pumping emotion. He was cheered heartily when he entered the game, and when it was over.
He overthrew a man or two, but he found Ricky Sanders for a 57-yard gain to set up Reggie Branch’s one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for a 24-10 lead. He also set up Rogers’ touchdown just before the end of the first half with a 34-yard over-the-shoulder special to Kelvin Bryant for a 17-10 lead at intermission.
Cox, the punter who misfired badly a year ago when he tried kicking short field goals in preseason, was a hero, too. After Atkinson was injured, Cox’s first two punts were clunkers, by his standards: a low 41-yarder and an even lower 38-yarder. He said he was preoccupied with all the duties that all of a sudden had become his this day. Special teams coach Chuck Banker walked over to Cox on the sideline and gave him a suggestion: “De-scramble your mind.”
Cox’s final three punts averaged 55 yards. He went three for three on extra points and kicked a 40-yard field goal with 5:20 to play to give the Redskins their final 10-point margin. It was the shortest field goal Cox has ever kicked in the NFL. “It also was the biggest of my life,” he said.
In this game, there were plays, mostly by the Eagles, that looked like they were drawn in the sand, then enacted by school kids. One was a fake punt that involved a hidden Eagle sneaking off the bench to catch a 36-yard pass, although Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan denied it was designed that way. The Eagles were penalized 15 yards on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct and returned to punt formation. But “Buddy Ball” being what it is, they faked that one, too. Punter John Teltschik could run for only 10 of the necessary 27 yards, however, and the Redskins soon scored after Williams’ strike set up Rogers’ run.
Early in the third quarter, the Redskins increased their lead to 24-10 on Branch’s one-yard run after Sanders’ long catch. The Eagles answered, drawing to within 24-17 when quarterback Randall Cunningham rolled out and scampered into the end zone on fourth down and two.
But Williams led the Redskins back down the field moments later, chipping away with passes to Gary Clark and handoffs to Bryant. On first down at the Philadelphia 22, Williams stepped back to throw, pumped once, and then felt the grasp of all-pro defensive end Reggie White.
Williams appeared to tuck in the ball, and then, in the next frame, there was White, all 6 feet 5 and 285 pounds of him, grabbing the ball and running off with it downfield.
”Reggie did a good job of stealing,” Williams said. “He should be put in jail. The most amazing thing was no one could catch him.”
White ran to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown and a 24-24 tie with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
But Keith Griffin, the player who had just given chase to White, almost nipping him at the heels at the goal line, then put the Redskins back in position to score. He returned the Eagles kickoff 54 yards to the Philadelphia 39.
On the next play, Williams read the defense beautifully, watching free safety Terry Hoage float toward Sanders, which meant Monk would have single coverage in the middle of the field.
The man with single coverage was none other than linebacker Seth Joyner. Linebackers rarely can cover Monk one on one, and this was no exception. Monk had him beat by a couple steps and cradled Williams’ pass for the 39-yard touchdown with 14:53 remaining. Monk also scored on a six-yard pass in Williams’ first drive of the game.
Williams took the Redskins on their final drive midway through the last quarter, a 73-yard, 12-play effort that used up more than six minutes and set up Cox’s 40-yarder with 5:20 left.
For the game, the Redskins outgained the Eagles in net yards, 374-351. But they were only able to gain 110 yards rushing, with Bryant the leading ground gainer with 32 yards on seven carries. Rogers had 15 yards on seven carries.
Clark was the Redskins’ leading receiver with eight catches for 102 yards. Cunningham completed 21 of 36 passes for 269 yards and ran for 39 yards on seven carries.
The tipoff that this was not to be an average NFL game came in the first 2 1/2 minutes, when there were three fumbles lost.
The Redskins settled down and scored on Atkinson’s 27-yard field goal, then Monk’s first touchdown. The Eagles tied the game on Mike Quick’s 30-yard scoring reception and a 43-yard Paul McFadden field goal.
The game had so many startling images, but none quite as memorable as Atkinson being carried off on a stretcher, sitting up as much as he could and pumping his fist toward his teammates.
”I saw that and I almost cried,” said defensive end Charles Mann, who had two sacks.
A second image was much lighter. Defensive end Dexter Manley, who has had a partially torn ligament in his right knee, never played, but he tried. Twice he entered the huddle on third-down passing situations; twice the Eagles called a timeout.
Figuring the Eagles were changing things, the Redskins changed things, too, and took Manley out. His huddle visits were cheered as lustily as any play made on this crazy opening day.