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  Williams Brings Relief to Redskins, 27-24

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 1987; Page B1

MINNEAPOLIS, DEC. 26 -- The field-goal attempt, Ali Haji-Sheikh's shortest and surest of this long afternoon, carried the necessary 26 yards before dropping between the uprights and over the crossbar at the suddenly silent Metrodome.

There was relief on the Washington Redskins' sideline. That's about it. Most of the players were too tired to jump for joy.

Another overtime game with the Minnesota Vikings had been won, 27-24.

Barry Wilburn had returned an interception a team-record 100 yards in the first quarter. He has nine interceptions this season, four short of another team record.

And another quarterback controversy was brewing.

Doug Williams was back.

Jay Schroeder was back on the bench.

Coach Joe Gibbs said he will wait until Wednesday to name his playoff starter.

Is this any way for a team to prepare for the playoffs?

For the third time this season, Gibbs turned to Williams, his veteran backup quarterback, and he delivered. Gibbs benched Schroeder with 6:51 to play in the third quarter and the scored tied, 7-7.

Williams immediately led the Redskins to a touchdown and a 14-7 lead. After throwing two interceptions that helped the Vikings take a 24-14 lead, Williams and the Redskins rallied to score 10 points in the final 5:05 of regulation, then took the team 44 yards in six plays to Haji-Sheikh's winning field goal in overtime.

With the victory, the Redskins improved to 11-4 and earned a chance to host a playoff game at RFK Stadium the weekend of Jan. 9 and 10. If Chicago loses to the Los Angeles Raiders Sunday, the Redskins will host at least one playoff game. If the Bears win, the Redskins must go on the road for their first game.

The Vikings fell to 8-7 and must hope that St. Louis loses to Dallas in order to qualify for a wild-card berth.

In the finale of the strangest of regular seasons, the Redskins left the field with more questions than smiles.

"I'm too tired to think," Gibbs said when asked who his starting quarterback will be for the playoffs.

But Schroeder, who completed nine of 17 passes for 85 yards and two interceptions before leaving the game, said he believes Williams will be the starter. And others indicated Gibbs would go with Williams for the same reasons he turned to Schroeder after he engineered a comeback against the New York Giants last month.

"There's something about the guy {Williams}," said wide receiver Ricky Sanders, who was every bit the star Williams was as the game drew to a close. "He just sparks the team."

Williams, who is now 3-0 in relief of Schroeder but 0-2 as a starter this season, completed 11 of 22 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, both to Sanders.

"It's Coach Gibbs' decision," Williams said.

Another decision awaiting Gibbs' evaluation involves the kicking game. Haji-Sheikh made the game-winner in overtime, but missed one in regulation. With 46 seconds to play, Haji-Sheikh missed wide left on a 33-yard attempt because of what appeared to be a bad hold by Schroeder on a high snap. Haji-Sheikh said his timing was thrown off and he rushed the kick. He earlier missed a 35-yard try.

When asked about the kicking game, Gibbs said, "I think I'll just evaluate the whole team the next couple days." Jess Atkinson, who dislocated his left ankle in the season-opener, has said he is ready if the Redskins need him.

Last season, when these two teams played at RFK Stadium, the Redskins won in overtime, 44-38. Today, the stars and plays were different, but the results were the same.

Williams led the team into overtime. Sanders took over from there.

The Redskins won the overtime coin toss when Dexter Manley picked heads. At Gibbs' suggestion, Sanders replaced Clarence Verdin and returned the kickoff. He ran 36 yards to the Washington 47. Then he caught a 22-yard pass from Williams to the 31. On third down and nine at the 30, Sanders again came through, catching a ball over his shoulder for a first down at the 20.

Running back George Rogers gained 11 yards up the middle to set up Haji-Sheik's field goal.

Behind by 10 points with little more than five minutes remaining, the Redskins came back to tie the game on a 37-yard Haji-Sheikh field goal with 5:05 left and a 51-yard pass from Williams to Sanders with 1:46 left. Sanders finished with eight catches for 164 yards.

"It was you and Doug," wide receiver Gary Clark said to Sanders. "You two won the game."

Gibbs said he made the switch to Williams because he had "a gut feeling" it was time. In the third quarter, Schroeder ended one drive with an interception and another with a short incompletion toward Sanders. The team wasn't losing, but it wasn't winning, either.

"I was thinking about this game," Gibbs said. "I did it to win this game."

Williams entered the game almost unnoticed by the crowd of 59,160. Soon, it was hard to miss him.

He completed his first pass to tight end Terry Orr over the middle for 23 yards to the Vikings 36. A holding penalty on Orr pushed Washington back to the 46. Williams threw incomplete on first and 20, as the ball was tipped and nearly intercepted at the line of scrimmage.

On second down, Williams threw deep to Sanders over the middle. The Washington wide receiver had a step on linebacker Jesse Solomon and caught the pass for a 46-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Washington lead with 6:08 remaining in the quarter.

As Williams walked off the field, he was embraced by Manley, Reggie Branch and Alvin Walton, who hung onto Williams until he reached the sideline.

But things quickly turned sour for Williams and the Redskins. The Vikings came back to tie the score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Running back Alfred Anderson scored on a one-yard lean and dive into the left side of his line to end an 80-yard drive. Quarterback Wade Wilson made the key play of the drive when he scrambled 38 yards to the Washington 16.

Then two Williams interceptions quickly led to 10 Minnesota points. On second down after Anderson's touchdown, a pass to Clark bounced out of Clark's hands and into the grasp of safety Joey Browner, who returned the ball 15 yards to the Washington 25. The Vikings didn't miss out on this opportunity. Four plays later, Wilson sneaked into the end zone for a 21-14 lead with 12:14 left.

Again, on second down moments later, Williams was intercepted. This time it appeared to be his fault, as he fired the ball into linebacker David Howard's stomach at the Washington 23.

This led to Chuck Nelson's 20-yard field goal and a 24-14 lead with 9:41 left.

But then came a 65-yard march to Haji-Sheikh's 37-yard field goal. That was followed by Sanders' 51-yard scoring catch down the middle of the field with 1:46 left.

The Vikings still had time, but Wilson overthrew two receivers on second down and was intercepted by Walton at the Minnesota 21 with 1:09 left in regulation. The Redskins worked the ball to the 16, but Haji-Sheikh missed.

The Redskins were lucky to be tied at halftime. In fact, the only thing to save them from a dismal first half were Wilburn's opportune hands, churning legs and length-of-the-field stamina. The interception stopped a possible Minnesota touchdown that would have put the Vikings up, 14-0. Instead, the return from the goal line made it 7-7 at halftime.

What a strange half it was. The Vikings completely dominated, and yet managed only a tie. They held the ball for 11:42 of the second quarter and did not score. For 10 minutes midway through the quarter, the Redskins' offense never left the sideline. The Vikings gained 96 yards during that time and failed to score.

"We hadn't done much to that point, but we were still in the game," Wilburn said.

© Copyright 1987 The Washington Post Company

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