The Redskins found out tonight they could pass and they could score touchdowns. With their offense benefiting from both developments, they were able to throttle the listless Atlanta Falcons, 16-6.
A 30-yard pass from Joe Theismann to Ricky Thompson in the second quarter accounted for Washington's first six-pointer of the preseason. Theismann later added another 59-yard TD toss to Danny Buggs, who earlier had seen a touchdown catch nullified by a holding penalty.
Toss in a 27-yard field goal from substitute kicker Nick Lowery and Washington had more than enough offense to rack up its second triumph in three exhibition games.
The slightly improved Redskins offense also muffed a couple of other scoring opportunities. Besides the holding penalty that wiped out the 44-yard touchdown pass to Buggs, the Falcons also held Washington on four downs from the three-yard line.
This also was a night for the Redskin defense to do some bragging. Other than a last-minute Falcon scoring drive late in the second quarter, Atlanta was completely throttled by its opponents, who put constant pressure on quarterbacks Steve Bartkowski and Scott Hunter.
Atlanta did its part by playing horribly for most of the game. The Falcons were penalized 12 times for 115 yards, fumbled once and tossed two interceptions as they lost their third straight game.
Until tonight, the Redskins had played very conservatively in preseason. They had thrown very few long passes, in part because their wide receivers were having difficulty getting open.
But that changed against the Falcons' blitzing defenses. Theismann, who was sacked only twice, was able to stand back and pick up his ends downfield. The result was a decent 12-of-20 night, good for 159 yards.
"We just hadn't gone into the end zone with a pass before," Theismann said. "But tonight we opened it up a bit. The backs did a fine job picking up their stunts. All the offensive guys should be happy with the way they played. Atlanta kept coming and we held them off. But you know you are going to take a shot from them on every play."
Thompson, who had caught only one pass in the first two games, hauled in six for 80 yards, thanks to more playing time. And Buggs, who had not had a reception, pulled in four for 78 yards -- not including the nullified touchdown.
"We finally got a touchdown, but I really felt we would all along," said Coach Jack Pardee. "The Falcons played under wraps a bit, but I thought we accomplished our goal: to look decent, win the game and look at everybody.
"We really haven't tried to get deep that much before. But our pass protection was better and it allowed us to run deep routes. But if you are going to pass, you better have protection and be able to run the ball."
The Redskins concentrated less on running the ball, but still picked up 130 yards against one of the NFL's top defenses. Pardee said he was particularly impressed with reserve halfback Ike Forte, who gained 34 yards on five fourth-period carries.
"We need somebody like that who can scramble around and pick up some yardage on plays," said Pardee.
Theismann also did some scrambling. Although the Redskins prefer that he stay in the pocket, Falson pressure forced him to break loose three times for 36 yards, including one nifty 19-yard scamper that ended with a five-yard slide.
Washington thought it had struck touchdown paydirt midway through the first period when Buggs outleaped Rick Byas in the end zone to haul in Theismann's well-placed44-yard toss. Halfback Benny Malone was called for holding and despite his protests, the score was nullified.
Then next time they got the ball, the Redskins made a touchdown holdup. Keeping the ball almost exclusively on the ground, they marched to the Atlanta 30. Theismann then faded back, waited until Thompson had lost tough cornerback Rolland Lawrence with a fine fake and hit the Washington receiver with a soft lob for the score.
An interception by Ken Houston of a pass batted by Joe Lavender gave Washington possession at the Atlanta 35. A Theismann scramble moved the ball to the 24 and a pass to Clarence Harmon had Washington on the three with a first down.
Halfback Buddy Hardeman, a free agent from Iowa State, tried to the right side for one yard. He went the same way again for another yard and then Harmon swept left, stumbling just short of the goal line.
Pardee, who has been emphasizing power football all during the preseason, elected to go for the touchdown. On fourth down, Hardeman got to the line before deciding to leap. The decision came too late. He was met head-on by Tom Pridemore, who stopped him for no gain.
The Falcons weren't out of trouble, however. Two sacks on Bartkowski by Brad Dusek and reserve tackle Paul Smith forced an Atlanta punt, giving Washington possession on the Falcon 34.
Theisman moved his club deep into scoring territory with his 19-yard scramble, but on third and 13 from the 20, he was able to pick up only 10 yards on a pass to Thompson. Lowery, subbing for injured Mark Moseley, came in to boot the 27-yard field goal.
With 70 seconds left in the half, it appeared the Redskins would take a 10-0 lead into the third period. Bartkowski suddenly awake and, in three plays, had the Falcons in the end zone. The most effective strike was a 32-yard scoring bomb to Wallace Francis, who outran Mark Murphy for the football.
Theismann, who had not played previously in any second half during the preseason opened the third period and quickly took advantage of the chance. Passes of 11 and 15 yards to Thompson had the ball on the Redskin 41, when he faded back and looked for Buggs.
"I was running a center-and-go pattern," Buggs said. "You go in and take a few steps and try to fake the safety, then you run a go pattern. We had great protection on the play and that gave me time to get open."
Open he was. Buggs caught the ball at least seven yards behind Don Patterson, who could only look on in agony as Buggs scampered into the end zone.
"All that has been wrong with the Redskin passing is we haven't thrown it," said Buggs. "When we throw it, we have people who can catch it."
Each team threatened late in the game. Buggs fumbled a Kim McQuilken pass on the Atlanta seven to end a Washington drive and the Falcons ran out of time after moving to the Redskin 25 in the final minutes of the fourth period.
"I had said that Joe had a particularly sharp week," said Pardee, "and he carried it through to tonight. I was also pleased with our pass rush. We kept pretty good pressure on Bartkowski and that's the way you have to play him."
Atlanta quarterbacks were sacked six times, although the Redskins used a number of different front-line combinations and did not blitz often. Bartkowski completed nine of 16 passes for 120 yards, but most of his output came on the one touchdown drive.
"We played a lot of people and got a good look at them," said Pardee. "Now we have a very difficult cut coming up. We've got to cut 11 players and the decisions are going to be difficult."