John Riggins said it took him almost half a season to regain his form and his confidence following a fumble that cost the Redskins the season opener against Houston.
With a new play installed just for yesterday's game to counteract Philadelphia's overzealous defense, and with restored confidence, Riggins enjoyed his most productive gave in four seasons as a Redsking. He gained 120 yards in 19 carries in Washington's 17-7 victory at RFK Stadium.
Some other numbers were significant.
Possession time of 38 minutes, 19 seconds, including 49 rushes by the Redskins for 211 net yards. The 49 running plays were the most Washington had accomplished in 41 games and it was the first 200-yard rushing game in the past 20.
"That's ideals, the way you want to play a game," said Riggins, "to keep their defense on the field and keep their offense off. If you could draw up a play to play anybody, that's what you would want to do."
Riggins lost an important fumble in each of the Redskins' two opening games. Last week against Cleveland, he said he misread two blocks and failed to score against the Browns in three cracks from the one-yard line. The problem, he said, went back to the fumbles.
"You think about them early," he said. "You've got to get over the fumblitis before you can do other things. The one thing on your mind is not to fumble. When we played Houston, we played very well. We are a fumble away from being 7-1. Of course, that was my fumble.
"Your start off again and you start with basics. And you start out being conservative and hold onto the football as much as you can. And you're concentrating on it. So, consequently, it takes a little bit away from your running game. But as you get back to where you once were before and you know you can still hold on to the football, you kind of go back to your old form. More than anything else, that's what I was doing."
Riggins, the Redskins' highest-paid player ($300,000 annually), had a chat with Fred O'Connor, backfield coach, during practice. O'Connor told Riggins he was doing too much thinking when he got to the corners, in effect slowing down to make a decision where to run.
The tip paid off and Riggins said he was much more relaxed before yesterday's victory.
"I was a lot more relaxed than I was in the past," Riggins said, particularly after getting three shots in Cleveland and not getting it in. You put pressure on yourself. Those were two very poor reads on my part last week. So you come into a game like this and find yourself in a sink-or-swim situation.
"I didn't have to worry about it because I didn't figure they'd give it to me three times anyway (when the Redskins had first and goal from the three in the third quarter). They gave it to me once, just to let me know they were still thinking about me."
The new play that helped Riggins is called 36 Veer, a deceitful little fullback run that starts out the same as 38 Bob, a play that is designed to get the fullback outside and around the corner. It was used with success at times last season; yesterday was the first time the Redskins have used it this season.
"We start out like we're going wide and then cut back," Riggins said. "And that I think unsettled them more than anything. They probably watched out game films against Cleveland last week. Cleveland was slanting to our weak side all the time because that (38 Bob) is one of our favorite plays.
"They tried to simulate Cleveland's game plan and start to the weak side all the time. And when we put the veer play in, why they were always out of position. That is one play we probably got as many yards out of as all the other plays put together."
"It's just one of those plays," said running back Buddy Hardeman, "in which the fullback is reading and goes wherever he sees daylight."
"We had a few cutbacks but we ran the same basic stuff," said right tackle George Starke. "We knew we could run on them. We ran on them up there. The defense played so well, we didn't have to worry about trying to play catch-up, which is a different game."
Pardee had stressed improving the Redskin power game all preseason. Again yesterday, the line protected quarterback Joe Theismann well, even when left guard Ron Saul sat out the second half with a sprained right ankle and was replaced by Fred Dean.
Joe Walton, the offensive coordinator, said he dusted off the veer play because he figured the Eagles "would be overplaying us too and this would be a good time to bring it out and get some balance."
Nothing fancy, Walton added, just "an old play we brought out."
But this is a team with a basic offense.
"A big help for us this game was that our defense just played excellent," said Saul. "It got us the ball. We made a few turnovers, but so did they. When your defense can play like that we're ready to play with anybody!" t