Washington's weeklong joy ride atop the NFC East Division ended abruptly today thanks to a second-string Giant running back trying to catch his coach's eye and a New York defense trying to earn the Redskins' respect. h
That defense allowed only two Mark Moseley field goals while halfback Billy Taylor rambled for 126 yards and a fourth-period one-yard touchdown run that wrapped up New York's 14-6 triumph before a screaming sellout crowd to 72,641 in Giants Stadium.
So continued the Redskins' problems in the Meadowlands, where they have never won in four appearances and have scored just two touchdowns.
And the defeat, handing Philadelphia (9-4) sole possession of the East lead and knocking Washington (8-5) into a second-place tie with idle Dallas, was compounded by an injury to veteran strong safety Ken Houston.
Houston, who has played in the last 11 Pro Bowls and never sat out any of his 183 professional games, fractured a wrist in the third quarter and will be out the rest of the season. He will be replaced by Tony Peters, who has been one of the club's most valuable reserves this season.
"I don't think Washington came here believing we were a good team," said New York linebacker Brad Van Pelt. "We came ready to play today and possibly they didn't. They were 8-4, but we won the dogfight."
The Giants were inspired by memories of a 27-0 Monday night drubbing inflicted by the Redskins the third week of the season. "They humiliated us," admitted guard Doug Van Horn. But this was a vastly improved New York team that caught its adversaries on a day when their ofense was obviously out of sync.
Washington was plagued by dropped passes -- one to a wide-open Ricky Thompson in the end zone -- by two possession-costing penalties for running into punter Dave Jennings and by an inability to convert third downs, reversing a particular Redskin strength this season.
"The things we have been getting done we didn't get done," Coach Jack Pardee commented. "They were coming off the ball and playing hard. We had to force some turnovers but they avoided them today. It would have helped to have a few more third-down conversions and a few more catches in the end zone."
While the defeat certainly hurt Washington's chances of winning the division, the Redskins remain a prime playoff contender. But, as Pardee pointed out, it is vital that they win their next two games against Green Bay and Cincinnati in RFK Stadium.
"We have to get home to Redskin Park, regroup and not let what was hurting us today hurt us again," he said.
It will help that Pardee's team won't have to prepare again for these Giants, who have won six of eight games since an 0-5 start and are especially tough in their home stadium.
Washington claimed all last week it was fully aware of New York's talent, especially on defense. But the Redskins didn't play emotionally, a problem Pardee blamed on his players being "too tight, too determined not to make mistakes." And the Giants were relatively sky high, especially Taylor and that tough defense.
Taylor, who had been benched the last two weeks by Coach Ray Perkins for undisclosed reasons, dominated the second half with his running. On the clinching drive in the fourth period, he carried on 13 of 14 plays, gaining 75 of the touchdown march's 79 yards. He went over from the one with 7:43 left.
New York's game plan had been to run the ball and not force rookie quarterback Phil Simms to throw into the Redskin pass coverage, the strength of their defense. Taylor, usually attacking the right side of the Redskin defense, was so successful that Simms passed only 14 times and not once in the fourth period.
"We had the simplest game plan possible," said Giant center Jim Clack. "We were going to run it. If we got behind we were going to run it. cWhatever happened, we were going to run it. That is the best game plan against Washington."
Yet, the Redskins had their chances to escape with a triumph, despite their inconsistencies and New York's solid performance.
The incompletion to Thompson late in the third quarter was the most telling blow. Thompson had beaten Alan Caldwell clearly and was open in the end zone, but could not hang onto quarterback Joe Theismann's slightly overthrown, 24-yard pass.
"I should have had it," Thompson said. "You can't really call that ball overthrown. It was there and I should have pulled it in."
If Thompson had hung on, the Redskins would have led, 10-7. Instead, Moseley had to come on and kick a 41-yarder, so the Giants yet clung to the lead, 7-6. Then the Giants launched their long drive to put the game out of reach.
Earlier, after New York had converted its second possession into a sustained-drive touchdown on a one-yard dive by Doug Kotar, Washington had moved to first and goal at the nine on a 40-yard completion, Theismann to Clarence Harmon.
Again, the Redskins had to settle for a 21-yard Moseley field goal when a two-yard run by John Riggins, an incompletion and a three-yard throw to Ike Forte, brought up fourth down from the four.
Once his team fell behind by eight points in the second half, Pardee was forced into some unorthodox decisions in an attempt to catch up.
The first came with 1:30 left in the game. The Redskins had fourth and less than a yard for first down from the Giant 28. Pardee sent in Moseley for a 36-yard try, which hit the right upright and fell wide.
"We had to score twice to win and we were fighting both time and the scoreboard," Pardee said. "Otherwise you go for the first down. But why waste more time running? You kick the field goal and then try to get the ball back."
The Redskins then held New York and forced a punt. Bobby Hammond called for a fair catch, setting up a free kick for Moseley. He tried a 74-yard field goal from a holding tee, but the kick was short and to the right. 7
"We were scrambling," Pardee said. "We had to try anything."
Ironically, the Redskins were scrambling because the Giants were able to play the kind of run-oriented, ball-control offense that characterizes Washington at its best.
New York had the ball for 34 1/2 minutes today, including almost 19 in the second half. Simms committed only one mistake, a third-period interception by Pete Wysocki -- and Giant runners didn't lose a fumble on their 50 rushing plays.
New York's power policy reached a climax in the fourth period during Taylor's amazing, one-man assault on the Redskin defense.
The Giant drive started on the 22 with the Redskins feeling good after Moseley's second field goal. Taylor picked up seven yards on his first carry, then began a trend by gaining a first down at the 35 on a sweep around left end.
A 12-yard third-down scamper, again to the left, recorded another first down and moved the ball into Redskin territory. His straight carry accounted for a third first down -- through that vulnerable left-side area.
By now the Giant fans could sense the drama building and the noise level in the stadium increased appreciably. Perkins said his team had not gone into the game planning to concentrate on the Redskin's right side, but there was no question at this point where the Giants would be running next.
Washington was trying to shore up its holes. The Redskins were shuffling players on almost every down and Wysocki, the right linebacker, was pushing himself to force the run harder.
But it was not enough. After Ken Johnson broke Taylor's string on a four-yard dash, the Giants found themselves facing third and five from the Redskin 28. One more time, they called Taylor's Play: Flow 37 G Lead.
Moving behind pulling guard Van Horn and tackle Brad Benson, Taylor slashed through a gaping hole created by blocks on Perry Brooks (in at Diron Talbert's tackle spot) and right end Coy Bacon. Taylor bolted down the sideline before being pushed down at the one. Two plays later, he scored.
"Once I got open, I tried to run on what little I had left," Taylor said about his 27-yard gain. "If I had been fresh, I would have gone in standing up. That's my only disappointment today."
The Redskins had plenty of disappointments. Theismann, 11 of 23 for 140 yards through the air, again failed to win in his home state. And they wasted a 15 tackle (seven solo) effort by rookie linebacker Neal Olkewicz. Then there was the loss of Houston, hurt trying to tackle Kotar on a sweep.
"I hit a guard and my wrist was trapped between the ground and my thigh pad," related Houston, who had the wrist in a cast after the game. Dr. Stanford Lavine said it would take six to eight weeks to heal.
Linebacker Brad Dusek was knocked unconscious in the first half but returned to the game after intermission. And halfback Benny Malone suffered a bruised back which limited his fourth-quarter play.
"We really didn't do anything much different than we normally try," Theismann said. "we run the ball 60 or so times and pick our spots for big plays. Then we try to capitalize on those plays.
"We waited today but the big plays never happened."