"You have to believe," declared Redskin safety Ken Houston.
Still, who would have believed that linebacker Brad Dusek would pick up an unlikely fumble and run 31 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes 40 seconds left in the game to give Washington a stunning 16-14 victory over favored New England yesterday.
Here were the powerful Patriots, nine-point favorites, ahead, 14-9, and running out the clock, with hard-charging running back Horace Ivory taking a handoff from quarterback Steve Grogan.
But defensive tackle Dave Butz heaved his 295-pound body into Ivory, forcing the fumble. Dusek, a fullback at Texas A&M and once a third-round draft pick of the Patriots, picked up the ball on one hop and did not stop until a final, desperate, lunge into the New England end zone.
The surprise upset was a sweet way for Jack Pardee to break in as the new coach of the Redskins.
"We'll take it, oh yes we'll take it," Pardee said. "I just couldn't be any prouder of our football team. What a start, wheew, what a start."
And, oh, what a finish.
The Redskins appeared to be dead Skins after Grogan had completed the second of his two touchdown passes - this one a 45-yarder to Harold Jackson early in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 14-9 lead.
Time and again the New England defense had come up with enough big plays to frustrate the Redskins offense that period. Now the Patriots had the football on second down and 29 at their 39 with a little under three minutes remaining.
The Patriots called a play that had been gaining lost of yards all afternoon, a basic sweep to the right, with Ivory running the ball.
"It looked like they were running a sucker play," Butz said. "The guard in front of me pulled real fast. When he did that, I just went with him, stayed right in his hip pocket. I saw the back out of the corner of my eye, and nobody picked me up. It was a direct hit.
"I hit him with my chest and put my arms around him to try and rake the ball away. I honestly didn't know the ball was on the ground. I just looked up and there was Brad diving over the goal line."
Ivory, who gained 89 yards in 16 carries and had given Redskins fits all afternoon, said he never saw Butz coming "until after he hit me. He hit me just as I was getting the ball and I didn't have control. It was just a standard play."
Dusek never hesitated, as he scooped up the ball and headed for the Patriot end zone, surrounded by a convoy of alert teammates. Patriot tackle Shelby Jordan seemed to have the angle to catch Dusek, but Redskin defensive end Karl Lorch managed to sufficiently get in Jordan's way.
"I'm just happy I made it the end zone without passing out," said Dusek.
The Patriots still had plenty of time, and a 14 mile-per-hour wind at their backs, to drive for a game-winning touchdown or field goal. But the Redskin defense, with a brief setback from the officials, would not let it happen.
Mark Moseley, who had missed an extra point (his first since 1976, after 38 straight) purposely put the kickoff high and short to keep it away from dangerous return man Ray Clayborn.
The Patriots started at their 27 with 2:32 remaining. The Redskins seemingly sealed the victory when Diron Talbert sacked Grogan, forcing a fumble recovered by Karl Lorch.
But Redskin cornerback Lemar Parrish was called for an illegal bump on a receiver up field. The Redskins argued hard and long to no avail, and the Patriots retained possession, with a first down at the 32.
"I still can't believe they called that play," Parrish said. "Shoot, man, when the quarterback is back there running, those receivers are also blockers. All I was trying to do was protect myself. He came at me and I put my hands up to brace myself for the hit. You can't let a man run over you like that. It was a terrible call."
And, as it turned out, a meaningless one.
On first down, Grogan's pass to Andy Johnson bounced off the running back's hands. On second down, Coy Bacon recorded his second sack, dropping Grogan for a 13-yard loss. On third down, wide receiver Don Westbrook dropped a pass in firstdown territory, forcing the Patriots to punt.
The Patriots never got the football again.
With 1:38 to play and the Redskins facing second and seven at the Patriot 47, John Riggins slipped around left end and blew 31 yards to the Patriot 17 for a first down that allowed the Redskins to kill the clock.
"I got some real nice-looking blocks and probably should have gone all the way," Riggins said. "I thought about cutting it back, but I didn't want to risk fumbling the ball. I kinda sensed someone coming at me from an angle and I figured I had the first down, so why get greedy?"
The Patriots called their remaining two timeouts to stop the clock, but the game ended with quarterback Joe Theismann falling on the football as the final seconds wound down.
The game began with Thiesmann fooling the Patriot secondary with a fine play-fake to Riggins up the middle and a 63-yard pas to Danny Buggs that carried to the Patriot 17.
The Redskins got no further than the New England eight, and Moseley kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead that stood through a mostly dull though hard hitting, first half.
Grogan was erratic through the first two periods, and Theismann wasn't much better. Both quarterbacks finally got going in the third period, however. Grogan, who finished with but 12 of 31 completions for 199 yards, went first.
It took the Patriots only three minutes and seven plays two march 80 yards for a touchdown, with a 33-yard pass from Grogan to Stanley Morgan and the extra point giving the Patriots a lead on the first possession of the third quarter.
Ron McDole set up the Redskins' first touchdown drive of the regular season when he put up his beefy paws and swiped a Grogan pass at the line of scrimmage. McDole now has 12 interceptions, believed to be an NFL, record for beefy defensive linemen. This one, he deadpanned, was "just routine. Fortunately, I didn't have to run very far."
The Redskins took over at their 45, and Theismann did not botch his opportunity.
Mike Thomas turned successive third downs into first downs with a six-yard run up the middle and a spectacular diving catch of a low pass for a 14-yard gain. The last carried to the New England 22.
The Redskins survived a near-disaster when Theismann fumbled a center exchange on first-and-goal at the 10. The five-yard loss put the ball on the 15, and when Frank Grant dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone on second down, the Redskins seemed doom to failure.
But Thomas, who suffered from heat exhaustion all day, ran a circle pattern out of the backfield, faked a move to the left corner and found himself wide open as he streaked toward the goal posts.
"I never saw the catch," Theismann said. "Actually, I thought I overthrew him, that I'd thrown it too far to the inside. Then I saw his guy with a striped shirt lift up his arms."
Redskin smiles disappeared quickly when Moseley missed the extra point. Center Ted Fritsch made a rare low snap, Theismann had difficulty getting the ball down properly and Moseley's slightly rushed kick hit the left crossbar and bounced away. So the Redskin lead was 9-7.
The Patriots regained the lead quickly when Grogan found recently acquired receiver Harold Jackson open crossing the middle. Jackson, who had seven catches for 124 yards, grabbed the ball at the 20 and beat four Washington pursuers to the goal line.With the extra point, the Patriots had a 14-9 advantage.
Theismann was mostly taking congratulatins though when it was over as he helped the Redskins pile up 319 yards, their most potent offensive performance after four mostly unproductive preseason games.
Theismann completed 10 of 24 passes for 184 yards, although he threw his first interception of 1978 after 12 straight preseason quarters of no pickoffs.
Thomas gained 70 yards in 11 carries and caught four passes for 46 yards. Riggins, in 16 carries, got 60 yards, most of it in the second half. And, significantly, Theismann was sacked only once by that fearsome Patriot pass rush.
"We've still got a ways to go offensively," Thomas said, "but this game lets us know that if we go out and play like a team, we can beat anybody any time any place. Sure we made mistakes, but we came back. These guys still know how to win.
"There's something else. I know we're in first place right now, and brother, that's a great feeling. Yes sir, a great feeling."