"Hey Benny, I saw that corner coming at you and I knew he was going to get you," Redskin guard Ron Saul yelled across the locker room to halfback Benny Malone. "'I just had to dump him as best I could."
And Saul did just that, sending Detroit cornerback Ken Ellis on his rear end to enable Malone to pick up the most important eight yards gained by the Redskins during today's heart-stopping triumph over Detroit.
Saul's block came on a third-and-eight play from the Redskin 49 with 59 seconds left. Probably everyone in the Silverdome expected Washington to pass in that situation, one in which they needed a first down to keep this last-ditch drive moving.
But the Redskins' offensive brain trust decided to cross up the Lions. Detroit had racked up 229 second-half yards, including 127 on the ground, by running the ball, while Washington stayed in a pass-prevent defense. Now, Coach Jack Pardee and offensive coordinator Joe Walton adopted their opponents' thinking.
"We figured they'd be in a pass-prevent defense," Pardee said. "By sending the tight end downfield and taking the safety with him, it makes it soft for the run at the corners. It's a good situation to run it."
Malone took a handoff from Joe Theismann and started off behind the lead block of pulling guard Jeff Williams, who remembered knocking down two Lions.
"For a moment, I almost went inside," Malone said. "But I didn't think I could make it. I was supposed to go outside, anyway. Bob Kuziel got rid of the nose guard and then Jeff and John (Riggins) and Ron took care of it."
Malone got outside the end, but still did not have the necessary yardage when both Ellis and linebacker Jon Brooks moved to stop him.
"I saw both the linebacker and the corner coming up," said Saul, who was coming from the left guard spot. "The corner made the move first and I had to get him. Benny just took it from there. He's some kind of runner."
Cutting behind Saul, Malone broke away from one shirt tackle and dove just beyond the first-down marker.
"If you are going to be a contender, you have to run the ball," Theismann said, "We should be able to pick up five, six, seven yards a try every time in those situations."
The Redskins now needed one more big play to set up Mark Moseley's game-winning field goal. They got it when Theismann and Ricky Thompson, who earlier had caught an eight-yard scoring pass, connected on a 16-yard gain for a first down at the Lion 29 with 18 seconds left.
"Ricky ran the opposite kind of pattern we had been using," Pardee said. "We put two wide receivers on one side and tried to split their zone. We figured the halfback (out of the backfield) would catch the ball but it could go either to him or Ricky.
"Joe hit the right guy. They had two guys on the back and Ricky was open."
Thompson, who beat the tired Ellis, said, "All week, we had been practicing that play. It was basically my ball. I had single coverage and that's when they should go to me."
Earlier, a bit of Redskin razzle dazzle had set up a touchdown. Halfback Buddy Hardeman, a quarterback at Iowa State, rolled to his right on an apparent sweep, then pulled up and completed a 30-yard pass to Thompson, who had three catches for the day. Malone scored two plays later on a five-yard sweep after Theismann and rookie Don Warren had teamed up on a 23-yard completion.
But Washington's offense, which piled up 321 total yards, could not avoid that same kind of fourth-quarter mistakes that led to a defeat to Houston last week. Two fumbles today enabled Detroit to stage a dramatic rally in the final 12 minutes.
"We are functioning just fine but we can't keep hurting our defense by making mistakes and giving them the football in our territory," Theismann said.
"We have to learn to win, it's that simple," said safety Ken Houston. "This first one was a tough one. Now that we have it, we should be okay. Maybe we let down, but we can't make this fourth-quarter thing a habit."
The Redskins got out of the game with four injuries. The most serious was Dave Butz's twisted knee. Team officials said he could be able to play next Monday against New York. Houston bruised a shoulder, Jean Fugett sprained his left knee and Malone bruised his thigh. All three should play next week.
In the Lions' dressing room, the player with the most mixed emotions was quarterback Jeff Komlo, who had thrown well under trying circumstances but could not be totally satisfied.
Komlo, formerly of De Matha High in Hyattsville, Md., and the University of Delaware, came to the Lions with modest goals this season.
"My main objective was to be the third-string quarterback," he said. Today he was the starter, because the two quarterbakcs ahead of him are injured, and he completed half his 22 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.
"I didn't see it," he said of the 24-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Scott that brought the Lions into a 24-24 tie with just two minutes to play. "I was flat on my back. Yeah, I was excited. But I didn't show it.
"I was saving it for after the game. Maybe it's just my personality: I try to keep (emotions) inside me. Sure, this is a dream come true, but I didn't need to be jumping up and down after that touchdown.
"Actually, I thought the Redskins would blitz a lot more today. They only came once or twice. On the interception (to Kenny Houston), the weak safety (Mark Murphy) gave me a false read."