"He was always at his best when things were at their worst," Gibbs said of Cooke. "That tells you the guy had guts. He could sense when I needed encouragement. A lot of people panic in that situation and are ready to sell you out. He was always better when it looked like it was going to fall apart. I admired him. He was mentally tough. As we all know, he had some things about him, and he could tick people off. But he was a great owner, and I was fortunate. All of D.C. realizes that now."
In the next game, against the Bears at Soldier Field on October 11, 1981, the tide began to turn with a 24-7 Redskins victory. Two keys to that win were that the Redskins forced the turnovers (four for the game) and that Gibbs had shifted to a run-based attack. In a way, this is when Riggins first began to make Joe Gibbs famous.
Gibbs had been using Riggins, Metcalf, Harmon and Washington in combinations, depending on the circumstances. But against the Bears, Metcalf did not have a carry. Riggins rushed 23 times for 126 yards and a 2-yard touchdown. While Washington carried 21 times for 88 yards, he often went in motion from his backfield spot. The Redskins ran the ball 47 times for 227 of their total 301 yards.
In time, Riggins ended up alone in the backfield. "We had Riggins at fullback and Terry Metcalf at tailback, and we were trying to stay in an I-formation," Gibbs said. "But Riggins didn't want to block. He wanted to run with the ball. And we certainly didn't want [the smaller] Metcalf blocking for him. We made changes and went to a one-back. The other thing we did was put in another tight end, especially to put him on [New York Giant] Lawrence Taylor's nose. We made some technical changes, and that's when we made our move and took off. Richie [Petitbon] and the guys on defense gradually got better."
Petitbon had been promoted to defensive coordinator from secondary coach at Beathard's suggestion. "I thought we had a terrific operation Joe left us alone," Petitbon said. "Joe would come in to watch film with us on Sunday, but he never told us what to play or calls to make on defense. Now, if it hadn't worked out, I'm sure he would have had more input, and he did give us ideas about what gave his offense a lot of trouble."
The Redskins offense actually had less and less trouble in 1981, with the team winning eight of its last 11 games to finish 8-8, one win shy of a playoff spot that year. Missing the post-season served as inspiration for the future. "That 0-5 motivated us for six or seven years," Gibbs said. "Guys hated it and didn't want to go back to it."