Redskins Advance to Playoffs, 27-14
By Leonard Shapiro
They snarled, scratched and clawed to a memorable 27-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and gained the National Football Conference playoffs for the fifth time in the last six years.
"This has to be the best ever, because of all the things we had to overcome to get here," George Allen said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I've never seen anything like it, crisis after crisis all year, and then this. I'm so proud of these guys, so proud."
And so, after a frantic 50-second eruption that produced 14 points in the final 4½ minutes, the Redskins laid claim to the wild-card berth they so dearly coveted, and a first-round playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m. against the NFC Central champion Minnesota Vikings.
St. Louis, by beating New York, 17-14, made this a game the Redskins had to win. "When the Cardinals beat the Giants, it really put the monkey on our back," Allen said. "I didn't even mention it (the score) becasue I didn't want to concern them about it. They knew what they had to do."
And so they did.
There was Billy Kilmer withstanding an all-out Cowboy blitz to complete one of the biggest third down passes of his life to Mike Thomas.
There was Calvin Hill, the almost-forgotten free agent and former Cowboy, bursting through a buge hole around right end, courtesy of Larry Brown, for 15 yards and a touchdown, his first of the season. It came with 4:34 to play and gave the Redskins a 20-14 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish.
There was Diron Talbert, swatting down a Roger Staubach pass that bounced off bodies like a volleyball until Dennis Johnson picked it out of the air and fell to earth at the Cowboy three-yard line.
There was John Riggins, the big buck fullback, following a string of incredible blocks on the next play to run three yards untouched around left end into the end zone for the breathe-easy points with 3:44 left to play.
There was Joe Lavender, intercepting a Staubach pass with 1:46 to play, stifling the final Cowboy threat and allowing the Redskins to kill those final delicious seconds.
There was the Redskin defensive team, sacking Staubach five times, picking off two of his passes and limiting him to a meager 54 yards on five completions in 22 attempts.
And there was George Allen, standing alone at his locker, combing his hair and talking about "one of the most satisfying wins of my career."
"And you know why? Because we overcame so much today. So many times it looked as like we'd score, and we couldn't. It would have been easy to give up. But time after time we came back. That is what winning is really all about.
"We were down. The Giant game really hurt us. But the last month, I could feel us coming together. I like the feeling on this team, I like what I see. I see a lot of good things, and that's what makes a champion."
What Allen liked the most was the Redskins comeback when they were down 14-10 after the biggest Cowboy play of the game a 43-yard bomb from Staubach to rookie Butch Johnson less than three minutes into the third period.
The Redskins chipped back within a point on Mark Moseley's 27-yard field goal 5½ minutes later. But things looked grim as time and again the Cowboys held.
And then it came down to the first of many big Redskin plays in the stretch, when the season was clearly on the line.
Kilmer was faced with a third and 10 situation at the Dallas 38-yard line with 5½ minutes to play. As he stepped up over center Len Hauss, he could see the Cowboys were coming in a blitz. He called an audible.
Mike Thomas saw the Cowboys coming, too. He saw safety Cliff Harris heading toward the quarterback, and he knew he would be faced with single coverage as he ran his pattern to get free.
"When Cliff dogged, he ran right up the middle, and that left it wide open," Thomas said. "All I had to do was beat (Randy) Hughes. Billy laid the ball right there. All I had to do was go."
Hughes recovered to make a shoe-string tackle, but not until Thomas had lugged it 34 yards to the four. The tackle also twisted Thomas' ankle and he limped out. It may have been the most providential happening of the day.
Calvin Hill replaced him. On first and goal from the four Hill was whistled for illegal motion. "I couldn't believe it when they called it," Hill said. "I thought I went with the ball."
Riggins then gained four yards to the Dallas five, and on second and goal from there, Kilmer handed it to Hill again. The big tailback swept to his right and just got into the end zone. But another flag hit the turf as Ron Saul was called for holding. So the Redskins had second and goal from the 15.
Larry Brown came in to replace Riggins at fullback and the Cowboys, Kilmer said later on, surely must have been expecting a pass. So Kilmer crossed them.
He gave the ball to Hill on a sweep around the right end. George Starke helped seal the pursuing Dallas linemen and Larry Brown threw a hellacious block on safety Charlie Waters.
Hill cut inside Brown's block and with those big, long strides that turned the people of Texas on for so many years, he whooshed into the end zone 15 yards away. Moseley's extra point gave the Redskins a 20-14 lead, but none of the Redskins were relaxed.
This time, the defense came up with the big plays, as it has throughout the Redskin stretch drive.
On first down from his 21, Staubach was sacked by Ron McDole for a 12-yard loss to the nine, then on second down, he threw a pass from a few yards deep in the end zone, and it was batted in the air by Talbert.
John Fitzgerald, the Dallas center, took a swipe at it, and Staubach said the ball appeared to hit someone in the knee. In any case, it bounced into the appreciated hands of defensive end Johnson, and the Redskins took over at the Dallas three.
"I kind of thought about scoring," Johnson beamed when it was over. "But I figured the best thing to do was to go down and not give them a shot at knocking it loose. Let somebody else score those touchdowns."
So Riggins, who ran for 95 yards on 23 carries, happily obliged. This time, Hill, Saul, and tight end Jerry Smith threw the blocks, and the big fullback swept around left end into the end zone untouched.
Moseley's extra point gave the Redskins their final margin of victory, and Lavender's interception of Staubach's pass intended for Johnson, his eighth of the year, preserved it.
There were other Redskin heroes today. Bill Malinchak, activated four weeks ago, justified Allen's faithby blocking a Danny White punt. That set up the game's first score Moseley's 25-yard field goal eight seconds into the second quarter.
Tight end Jean Fugett also had a wonderful day against his old teammates. He caught three passes for 43 yards, including a six-yard touchdown toss from Kilmer with 47 seconds left in the first half.
Early in the second quarter, the Redskins forced the Cowboys to punt. But a referee aclled Redskin Stu O'Dell for an illegal cut block as he and Gerard Williams were trying to knock down a Dallas wide receiver heading downfield.
"I saw it all the way," said Art McNally, the NFl's supervisor of officials watching from the press box. "It was definitely an illegal cut. The inside man (O'Dell) blocked him below the waist. You may not block the wide receiver below the waist until the ball has been kicked. Their man took one step and he was hit. It was a good call." The Cowboys kept the ball and had a first down at the Washington 42.
Seven plays later, Doug Dennison scored from 12 yards out and the Cowboys led, 7-3, midway through the second period.
Kilmer had several rotten moments in the second half. He tossed up two interceptions and very nearly suffered a third. His first bad pass was intended for Frank Grant and picked off by Mark Washington. Three plays later, on third and nine, Butch Johnson made a marvelous catch in the end zone between Pat Fischer and Ken Houston for a 14-0 Dallas lead.
Jefferson was streaking down the left sideline on the next Redskin series and seemed wide open. But Kilmer's pass was underthrown and again intercepted by Mark Washington. The Cowboys did not capitalize.
On the play preceding Moseley's 27-yard field goal on the next series, Kilmer was aiming for Thomas in the right flat on third and nine at the Dallas 10.
He hung the ball up, and Dallas linebacker Tom Henderson was out in front of Thomas for an almost cinch interception with an open field staring him in the face. He dropped the ball.
BUt all of that is so much history now. The Redskins will go winging into the playoffs coming off their first victory in Texas since 1981 and the fourth straight triumph of the season.