Told by angry Coach Jack Pardee at halftime to stop talking and start playing "some solid football," the Washington Redskins responded with a stunning 31-point second half yesterday to bury lowly Green Bay, 38-21, before 51,682 fans at RFK Stadium.
The Packers, who have not won on the road this season, had a 21-7 lead at intermission, but were held to 23 net yards in the second half by an aroused Washington team that remained one game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East and tied with Dallas for second.
Pardee's unusually strong pep talk got the Redskins' attention and their improved execution after halftime ignited the comeback.
They stopped messing up defensive coverages, they got a wonderful passing demonstration from quarterback Joe Theismann (four touchdowns, 256 yards) and they got two spectacular scoring pass-runs from John McDaniel and John Riggins to tie, then take the lead for good.
"We just shouldn't be losing to teams like Green Bay," said defensive back Ray Waddy. "We could see the season ending right now (at halftime). We had come too far to mess it up in this one."
The triumph ran the Redskins' record to 9-5, one victory more than they recorded in Pardee's first season last year.
But for a long time on this cold, blustery day it seemed almost preposterous for any Washington player to be talking about playoffs. Against an opponent that was just playing out the season, the Redskins were making mistakes and having the kind of offensive breadkowns that characterized their loss last week to the New York Giants.
"We were just too scared about losing," said veteran Diron Talbert. "It's a scary feeling, knowing you have to win to stay in the playoff race. We just had to go out and out-hustle them and we did."
Pardee said he didn't "say anything or write anything magical on the board" during halftime. "We just had to play the defense called and have some offensive execution. It was that simple."
Then he paused.
"And we also had to go out and score the first time we had the ball," he said. "That was going to make or break us."
The Redskins followed orders. They drove 74 yards with the third-quarter kickoff and scored on an eight-yard pass from Theismann to Danny Buggs. They then held the Packers and went on the get points on four of their next six possessions to blow open the game.
Near the end, Pardee even disdained kicking a field goal despite having the ball at the Packer 16, giving it up instead on downs.
"We had enough points and I didn't think we needed more," Pardee said. Asked if the decision might backfire on him if the playoff tie breaker came down to net points, he said: "I hope not. If it does, then I made a mistake."
It was almost as if Pardee coached two teams in this game. The first half Washington surrendered 48- and 43-yard scoring bombs by quarterback Lynn Dickey -- the latter coming with 16 seconds left in the second quarter -- and a whopping 251 yards.
The second-half redskins allowed a minus-five total yards after Green Bay's initial series of that half and just three first downs while sacking Dickey three times. Dickey, getting his first start in two years in place of David Whitehurst, missed 17 straight passes at one stretch after completing 10 of 13 before intermission.
The second-half Redskins also produced a Theismann who picked apart a weak Green Bay secondary.
"I felt like I could knock a gnat off someone's shoulder today," he said. "I felt in control of things."
His second-half accuracy -- 14 of 21 for 174 yards and three touchdowns -- resulted in his best statistical day of the season. His four touchdown passes were a pro career high and his 21 completions (on 34 attempts) equaled a career high.
Theismann needed a big second half to wipe out what he called "a bad taste in my mouth" resulting from a second-period interception in the end zone on a pass from the Green Bay nine.
"It was like putting a pin in a balloon," Theismann said, referring to the way the mistakes deflated the Redskins the rest of the half.
There were no similiar errors in the second half. Instead of trying to go long to his wide receivers, as he had done frequently before intermission, Theismann began concentrating on hitting his backs on short passes. With Green Bay's linebackers taking deep drops off the line of scrimmage Theismann had little trouble making completion after completion.
So much hung on that first drive of the third quarter.
"For us to come out and not beat the Packers," said fullback Riggins, "it would have been the turning point on whether or not we are a good team. If you don't put points on the board, you are putting yourself in an awful spot. If they then scored, you'd almost need a miracle.
"And in football, there aren't many miracles."
