September 10, 1991: The Deck Was Stacked
IRVING, TEX. -- The measure of a good team that wants to be great isn’t winning at home over pitiful, gutless, no-account Detroit without Barry Sanders. It’s coming from 10 points down, on the road, against a worthy opponent that treated the days leading up to the game like Super Bowl week. It’s winning despite losing two strong safeties, the starting right tackle and starting left guard to injuries. It’s holding the opponent to three yards rushing in the second half after giving up 75 on one carry in the first.
Really and truly, the Redskins opened their NFL regular season Monday night here in Texas Stadium. You know how much the Redskins learned about themselves in beating the Lions, 45-0, a week ago? Nothing. Zippo. Nada. Now, after this 33-31 victory over the ambitious, coming Cowboys, the Redskins know more about the hand they’re holding. And it’s worth getting worked up over. Two pair at the very least, probably more like a full house.
The Redskins had been pretty much a pigeon for the Cowboys lately, losing three of six to Dallas teams that went from forlorn to respectable to, now, dangerous. So Monday night was a fairly important game for Week 2 of the season, what with that new juggernaut, Phoenix, coming to RFK Stadium on Sunday.
If the Cowboys wanted to treat this as a coming out party, then Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs would come with a few surprise packages of his own. The Redskins ran four end-around plays, three to Ricky Sanders, one to Art Monk, and faked another. A fake punt/three-yard run by Brian Mitchell on fourth down at midfield kept alive the touchdown drive that put them ahead, 30-24. The Redskins let it all hang out to stop a seven-game Monday night losing streak.
For a minute, after Kelvin Martin’s muffed punt reception, all the emotion of a great Dallas start had been wasted. The Cowboys would find themselves in a generous mood in the third quarter too. Ahead 24-23, Dan Stubbs hit Mark Rypien after he’d released what became an incomplete pass. Instead of having to punt, the Redskins kept the ball and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
A muffed punt return and a late hit. That’s about what separates the Redskins and the Cowboys. “We got beat by a more experienced team,” Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson said. “and we gave ‘em some gifts. You can’t expect to beat a team like Washington when you give ‘em gifts.”
The Cowboys, after kicking around the Browns in their opener, also got initiated Monday night. If you’re going to shed the coat of an underdog and lay claim to being a contender, this was the type of fight you must get used to.
The Cowboys had not given up 300 yards for seven straight games. That streak ended, as the Redskins totaled 332. Earnest Byner ran 22 times for 101 yards. Mark Rypien (14 for 26, 203 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) was so-so. Importantly, he did what he does best, throw deep.
It was almost more fun to watch what would happen when the offense stalled, because that way we got to see Chip Lohmiller. And boy, there was a lot of him to see. Four field goals, with 45 yards the shortest.
Remember how the old Cowboys used to ask the officials to check Mark Moseley’s right shoe for some illegal aid? Well, they definitely should have spent a timeout to find out if Lohmiller had a brick at the end of his right toe Monday night.
The field goals from 53 and 52 yards each might have been good from 65 and broken Tom Dempsey’s record. The 52-yarder, which got the Redskins within 21-20 just before halftime, was even more wondrous when you consider that the Jeff Rutledge scooped the ball on a bounce. He was able not only to right the ball, but partially spin the laces as Lohmiller’s leg swing began. One of his kickoffs sailed clear out of the end zone on the fly.
There have been times during his four-year career when you’d wonder if Lohmiller, as spectacular as he could be sometimes, would eliminate lapses in concentration or whatever it was that would lead to blown chip shots after dead-center 50-yarders. But after tonight -- 53, 52, 46, 45 -- Bigfoot appears ready to become the league’s premier placekicker.
After two weeks, only two teams in the NFC East are 2-0, and one is the Redskins. The Cowboys have something sweet here with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Alexander Wright, Alvin Harper and a pretty good kicker of their own in Ken Willis. But there will be growing pains along the way, as there are for any young team. And the first one was administered by a very old, and savvy, rival.