The Chicago Bears put the Washington Redskins out of their misery and the National Football League's playoff race yesterday with a 14-10 victory at RFK Stadium.
Not even a fourth-quarter dose of Billy Kilmer's fire, wobble and charge could change the outcome and extend a Redskin season that began on an exciting 6-0 note, only to end with five straight losses and a record of 8-8.
"That takes care of that," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said with finality. "Our season is over."
The Redskin defeat assured the Atlanta Falcons of a wild-card playoff berth in the NFC.
So the Redskins head home for the holidays, a beaten and grumbling group, victimized yesterday by the sort of importent, slipshod offensive football that has plagued them since midseason. Also, more than one player raised the question of why Pardee did not call on Kilmer sooner yesterday.
The Bears built up a 14-3 lead with two spectacular touchdown plays: Walter Payton's 44-yard run on Chicago's first series and a 73-yard punt return by Steve Schubert with 7:47 left in the third quarters.
The Redskins, meanwhile, were going mostly nowhere despite excellent field position most of the afternoon, three interceptions and two Bear penalties on the kicking game-all in the first hall.
This was gloom and doom day at RFK Stadium, even if John Riggins did gain 44 yards to go over 1,000 for the season with 1,014. That was little solace to players finishing their season with the team's logest losing streak since 1970. The Redskins' 8-8 record also snapped a seven-year string of winning seasons, and was the worst mark since that 1970 team finished 6-8, the year prior to George Allen's arrival here as coach.
Quarterback Joe Theismann, who wouldn't comment after the game, completed 13 of his 21 passes for 107 yards, but the Redskins turned only one of 12 third downs into a first down while he was in the game.
After Theismann's third-down, midfield pass intended for John McDaniel at the sideline fell off the receiver's fingertips on Washington's first possession of the fourth quarter, Kilmer doffed his jacket and began warming up.
When he trotted slowly onto the field with eight minutes to play, an RFK Stadium crowd that had booed him so often since his arrival in 1971 offered a standing ovation. Kilmer, who had not played for any length since Nov. 6, did not disappoint the fans, for awhile.
He completed his first two passes, including a 17-yard floater Danny Buggs caught at the Chicago 13.
The next play, Kilmer dropped back to pass and as he threw was smacked hard by Chicago defensive end Mike Hartenstine. The ball fluttered toward the goal line and was intercepted just shy of the end zone by Chicago linebacker Don Rives, who fell past the goal line for a touchback, to end the threat with 6:26 left.
The Redskins had the ball again with 4:14. Starting from his 39, this time Kilmer drove his team for an odd-ball touchdown, the score coming on a 17-yard pass that bounced off Ricky Thompson's helmet in the end zone and was caught five yards away by tight end Jean Fugett.
Kilmer completed eight of his 10 passes for 91 yards and his final completion of the day-and perhaps his last as a Redskin-produced the touchdown.
After the extra point, 1:19 was left. The Redskins then tried an onside kick, but Mark Moseley's squibbler took two bounces and was recovered by Chicago's Gary Campbell at the Redskin 48.
The Bears needed only one first down to assure their seventh victory of the season. So of course, they got a little help from the Redskins achieving it.
On second and six at the Washington 44, Paygon was stopped for a yard gain. But Redskins tackle Perry Brooks jumped offside. Two plays later, on third and one, Roland Harper went off right tackle for seven yards, and that was that. The Bears fan out the clock and Kilmer never got his hands on the ball again.
When it was over, Pardee said he had considered putting Kilmer into the game earlier "but the pressure Joe was getting wasn't Joe's fault.
"We made the change to get a spark, to change up on them."
Had Pardee thought about going to Kilmer in the past several games?
"Yes, we considered going to him. But in Atlanta, we had 311 yards offense. We moved the ball today. I didn't see where a change would have made that much difference. I don't think you profit by shuttling them in and out...No matter who the quarterback is, he still needs protection and he still needs to be able to run the ball."
Does he expect Kilmer to be back next season?
"I assume so." Pardee said. "I haven't talked to anyone about that. I don't know of anyone who is planning to retire now."
For most of the day, however, it appeared as if the Redskin offense had gone off to Leisure World.
In the first half, the Redskins had first downs at the Chicago 45, 39, 38 and 22 and could manage only Mark Moseley's 33-yard field goal. That kick completed a series that was, in a sense, a microcosm of the Redskin season.
Thiesmann had executed his two minute offense to perfection, moving his team from its 31 to a third and one at the Chicago 12 with 45 seconds left.
But the Redskins were late in getting a play from the sideline to the huddle, and rather than take a delay of game, Theismann called time to confer with the coaches.
When the came back, he handed off the ball to Mike Thomas, who was trapped for a three-yard loss by Alan Page. Now the Redskins, on fourth and four at the 16, were forced to settle for a field goal to cut Chicago's lead to 7-3.
There were similar failures. On fourth and one at the Chicago 30 early in the second period.Benny Malone was stopped for no gian by Doug Buffone.
In the thired period, on third and four at the Chicago 39. Thiesmann's pass to Riggins was slightly off target.
On third and seven late in that quarter. Riggins caught a six-yard pass but was stopped a yard short of the first down, forcing a punt.
"We don't deserve to be in the play-offs if we can't get any points." said defensive end Coy Bacon, "and we haven't been able to bet seven points all year.
"All year long, we've been getting behind. You can't show off your defense when you're behind. We like to tee of hike the Cowboys do, too. But we need some guys who can do it on offense.
On defense yesterday, the Redskins acquitted themselves well save for Payton's first-quarter touchdown run. That was vintage Payton, a cut-back off a sweep and a vicious straightarm that bounced Jake Scott, the last man with a shot at knocking Payton down or out of bounds.
Schubert's touchdown punt return was his first this season and the second allowed by the Redskin special teams all year.
Schubert veered to his left, got a good block from Jerry Nuckensturm, then broke tackles by at least three Redskins, the last being Reggie Haynes at the Washington 40.
Pardee said he thought there had been a clip on the play, but did not complain too loudly.
"it was unbelievable,c added Pete Wysocki. "We knew they were going to return that way, we heard them say it. The kid made a good move at the corner, and it seemed like he was going to go down at any time. He made a great run.
"Right now, I just feel awful. I'm stunned, empty, hollow. If you'd look into my throat right now, you could probably see to my ankles."
Pardee felt worse.
"we just let it get away from us." he said. "I hope we can profit from it and not have it happen again. Maybe it will make people realize that every game is so important. I never took forgranted we could beat anyone, that's even when we were 6-0...But everything bad we thought could happen did.
"you look back to that Eagle game we lost. If we'd won that game, no matter what happened today, we'd still be in the playoffs. That Monday night against Baltimore..."
What about all the talk of dissension?
"well, the talk of it might not have helped us at one point, but it hasn't been a factor the last few weeks anyway, not since Dallas.
"The fans don't feel as bad as we do about it. We'll do everything in our power to have the best effort and a better record next year."