After blowing a huge second half lead for the second straight week, the unpredictable Washington Redskins salvaged a wild 27-24 victory over Detroit today when a Lion penalty with 18 seconds left allowed Mark Moseley to kick a 41-yard field goal.
Moseley's successful try, his second of the game, came moments after he badly missed a 46-yarder. But the Lions were caught with 12 men on the field and Moseley, normally one of the game's most accurate kickers took full advantage of his second opportunity.
"A tragic way to lose," Lion Coach Monte Clark said after watching his injury-riddled team rebound behind an untried rookie quarterback to wipe out a 24-3 deficit in the contest's closing 13 1/2 minutes.
The Redskins were happy to leave the Silverdome with their first triumph in their last seven league games spanning two seasons. Much as last Sunday, when they gave away a 27-13 lead to Houston, the Redskins made today's affair close with their own horrid mistakes, especially fourth-quarter fumbles by Benny Malone and, for the second straight week, John Riggins.
The Lions turned both into touchdowns within a 32-second span early in the fourth-quarter. Then a 24-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Komlo, the De Matha High star, to Fred Scott with 2:13 left tied it at 24 all and turned this indoor arena into a house of bedlam.
Despite the overwhelming noise, Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann, who had thrown two touchdown passes, put together a masterful 53-yard 10-play drive that consumed all but 13 of the game's remaining 124 seconds.
An unexpected eight-yard run on a sweep right by Malone on third and eight at midfield and a 16-yard pass to Ricky Thompson near the side-line that got the ball to the Lion 29 set up Moseley's field-goal sequence.
His first attempt barely got into the end zone -- "I just mis-hit it, I hopped at it for some reason," Moseley said but while the ball traveled toward the goal posts, two yellow flags shot into the air.
"As soon as I saw the flags, I knew what it was," said Redskin Coach Jack Pardee, whose team was penalized for 12 men on the field during a punt last week. That call led to a Houston field goal during the Oilers' winning fourth-period rally.
The Lions didn't argue. Wide receiver Leonard Thompson had been sent into the game, the first time this season he had been used as part of the field goal block team. Clark said Thompson had been told to send someone out; Thompson said no one told him anything. Moseley was given a second chance five yards closer.
"I just had to go back to the basics," he said about the on-target 41-yarder. "I had to be natural. On the first one, instead of walking up, I jumped and it threw me off."
Mosely's game-winner set off a happy celebration among his teammates, who probably were believing they are snake-bitten in the fourth period.
Until that moment, it appeared Washington was on the verge of tossing away what had been a highly productive three quarters. With Theismann passing sharply -- he was 13 of 19 for 116 yards and no interceptions -- and the offensive line opening up gaping holes for Riggins (80 yards) and Malone (59), the Redskins were threatening to turn the game into a rout.
But, as safety Kenny Houston put it, "You just can't give a sucker an even break, I learned that a long time ago." First Malone fumbled at the 50, then Riggins at the Redskin 12 and Detroit suddenly was dominating the game just as dramatically as the Redskins had been earlier.
The Lions' comeback also turned one second-quarter play into the most controversial of the game.
The Redskins, ahead, 7-3, had recovered a Komlo fumble and were on the Detroit 10. Theismann dropped back and was belted by rookie linebacker John Brooks. The Washington quarterback fumbled, but referree Gene Barth, standing almost in the middle of the play, invoked the league's new quick-whistle rule on sacks and blew the play dead.
Had the fumble been allowed to stand, the Lions' James Hunter, already on the 50 with the ball, would have scored and his team would have been ahead, 10-7. Instead, Moseley kicked a 35-yard field goal on the next down for a 10-3 Washington margin.
"My knee was on the ground," Theismann said. "That's the way they have been calling it. Quick."
Komlo, a ninth-round pick from Delaware pressed into service after the Lions lost their top two quarterbacks to injuries, got off to a rocky start.
After driving the Lions to a 3-0 lead on their first possession, he fumbled to set up that first Moseley kick, then he tossed three interceptions, one of which led to a four-year scoring pass from Theismann to Jean Fugett that gave Washington a 24-3 lead with 11:18 left in the third quarter.
But Komlo began displaying the poise of a wily veteran in the fourth quarter. Following Malone's fumble on a solid hit by Eddie Cole, Komlo completed passes of 12 and 28 yards to Thompson before rookie fullback Bo Robinson spun over from the three, cutting the lead to 24-10.
On the first play in the ensuing series, Riggins, whose fumble led to Houston's winning touchdown last week, lost control again at the 12 although he was not tackled hard. Two plays later, Rick Kane swept left end behind a horde of fine blocks to pull Detroit to 24-17 with 12:56 remaining in the game.
Washington's offense, which had been so methodical in the first half, couldn't get going despite two more chances and Detroit took over at its 22 with 5:54 to go.
By now, the Lions were running almost at will around either end and they quickly ripped off gains of 15 and 29 yards by the 235-pound Robinson to move to the Redskin 27.
On third down, Komlo was rushed hard by Coy Bacon. But at the last second, he unloaded a perfect bullet to Scott, who had eluded Lemar Parish and was free at the goal line. Scott was belted down but not before he and an extra point had tied the game with 2:13 remaining.
"We wanted to get the ball to their 35," Pardee said about the Redskins' final possession. "Mark from the 30-yard line is almost routine."
It took some gutty calls and some sharp play by the Redskins to get to Pardee's designated target. Starting on the 23 with 2:04 on the clock, Theisman threw an incompletion to Danny Buggs, then a 10-yarder to rookie tight end Don Warren. Detroit was called from interference and the Redskins had first down at their 30 with 1:52 left.
Riggins, running with two hands around the ball, broke off left end for nine and a dump pass to Malone picked up three and another first down. With a five-yard face mask penalty against the Lions, Washington was on its 47 with 1:36 left.
After a two-yard run by Riggins and an incomplete pass to Thompson, the Redskins faced a third and eight from the 49. It looked like an obvious pass call but, instead, Malone swept right end behind blocks by Riggins and guards Jeff Williams and Ron Saul. He made it inches past the first down marker with 53 seconds left.
Then came a setback, Saul was caught holding and Washington was pushed back to its 46. Two quick passes to Buddy Hardeman accounted for nine yards, bringing up a third and 12 from the Detroit 45 with 26 seconds left.
Theismann rolled to his left, stopped, planted and spotted Thompson cutting to the sideline ahead of Detroit Ken Ellis. The pass was quick and on target and Thompson cradled the ball at the Lion 29. The Redskins used their last timeout, stopping the clock with 18 seconds left.
Offensive coordinator Joe Walton, according to Theismann, wanted to run a couple more plays. But Theismann asked that Moseley immediately try a field goal. Pardee finally agreed, explaining that "Detroit's defense was taking away our wide receivers and you want to pass to your wide receivers in this situation so they can go to the sidelines and stop the clock. We didn't want to chance going up the middle and losing a chance for the field goal."
So Moseley trotted on, got two opportunities to make good and finally gave the Redskins that much sought after triumph. On the ensuing kickoff, his squibber bounced off Detroit's Bill Gay and into the hands of Neal Olkewiez. Washington then ran out the final seconds.