December 2, 1991: Redskins Go West and Clinch NFC East, 27-6: Second Half Too Strong for Rams
ANAHEIM, CALIF., DEC. 1 -- They were sluggish at times, they never got their Rolls-Royce running game humming and they heard a blistering halftime address from their chair-kicking coach. But today a lot of things also went right for the Washington Redskins, who clinched the NFC East championship with a 27-6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams before 55,027 at Anaheim Stadium.
It’s their first division championship since 1987, their fifth in 11 seasons since Coach Joe Gibbs arrived. And as the 12-1 Redskins again took care of business with a blue-collar day at the office, pieces continued to fall into place around them.
A second straight loss by 9-4 New Orleans means the Redskins need to win only one of their final three games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
They’ve already wrapped up a first-round bye and one home playoff game, and if they win next weekend at 4-9 Phoenix, they’ll finish the season against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles with nothing on the line.
”It’s a happy day for the Redskins,” Gibbs said. “It was tough work all day. The Rams played hard and gave it a shot. It wasn’t smooth, but we got the win. We’ve got two of our goals, and hopefully we’ll get the third here soon. We need to nail down home-field advantage, and after that point, we’ve done everything we can do.”
In the solitude of their locker room, they celebrated for about three minutes and accepted T-shirts inscribed “NFC East Champions.” Most of those shirts were stuffed into travel bags for the flight home, which is a stark contrast to their loud, raucous reaction a year ago after clinching a wild-card playoff spot. But a season that began with 11 straight victories has led to higher expectations.
”We feel like we’ve got bigger and better things to do,” tackle Jim Lachey said.
Gibbs must think so too, because he was so unimpressed by a 7-6 halftime that he kicked a chair across the room to get his team’s attention at intermission. That bit of temper must have worked because Wilber Marshall and Martin Mayhew stripped the ball from receiver Flipper Anderson on the third play of the third quarter, and Mark Rypien tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders. Then after another possession went nowhere, Gibbs used a no-huddle offense that got a quick-strike touchdown and a 21-6 lead.
For most of the day, the Redskins looked very much like a team coming off a draining loss to Dallas last weekend and showed the jet lag of a bumpy six-hour flight to get here. But despite a running game that never really got going, they did enough to overcome the 3-10 Rams.
They did it thanks to Rypien, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns. He threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Terry Orr, the 30-yarder to Sanders and a 24-yard pass-and-run to Ricky Ervins. Chip Lohmiller kicked a pair of 35-yard field goals, after missing from 47, 59 and 48 on a day when winds swirled in the 20-25 mph range.
They needed that passing yardage because they mustered just 84 yards on the ground -- their third-lowest total of the season. Earnest Byner got 62 on 19 carries and Ervins 17 on six runs.
Defensively, Monte Coleman had a pair of sacks and Charles Mann had one as the Redskins limited quarterback Jim Everett and the Rams to a pair of first-half field goals.
”In the second half, the mistakes did us in,” Rams Coach John Robinson said. “The other thing was that our offense could not score. Our defense can’t get the job done yet, but it’s showing some signs.”
It was the strangest of days, a day when the Southern California weather turned gusty and chilly. A day when sold-out Anaheim Stadium had 12,000 empty seats. A day when the Redskins heard cheers throughout the afternoon and left the field to several hundred fans singing “Hail To The Redskins” behind the south goal posts.
They responded as if they were going to make quick work of the Rams. Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 35 yards, and on their first snap, Rypien hit Art Monk for 22. From there, things got tougher. Byner picked up back-to-back two-yard gains, and Rypien missed Sanders on third down. Lohmiller came in and the winds seemed to whip his 47-yard field goal try wide left.
The Rams took over at their 30 and took a 3-0 lead with a 47-yard, 10-play drive ending with a 41-yard field goal by Tony Zendejas.
