The Redskins expect Colt quarterback Bert Jones to return to action here tonight when Washington will meet Baltimore before a sellout crowd of 60,020 and a national television audience (9 p.m., WJLA-TV-7).
The Redskins will have three new offensive starters, tight end Jean Fugett, running back Mike Tomas and offensive tackle Fred Dean. Fugett and Thomas are coming back from injuries and Dean will be replacing George Starke and his backup, Jim Harlan, both out with injuries.
Jones, considered by many to be the best quarterback in the National Football League, has played only one quarter this season because of injury of his right shoulder. Jones reportedly has thrown well in practice and even though Colt Coach Ted Marchibroda has not made it official that Jones will start over Mike Kirkland, Jones is the man the Redskins and just about everyone else expect to see.
A Redskin victory tonight, coupled with the loss by Dallas to Miami yesterday, would put Washington two full games ahead of the Cowboys, with only six games left to play. Dallas is 6-4.
The fact that Jones is expected to play is one reason Washington, with a 7-2 record, is only a four-point favorite over the 3-6 Colts.
"I expect Bert to play, no question," said Redskin Coach Jack Pardee. "And with him in there they'll be a much improved and inspired football team. He'll make the defense play better and he'll make their whole team play better.
"The key to beating them is everybody doing his job. We've got to stop their running game. In the past, they've been the kind of team that goes run, run, run and bomb. So we can't let them control the ball and we can't give them long gainers.
"With Joe Washington, Glenn Doughty and Roger Carr, they've got people who are threates to get it all in a hurry. Until this year, they've always been one of the top scoring teams in the league. With Jones back, that potential is there again."
Redskin safety Ken Houston feels it is almost certain that Jones will start. "I know when he's healthy he's got a rifle arm and he's heck of a scrambler," Houston said. "Whether his injury is going to stop him from doing that, I don't know. But he's a great field general and he'll give them a lift just by being on he field."
Will Houston or any of the other Redskins go easy on Jones?
"If I get the chance, I'll hit him, sure," said Houston. "If he's on the field, he's well enough to play. I wouldn't do anything to hurt him, but I'll hit him whenever I can."
Middle linebacker Harold McLinton said, "Bert has to play. It'll be a big boost for them morale-wise. It's Monday night, they're still not out of it and they've all been waiting for him to come back. There's not a much better time for it than against us. If he has any strength in his shoulder, he'll be tough. He's going to come out trying to prove something. too. In summary, it's going to be one heck of a game."
In Jones' absence, Washington, a running back, has carried the Colt offense. "He's been a heckuva replacement for Lydell (Mitchell), no question," said McLinton. "The thing I see that really impresses me is his quickness. I don't know too much about his speed but he's got that shifty ability. He looks hard to catch."
Thomas, who has missed the last three games because of a foot injury, is expected to start tonight for the Redskins. Washington has struggled without him, and with fullback John Riggins not able to practice for several days because of a sore hip, his return is most welcome to Pardee.
"We need him, now," the coach said. Riggins, who will start, said the Colts are no pushovers defensively.
"Some of their stats are kind of misleading," he said. "I know it looks like they've given up a lot of yards running, but in the films I've seen they've seemed to tighten up quite a bit recently. I know I didn't get much against them in preseason, and those guys do hit hard.
"I really don't expect a very big night," Riggins added. "They've got a good, strong, fast front four and their linebackers are healthy again. I don't think we'll get a whole lot running on them, but I hope I'm wrong."
Fugett has had chronic knee problems and had to sit out last week's game against San Francisco because of a swollen knee.
Starke has torn knee ligaments and will be out of action four to six weeks. With Harlan out with a sprained knee, Pardee said Dean, a 6-foot-3, 250 pounder signed as a free agent three weeks ago, would start at right tackle tonight. It will be Dean's first NFL start and the man who will welcome him to the big time will be Fred Cook, the strongest Colt passrusher.
"Not having george (Starke) makes a very big difference," said right guard Dan Nugent. "I'm sure they're going to come after us on the right side harder than anywhere else. They'll try and test us, no question. But I think Fred can do the job. It's not going to be easy, but we don't have much choice. He has to come through for us."