The Redskins' reentry into reality began with 99 seconds left in the first quarter today, after the Eagles broke a long gainer and had first and goal from the eight-yard line.
It becomes mano a mano here, primitive and uncomplicated, a test of one line against the other because every textbook in the NFL calls for an inside run on first down. And the Eagles' Dick Vermeil is the Ronald Reagan of coaches.
So all of Philadelphia knew they would run, all of Washington knew they would run -- and Wilbert Montgomery still pranced into the end zone, as though the opposition were wooden Indians instead of the 4-1 Redskins.
"We call inside the 10 'tough territory,'" said left linebacker Brad Dusek. "And they were especially good there. Fact is, they ran just about anywhere they wanted to. They ran into our strength a lot of times and still did well.
"It's easy to get emotional when you move that well."
For the first time in a month, the Redskins had most of the important numbers except the penultimate one -- the final score. They were successful 72 percent of the time on third down, ran 20 more plays than the Eagles and averaged 4.5 yards per play.
Part of the reason for those offensive numbers was an obsession with building character late in the fourth quarter. Down by 18 points, they played as though they were ahead by 18 points. The Eagles were more than willing to trade six minutes for seven points.
"The whole game was dictated to us," said free safety Mark Murphy. "They blew off the ball, ran it down our throat. Everything we tried to execute they picked up."
"They beat us at the point of attack," said strong safety Ken Houston.
"HOLD UP INSIDE" was the message printed in large letters on the Redskin clubhouse blackboard before the game began.
All of this is code, a polite way of telling the truth without publicly fingering a friend. Bluntly put, the Washington defensive line was laid out on the Veterans Stadium carpet. Some Redskin watchers were surprised it had not happened earlier.
Tackle Diron Talbert had played heroically in trying to cope with serious knee surgery. Today he missed much of the game -- and someone wondered if the knee had gone sour.
"No," Talbert said.
In the past few games, the Redskins have been able to cover for the front four by blitzing Houston frequently and others now and then. Today the Eagles discovered which sleeve contained Jack Pardee's defensive gimmicks -- and also what they were.
When the Redskins tried "SAM Thunder," which fans know as a safety blitz, Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski dumped a short pass to the fellow Houston ordinarily would cover, tight end Keith Krepfle.
And Krepfle turned what should have been a 10-yard gain into a 40-yard gain by breaking Murphy's tackle.
"We play zone 98 percent of the game," Dusek said. And the 2 percent of the time we're in man they hit it. But you go run-run-run-run and then come up with a pass; it's the ideal situation.
"We wanted to get 'em into passing situations, but it never happened. We couldn't get 'em into a nickel situation.We couldn't stop 'em on first down."
Indeed, Philadelphia had eight third downs all game.
"You let a good runner like Montgomery get going early he gets to thinking he can get 100 yards. It's like (Ottis) Anderson with the Cards. We stopped him early and he could not get going. But once a guy starts to get rolling, like he did today, he becomes better and better."
Montgomery gained just 12 more yards than Redskin John Riggins -- and on one fewer carry. The difference was that the Redskins wanted to keep Montgomery in check and the Eagles did not mind Riggins padding his average.
"They give up a little bit," Riggins said. "Three or four yards. But that's all you get. The critical half was the first half (when he gained 46 yards on 12 carries). The second half they were a little soft."
And that softie, Vermeil, allowed his offensive line to get a deserved ovation by replacing them on the field instead of on the sideline late in the game.
"We're still a growing football team," said Redskin offensive coordinator Joe Walton, which is as good an analysis as any. In truth, the major surprise of the season is that it took six weeks for the Redskins to be embarrassed, for a good team to beat them badly.