Everett did a nice job in moving around inside the pocket, and Robinson did a nice job in finding a hole in the Redskins defense, particularly by throwing short passes to running back Robert Delpino.
On first down from his 43, Everett swung a pass to Delpino for nine. On third and one, he scrambled for six. He missed Henry Ellard on a curious third-and-two call, and the Rams settled for the field goal.
The Redskins came back quickly. Byner picked up a pair of three-yard gains, and Rypien hit Sanders for 15. Rypien then rolled right, and threw left, where Orr was alone behind the defense at the 25, for a 47-yard touchdown play. It was Orr’s fifth reception, and they’ve gone for 22, 23, 37, 9 and 47 yards.
This one held up. The Redskins got only two first downs on their next three possessions. One drive ended with a Rypien pass intercepted by Darryl Henley in the end zone, and the final one of the first half ended with Lohmiller getting a bad snap and missing a 59-yard kick.
The Rams closed to 7-6 on a 34-yard field goal by Zendejas. Everett made some nice plays on the drive, hitting Anderson for 17 and Damone Johnson for four and a first down. Once they got close, though, they folded, and on third and 11 Robinson made another odd call, sending Delpino on a draw play for one yard.
Halftime ended the slumber, and the Redskins snapped out of it for sure on the third play of the third quarter. Everett hit Anderson for nine yards, and Mayhew and Marshall wrestled the ball away. Marshall fell on it at the Los Angeles 34, and two plays later Sanders got behind Jerry Gray and for the 30-yard touchdown.
That play gave the Redskins a 14-6 lead, and after another dismal possession, the Redskins went to the no-huddle.
As it had a week earlier, that change got them going and they made it 21-6 with a seven-play, 62-yard drive. Rypien hit three of four, throwing to Monk for four, Gary Clark for nine, and to Ervins on the scoring play -- a screen pass. Ervins weaved inside, then outside and got a clearing block from Mark Schlereth to spring him for the 24-yard score.
It was especially sweet for Ervins, who went to high school in Pasadena and played at USC. “I had about 16 relatives here, and I’d promised my nephew a touchdown,” he said. “Really, I promised it about three weeks ago, but hadn’t gotten one. Anyone would like a play like that. You get out in the open field and you’ve got two big guys in front of you.”
The no-huddle is a small consolation for again having trouble with the run, but it did do the job they hoped it would do.
”We were sputtering and felt it might be a good way to break it open,” Rypien said. “We’ve worked on it enough to feel comfortable, and it’s something to go to get us out of a jam. We thought a quick score would put the nail in the coffin.”
The Rams couldn’t move it, and the Redskins tried once more to get the running game going. They did drive 34 yards and Lohmiller made a 35-yard field goal with 8:41 remaining in the game to make it 24-6.
The first four plays were all runs, and Byner got gains of five, four, four and zero. He caught a nine-yard pass, then Gerald Riggs got five and Byner five. Byner broke an 11-yarder outside, but Orr was called for holding. Rypien hit Ervins on a screen for 12, but when he overthrew Monk in the end zone, the Redskins had to settle for the field goal.
The Rams were backed up to their 5 on the kickoff and didn’t get out. Mitchell returned Dale Hatcher’s punt 12 yards to the Los Angeles 28. Byner picked up five, three and one, and on fourth and one, Lohmiller kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 27-6.
By then there were fewer than 30,000 fans left and many of them were wearing burgundy and gold.
”We knew how the Rams would react,” Clark said. “We’ve been through stretches where people have called us names and criticized us in the papers. They’re quality people over there and they were going to come out fighting. We want to play two playoff games at RFK and we think we’ll be hard to beat. I think this is a special season and we’ve got a special purpose.
STAYING AHEAD; Terry Orr is on his way to a touchdown and the Redskins won’t be caught in a 27-6 victory over the Rams in Anaheim, Calif., or in the NFC East race. Orr escapes Michael Stewart on a 47-yard pass play, erasing a 3-0 deficit. Story, Page D1.