The Washington Redskins won another football game in spite of themselves yesterday with George Allen's favorite weapon, and aroused defense, that saved a 10-6 victory ove the Atlanta Falcons in the final two minutes a RFK Stadium.
"How important was this game?" a weary George Allen asked. "If we lost today, we've got big problems, deep problems. But we showed some great character out there. It would have been easy to quit and give up when all those things go against you. These guys never stopped trying." I'm very proud of them."
When the Redskins look back at a turning point in their 1977 season, they will have to glance no farther than Mike Curtis' sack of quarterback Scott Hunter on first down from the Redskin 17 with 1:53 left to play.
Curtis, signed as a free agent only three weeks ago, came roaring through the line untouched on a play called by safety Ken Houston in the Redskin defensive huddle. Curtis smacked Hunter down for a 13-yard loss back to the 30-yard line and the Falcons never recovered.
The Redskins made three more big plays on defense after that, allowing the Falcons to get no closer than the 28. But the Curtis blitz was the killer blow this day as the Redskins improved to 1-1, and averted what would have been a humiliating defeat.
"Nobody touched me, those are the easy ones," said Curtis, playing in place of Chris Hanburger, still recovering from an emergency appendectomy Sept. 1. "They just screwed up."
The Redskins had their own share of blunders yesterday, and quarterback Billy Kilmer took most of the abuse from an angey crowd that booed him often and chanted "We Want Joe (Theisman)" several times when the offense bogged down.
Newcomer Curtis, who dresses next to Kilmet, disagreed the with the fans: "They probably wand Eddie LeBaron or Sam Snead. They don't know what's going on."
The boo-birds were particularly vicious after Kilmer threw two straight interceptions midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Falcons more opportunities to score than they probably deserved.
Atlanta, in fact, ran off 20 more plays than the Redskins, and had posesson 35 1/2 minutes to the Redskins' 24 1/2. The Redskins managed only 252 yards of total offense and Kilmer was sacked three times for loses of 21 yards.
Kilmer did throw a two-yards touch-downs pass to Mike Thomas for the games winning points late in the third quarter. He also ducked out of the locker room and was not available for comment after the game.
The crowd of 55.031 was hardly in forgiving mood, not after the Redskins had eight points - a safety and a razzle-dazzle improvised touchdown by John Riggins by way of a Jean Fugett lateral nullified by penalties that keep plaguing the Redskins.
In all the Redskins had 12 violations for 114 yards yesterday, including a personal foul against Ken Houston that George Allen and his players agreed to a man got the Redskins angry enough to score the games's only touchdoen.
Mildway through the third quarter with the teams tied, 3-3, Nick Mike-Mayer's 52-year field goal attempt was blocked by Ron McDole. The ball ricocheted back about 10 yards and Redskin cornerback Gerard Williams tipped it into Atlanta territory.
Mike-Mayer finally got control of the ball at the 35 and tried to run upfield. Houston zoomed down the left side of the field and clobbered Mike-Mayer at the 30. Game officials called him for a personal foul, and in a confusing series of events, gave the ball back to Atlanta.
They ruled that Mike-Mayer was simply considered as a running back trying to advance the ball, and a personal foul against a running back is an automatic first down.
The leather-lungs in the stands made an awful racket as the Falcons tried to move on offense from their own 43. The aroused Redskkins pushed them back to the Atlanta 31, and the Falcons finally punted.
The Redskins took over at their 39, and Kilmer, who finished with 13 conpletions in 29 attempts for 168 yards, finally got his team moving, with a lift from the striped shirts.
On first downs, Kilmer tried to hit Fugett deep in a crowd. Officials ruled that linebacker Greg Brezina had interfered with the big tight end, and the 33-yard penalty gave Washington a first down at the Falcon 28.
A 19-yard pass from Kilmer to Charley Taylor - a classic out pattern the two have perfected over the years - pushed it to the nine.
Mike Thomas, who picked up 87 yards in 18 carries, scooted off tackle for four yards and John Riggins got three more to the two.
From there, Kilmer called one of his favorite in close plays, a sprint-out pass to the right that sends a wide receiver deep to the right corner and a running back angling the same way just at the goal line.
"I had dropped the same kind of pass in the first quarter," said Thomas, "It was exactly the same play. The cornerback is really in a bind. If he comes up to get me, the received is open. If he stays back there, I'm open. Today, I was open, and it felt real good."
The Falcons ran a very similar play early in the fourth quarter after they drove from their own 42 to a third-and-two situation at the Redskin 10.
Hunter also rolled to his right but decided to try for wide receiver Wallace Francis, covered by little Pat Fischer. Francis caught the ball, but never could get both feet down in bounds as Fischer sent him flying.
Ironicaly, Hunter could have hit running back Woody Thompson, who was wide open at the six and would easily have had a first down.
Instead, the Falcons had to settle for Mike-Mayer's 27-yards field goal that cut the Redskin lead to 10-6 with 10:25 left in the game.
Fischer's oh-so-important coverage was one of a half-dozen big plays turned on by Redskin defenders in the fourth quarter.
There was Harold McLinton stopping one Falcon drive after a Kilmer interception on a third-and-one tackle of running back Mike-Esposito for no gain.
There was Bill Brundige sacking Hunter and stripping the ball away (Hunter recovered his own fumble). That hit took Kilmer off the hook for his scond interception and forced Atlanta to punt from its two.
TStill, all looked gloom and doom for the Redskins as the Falcons mounted one last desperate drive from their own two-yard line with 4:50 to play.
RA 42-yard pass from Hunter to Alfred Jenkins, who caught seven passes from 152 yards, got the Falcons breathing room at midfield. An a 13-yard pass from Hunter to tight end Jim Mitchell pushed the ball to the Redskin 17 with1:53 to play.
From there, the Redskins stiffened again.
Curtis' blitz came on first down.
Houston cracked into Thompson at the 10-yard line to break up a Hunter pass on second down.
Brad Dusek, who played perhaps his finest game as a starting linebacker, managed to play off a block on a quick swing pass to Haskel Stanback and hold him to a two-yard gain.
And on fourth and 21 from the 28. Hunter's pass intended for Jenkins at the left sideline was underthrown, though cornerback Joe Lavender was all over the play. The Redskins took over with 1:09 to play, and killed the clock.
And when it was over Allen did not want to hear about the Falcons 341 yards of total offense, 269 of them through the air. When asked if he was concerned about all those passing yards, he became rather testy.
"For you to ask that question," he sputtered." In pro football, to hold a team to two field goals . . . Hey, the final score is 10.6. You must be kidding."
Allen also admitted that the game's mosa entertaining play was a total improvisation. It came late in the second period when Kilmer hit Fugett for an 11-yard gain, and the tight end wheeled and lateraled the bail to Riggins.
He streaked 40 yards untouched for an apparent touchdown, only to have the play nulified on a holding call against George Starke. Starke was called for grabbing three times, with the Falcons declining one of the penalties.
When asked about the Redskins' continuing messy play, Allen could only shrug his shoulders and say, "If any coach had the answer - well I'd certainly correct it. A lot of it is due to the players trying too hard. They're being aggressive. But we'll overcome it."
They had better hurry. The Cardinals come to town on Sunday.