The Washington Redskins, despite committing their usual number of offensive atrocities, managed a 10-0 victory over the blundering Buffalo Bills here today and kept their NFC wildcard playoff hopes very much alive.
The Redskins victory - achieved on the strength of Jean Fugett's 12-yard touchdown catch-run, Mark Moseley's 19-yard field goal and a fumble-in-ducing tackle by Mike Curtis - left the Redskins tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for second place in the NFC East at 7-5.
For the Redskins to have s shot at the playoffs, they must defeat the Cardinals next week in St. Louis. If they do, they will have the advantage over the Cards in the race for a playoff berth by virtue of having beaten St. Louis twice. If the Redskins lose, the Cards will have the advantage by virtue of a better record in division play.
Should the Redskins end the season ahead of St. Louis, their record still must be compared with teams in the other two divisions for the wild-card slot. Should the Redskins end the season with the same records as the Bears, also 7-5 now, the tie-breaking criterion of point different in conference games would be used, and the Bears now have a 29-point advantage.
Meanwhile, back at the football game, the Redskin defense was recording its second shutout of the year and holding an opponent without a touchdown for the fourth time this season.
That second statistic, coach George Allen crowed, is "the most we've had since I came to Washington."
Not many folks were around at the end - or the beginning, for that matter - to witness the accomplishment. Only 22.975 showed up, the smallest Buffalo crowd since 1963 and the lowest turnout ever in 5-year-old Rich Stadium.
Those who braved a wind-chill factor in the mid-teens saw the home team Bills lose their 10th game in 12 starts, mostly because punter Marv Bateman was kicking as if he had a severe case of frostbite.
A 20-yard Bateman punt preceded the only Redskin touchdown drive, a 53-yard march that ended with Joe Theismann patiently throwing to Fugett, wide open and kneeling at the six-yard line. Fugett got up and carried Buffalo's Doug Jones on his broad shoulders into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 11:34 to play.
"It was a basic play where the wing-back (Frank Grant) and I line up on the same side," Fugett said. "He runs a quick slant, and I run a quick out to the sideline. Both their defensive backs went for Frank. That left me all alone.
"The thorw was a little low, and I wanted to make sure I caught it, especially on a day like today.
"What's it all mean?" Fugett replied to a question. "It means we're still in it, and I believe 9.5 will get us into the playoffs. We have to keep going, because nodody's going to do us any favors, I know that."
The Redskin defense came up with many favors today. Ken Houston and Gerard Williams each had interceptions. Buffalo quarterback joe Ferguson completed only 17 of 42 passes and was sacked three times, and the Bills averaged only four yards per pass.
Curtis did the Redskins the biggest favor of all on a play the eventually turned the game around.He came flying through the air to strip to Buffalo Bull - fullback Jim Braxton - of a football he seemed determined to carry into the end zone.
This was early in the fourth quarter after the Bills had marched from their 24 to second and 10 at the Washington 27. Braxton got open over the middle, made a catch in a crowd between Jake Scott and Harold McLinton, and somehow broke clear.
At the 10, Curtis made a diving tackle and knocked the football loose. "Thank God he fumbled." Curtis said later. "Just lucky."
Brad Dusek picked up the ball near the Redskin goal line and was bopped down at the three, where the Redskins breathed a healthy sigh of relief.
Bateman gave them another helping hand - make that foot - when his 10-yard punt into the wind gave the Redskins the ball at the Buffalo 48 with 3:41 left in the game.
Fullback Clarence Harmon went 17 yards around left end from there, and a personal foul against Bill safely Doug Jones three plays later gave the Redskins first and goal at the Buffalo eight.
Not willing to risk a pass, Theismann called three straight running plays before Moseley trotted onto the field with 1:45 left.
Moseley, who had missed earlier from 45 and 37 yards and had a streak of five consecutive failures, was straight and true on this chip shot, a 19-yarder that gave the Redskins their final 10-point lead with 1:43 to play.
"I never talk to myself when I'm kicking," Moseley said. "You can't think about the misses. The two I missed today I hit real good, as good as they could be hit. The wind was tricky, but you can't use that excuse.
"I never doubted myself on any of them, and there was never any doubt about the last one."
But there was considerable doubt about this affair all day because the Redskins continued to have difficulty moving the ball. They managed only 264 yards total offense, Theismann had one pass intercepted, Mike Thomas lost one fumble and almost another and George Stark had three more holding calls and a false start.
Theismann completed 12 of 28 passes for 150 yards, and his offensive line allowed only one sack. Thomas picked up more yards (89 in 28 carries) than he has gained in any game all season, and little Larry Jones caught four passes in relief of Frank Grant, who bruised his knee in the third quarter.
Still, the offense continues to put the team in peril every week.
"We're that close, that close," Theismann saidholding his fingers an inch apart," to putting 25. 28 points on the board. Instead we go down to the wire every week.
"We get a big punt return from Eddie (Brown, 43 yards) and we don't capitalize. We have third and short, and lose a yard.
"It's the little nit-picking things every time. I wish I knew why. But we won, and that's the most important thing. We're right back in the thick of it."
"It's great to win," added Allen. "If you don't win, you can't live with yourself. We had opportunities to put this game away. We have to play better, there's no question about it. I still think our best football is ahead of us."
With the Cardinals and Rams dead ahead and the playoffs within whiffing distance once again, the Redskins can hardly afford anything less.
Grant was the Redskins' only notable casualty, and he said he would be able to play next week against the Cerdinals . . . Defensive tackle Dave Butz also aggravated his ankle sprain and defensive tackle Bill Brundige was limping again on his sprained foot. Both probably will be available . . . Chris Hanburger dressed today, but he said his knee is still too weak for him to play. He said he aggravated it again in practice last Tuesday and "we'll just have to wait and see" about playing against St. Louis . . . Brig Owens and John Riggins were on the two-man Redskin taxi squad.