Gibbs should have cried as well. The Redskins were missing eight starters by the time they went to New Orleans the next week, and a long list of others were playing with injuries that might have sidelined them in a normal year. In many such situations, the Redskins had risen above improbable circumstances and scored dramatic victories. Not that week. The Saints won easily, 20-3, and the Redskins were 6-5 and struggling to keep the playoffs in sight.
Three straight victories followed, including a miraculous, last-minute, 20-17 win over the Cowboys at RFK. Now at 9-5, they looked primed for another playoff run. But in Philadelphia, they lost in the final seconds to the Eagles, 17-13, and the next Saturday they were beaten by the Raiders, 21-20, when Green, with the pain-killing injection he had been taking having worn off, allowing a long Willie Gault completion.
When the Redskins left RFK after the Raiders game on December 26, it looked like the last of the season. Unless Minnesota could knock off Green Bay the next day, the Redskins were toasted. What made such an outcome so unlikely was that the Packers were playing for their playoff lives, while the Vikings had already clinched a spot.
Gibbs hugged several of his players and thanked them for their effort, seemingly a prelude to saying goodbye after the official word came the next day. But it didn't come. The Vikings upset the Packers, and the Redskins suddenly had a wild-card berth.
What followed was one more Gibbs miracle. Without depth, drained of emotion and playing a confident opponent in a hostile environment, the Redskins went to Minnesota the next weekend and beat the Vikings, 24-7. It was as thorough and surprising a beating as any Joe Gibbs' team had administered. The Vikings opened the game with a quick touchdown, but the Redskins controlled the ball for 43 of the final 55 minutes. Brian Mitchell subbed for Ervins and gained 109 yards on 16 carries. He also returned a punt 54 yards for a score. Defensive end Fred Stokes had three sacks, and Clark caught six passes for 91 yards.
The day before the game, Gibbs had shown his players George C. Scott's mesmerizing monologue at the beginning of "Patton." "That part about not dying for your country, but making the other bastard die for his country," Mayhew said. "I liked that."
"Our older guys were going to go down swinging," Gibbs said. "It was a great character check, and our guys had it."