The Redskins, however, avoided the need for any extraordinary help by moving the ball crisply downfield on an 11-play drive that was kept alive by passes of seven, 13 and 11 yards by Theismann, who also scrambled out of the pocket and sprinted 15 yards for a first down at the Packer 16.
On second down from the eight, after an eight-yard Riggins run (he had 88 yards rushing and seven catches on the day), Theismann withstood a blitz and lofted a pass to Buggs in the right corner of the end zone. The ball went right over the head of Estus Hood.
Green Bay, which had picked on the Redskins' right defensive side in the first half for most of its 89 rushing yards, was forced to punt after Talbert sacked Dickey for a nine-yard loss.
"After that first possession," said Green Bay Coach Bart Starr, "we stalled. Everything went downhill. When we didn't get a big play, things changed. If we had scored on that drive they might have sagged. Instead, we did."
Things unraveled quickly for the Packers. A sack by Coy Bacon near the end of the third quarter moved Green Bay back to its six and, after a punt, the Redskins took over on their 44.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Theismann dropped back from Green Bay's 39 to throw what was designed to be a 10-yard down-and-out pass to McDaniel. But Hood, the cornerback, pressured McDaniel, so the Redskin receiver took off down the sideline.
Theismann threw a brilliant pass, soft and right on target, over Hood's shoulder and into McDaniels' hands at the 18. McDaniel grabbed the ball, shook off the startled Hood, cut across the field, broke a tackle by Jim Gueno at the 10 and dragged three Packers from the five to the end zone.
"It was a matter of Hood making the play or me and I wasn't going to let him get it," said McDaniel.
Pardee called the touchdown "a super play, the kind you need. Johnny had a hot week in practice and he kept it up today. You've got to have those plays to win big games like this."
Mark Moseley added the point after and the Redskins had the game tied at 21 with 14:49 left. Three plays later, they also had the ball back when rookie Monte Coleman picked off his first pro interception on Dickey's badly thrown pass over the middle. Coleman ran the ball 13 yards to the Packer 35.
Theismann wasted little time capitalizing on the mistake. On first down, he rolled away from a pass rush, pulled up and connected with tight end Don Warren for a 20-yard gain. After Clarence Harmon gained three yards, Theismann passed to Riggins, who broke two tackles at the 10 and ran over little Johnnie Gray at the two before rolling into the end zone.
Moseley, who then kicked the fourth of his five extra points, later added a 33-yard field goal for a 31-21 lead. It was his 23rd field goal, a season high, and he now has 100 points for the year, another personal best.
Washington's last touchdown came on a 20-yard end run by Ike Forte with 1:51 remaining after Green Bay couldn't get a first down on four straight passes from its 24.
The Redskins had begun the contest in a similar impressive fashion. They scored on their first possession when Theismann and Ricky Thompson teamed up on a 20-yard curl-in pattern.
But Green Bay tied early in the second period on Dickey's 48-yard pass to Walter Tullis who beat Waddy to the inside. The Redskins were in a safety blitz and Waddy had no help on the coverage.
Tullis caught the ball on the Washington 40 and outran everyone to the goal line.
Theismann then threw the end zone interception that was picked off by Gray, and Green Bay started an impressive 80-yard drive that was added by a roughing penalty on safety Tony Peters.
The Packers did most of their damage on the ground with Torkelson, who picked up 32 yards before Nate Simpson bolted in from the two.
Starr's team increased the margin to 21-7 on a stunning 43-yard pass to Aundra Thompson 16 seconds before the half ended. Peters and cornerback Lemar Parrish were supposed to be double-teaming Thompson, but what Pardee termed "a mixup in communications" left Thompson wide open when he broke to the inside.
"That's what happens when you have new people in your secondary," Pardee said. "We were in a nickel and we had two new people in there because of the injury to Ken Houston. But we got that staightened out."
"I had the feeling in the first half they took us lightly and that they thought we'd roll over and play dead," said Packer linebacker Gary Weaver. "Then they looked up at halftime, saw the score and regrouped. After that, they just whipped us."