Jack Pardee made two uncharacteristic moves yesterday on the eve of the Redskins' game against the Falcons. First, he canceled the final practice of the week, and then he boldly predicted a victory here Sunday.
"I think we're gonna win," Pardee said an hour before his team left Redskin Park for a 1 p.m. meeting (WDVM-TV-9) Sunday with Atlanta, a game that almost certainly will mean sudden death in the playoff race for the losing side. Both teams are 8-6.
Pardee believes his team will still be alive Sunday, even if the odds-makers do not. They rate the Falcons a three-point favorite in their home stadium, where they are 6-1 this season, 5-0 with Steve Bartkowski starting at quarterback.
Pardee, meanwhile, insisted today, "I think we'll paly well. I think we've got a good game plan; the players are ready for it.
"My biggest wish when the year started was that in the 15th and 16th week the games would still be meaningful, and here we are and they still are. It's what we've strived for since we started, and we can still make the playoffs."
But Pardee also knows that will be mostly impossible if his sleeping team continues to kill itself with penalties, dropped passes, missed assignments, shoddy tackling and other assorted blunders in its three-game losing streak and six losses in the past eight games.
That was one of the major reasons for calling off today's workout, Pardee said. "The biggest factor for us now is to be mentally rested, to know our assignments and to recognize what Atlanta is going to go. I want us to have some bounce.
"If we're going to make the playoffs, this is sudden death right now. We lose this, and we won't be in it. Oh, mathematically there might be some way, but it would be the remotest possibility. We can't wait. We've got to win this week."
Many of the Redskins share their coach's belief that they will, although it must also be noted that many of them have been spouting the same sort of backs-are-to-the-wall rhetoric for weeks.
"But this week, it really is true," said middle linebacker Harold McLinton."Enough talking has already been done. We know we have to win, and I think we can win. Hell, no other outcome can happen.
"You also know the Falcons are gonna be wild men, and we have to equal them in that department. It'll be like that Monday night game they played against the Rams (an upset 15-7 Falcon victory). They played like they were crazy, and I'm sure that's how they'll be Sunday. We've got to be that way, too."
Comedian Steve Martin, no doubt, would approve, but Pardee as usual, took a more rational approach.
He said yesterday that a major factor would be avoiding turnovers on offense, forcing turnovers on defense and controlling a Falcon pass rush that has 41 sacks of opposing quarterbacks, one short of the team record.
Oh yes, it also would be nice to get on the board early, Pardee said, something his team has not been able to accomplish since they opened a 10-0 lead on the Colts five weeks ago.
Offensively, the Falcons are not that impressive. They have scored 199 points, tied for last in the NFL with the 49ers. They are ranked 12th in total offense in the NFC 13th rushing and eight passing, and Bartkowski has tossed up 16 interceptions.
Atlanta's defense has been far more impressive. It has come up with 33 turnovers and ranks fourth overall in the NFL, second in pass defense. "They're a tough bunch," said Pardee, "and they'll come after us."
The Redskins seem realtively healthy going into Sunday's game. Fullback John Riggins' ankle is still sore, but he will start. So will McLinton, who has a pulled groin muscle.
Pardee said today he will probably open with Jim Harlan at left guard in place of Ron Saul, who is nursing ankle and groin problems. Saul may be able to play, however, "and we may use him," Pardee said.
Mark Moseley's kicking leg, a major concern a week ago when he had a pinched nerve, also is completely healed. And the Redskin kicker said he was looking forward to kicking against Tim Mazzetti, the former bartender who handles placements for the Falcons.
"The way everybody talks about each other's defense, maybe it'll come down to him and me," Moseley said the other day. "I hope it does. He's had a great season, especially when you consider he spent a lot of time making margaritas before he was signed.
"But now it's pressure time, and we'll see how he resoponds. Everybody on both teams knows the season's on the line. That's what makes it interesting."
The Redskins got some playoff help today from the Detroit Lions, who walloped Minnesota, 45-14, dropping the Vikings to 8-6-1 for the year and seriously injuring their chances for the wild-card spot.