The reeling Redskins' helter-skelter tumble down the NFL's stairway to oblivion continued yesterday at RFK Stadium. The major highlight was the final gun.
The Miami Dolphins, taking advantage of three Garo Yepremian field goals, a 40-yard Bob Griese-to-Jimmy Cefalo touchdown pass and a moribund Washington offense, left town with a 16-0 victory, the first time the Redskins have been shut out since the 1971 season.
Despite all the gloom and doom now enveloping a Redskin team that was losing its third straight -- the longest losing streak since the 1970 season -- a lot of other folks were folding yesterday in the race for two NFC wildcard positions.
Unfortunately, Dallas was not among them. The Cowboys clinched the NFC East title with their victory over the Patriots yesterday, while the Redskins now must contend for one of the two NFC wild-card berths.
The Dolphins, 9-5, stayed a game behind New England in the AFC East race and also are very much in contention for a wild-card spot.
The Redskins now are 8-6, the same record as Philadelphia and Atlanta, both losers yesterday, and a half-game behind Minnesota and Green Bay, the coleaders in the NFC Central with 8-5-1 marks.
Many of the Redskins still believe if they win their final two games -- next week at Atlanta and at home Dec. 16 against Chicago -- a 10-6 mark will get them into the playoffs. But as battered quarterback Joe Theismann admitted yesterday, "Tomorrows, we're running out of them."
The Redskins also were running out of excuses to explain their terribly inconsistent -- and at times oh-so-conservative -- offensive display on a day the defense played well enough to prevail.
The Redskins came out trying to run -- with 11 ground plays in their dozen first-quarter calls, resulting in only one first down in the first 15 minutes. Before the day was over, the offense was being booed vociferously every time it took the field.
Theismann, meanwhile, tossed four interceptions, two of them passes that bounced off or through his receiver's hands, and finished with 12 completions in 28 tosses for 177 yards.
But Redskin Coach Jack Pardee insisted when it was over he did not consider switching to Billy Kilmer. Would there be a switch to Kilmer for the Falcon game and the stretch drive, he was asked.
"I haven't thought about next week," he said.
Pardee also defended the Redskins' constant attempt to establish a running attack. "I'd probably run the ball 15 or 20 straight times," he said. "It was an interception that got us in trouble, not running the football... We're not good enough to go out and pass every down against anybody. All that does is get your quarterback killed."
Was Theismann's physical condition responsible for his performance, Pardee was asked.
"Joe is beat up," he said. "The licks he's taken the last few weeks, it's sure not helping him any."
Theismann declined to blame his physical problems for his performance, although he nodded when someone asked him if he took another pounding. "I won't know until tomorrow morning," he said, "and that's all I'll say."
Did he anticipate another switch?
"I won't even answer that question," he said. "To be honest with you, the time has passed for that question And the other thing is, I don't have any control over it."
The Dolphins, meanwhile, controlled the game most of the day. They had possession for 37 1/2 minutes, opened a 6-0 lead by intermission and drove 94 yards on their first possession of the third quarter for the game's only touchdown.
Quarterback Bob Griese recovered from a three-interception performance a week ago to complete 14 of his 27 passes for 170 yards. He aimed mostly at wide receiver Nat Moore, who had seven receptions for 75 yards.
The Redskins started falling apart right from their very first play, when offensive tackle Jeff Williams jumped offside.
Theismann's first interception of the day came as he tried to fire a pass to fullback John Riggins for a short gain early in the second period. The ball was on target, but slipped through the big fullback's hands and was picked off by linebacker Rusty Chambers.
Redskin guard Jim Harlan finally tackled Chambers after a 49-yard gain to the Redskin 23, and the Dolphins eventually settled for a 34-yard Yepremian field goal.
The Redskins were more than willing to settle for that, however, because Griese had a 13-yard touchdown pass to Duriel Harris nullified by offsetting penalties -- holding on Dolphin Wayne Moore and an illegal chuck called against Redskin cornerback Lemar Parrish.
A tripping call on Harlan on the Redskins' next possession aborted a 13-yard first-down pass to Ricky Thompson at the Miami 43, and Washington was forced to punt.
The Dolphins then marched from their own 26 to Yepremian's second field goal, a 35-yarder for a 6-0 lead with 50 seconds left in the half.
The Redskins tried desperately to get into field-goal range, but time ran out as tight end Jean Fugett struggled for extra yards at the Dolphin 36-yard line.
The scoreboard clock had quit operating earlier, and never resumed. Officials used hand signals to try to keep the teams notified of the time.
Joe Walton, the offensive coordinator, berated Fugett on the field for not going out of bounds after his catch, and the tight end was scowling angrily as he walked to the dressing room.
"The referee said there were four seconds left on the clock when the play started," Fugett said. "I figured the pass had to take 3 1/2 and was just trying to break it. I just didn't think there was any time left, and that's all I'll say."
The Dolphins started off the second half deep in the hole when Duriel Harris muffed the kickoff and was nailed by Ike Forte at Miami's six.
But Griese picked up a vital third down with a four-yard pass to Moore, then hit Moore again with a 27-yard shot over the middle to the Redskin 41.
Three plays later, on third and nine at the 40, Griese picked up a Redskin blitz, got man-to-man coverage on Cefalo and found his rookie receiver three steps ahead of Redskin nickel man Gerard Williams.
Cefalo caught the ball at the five and breezed into the end zone, his fifth catch of the year, three of them touchdowns, for a 13-0 lead with 9:55 left in the period.
"He gave me an out move," Williams said, "He'd been running outs all day, and I went for it.Griese read it perfect, and I was beat, what else can you say?"
A few minutes later, the teams traded turnovers. Jake Scott picked off his seventh pass of the year to give the Redskins the football at their own 30. Then Theismann got the boobirds buzzing when his first pass at the sideline intended for John McDaniel was swiped right back by Tim Foley.
"I just made a bad decision," Theismann said. "I never should have thrown it." The Dolphins converted that break into Yepremian's third field goal, a 39-yarder that was also his 12th straight of the season, for a 16-0 lead, with 55 seconds left in the third period.
The final indignity heaped upon Theismann came early in the fourth quarter. The Redskins worked the same flea-flicker play that had helped defeat the Eagles earlier in the year, with Riggins taking a handoff, then pitching back to Theismann.
Miami defensive tackle Carl Barisich was all over Theismann as he tried to throw deep to Buggs. "I just never got my hands on the ball," Theismann said. "I barely got it off, I had a guy right on me.It's a shame, because I think Danny was open."
The ball instead was intercepted by Gerald Small and returned 32 yards, and the Redskins were done this dismal day.
When it was over, Pardee kept insisting he saw some positive signs, that "I thought we played better today as a team than we had in a couple of weeks. We've still got two games left. We're not at the bottom.
"I thought we stayed together. They didn't give up, and I can accept whatever the team does if they don't quit. As long as they play hard and play the best they can, I can accept that. But we've got to do better as a team."
And very soon.