It was like, quarterback Joe Theismann said, "taking some rubber bands and match sticks and making them into a flying machine and having it work." And how the patched-up Redskins flew at the finish today, riding a soaring 45-yard field goal by Mark Moseley to pull out a 23-21 victory that they tried so hard all day to give away to the New York Giants.
Despite playing down the stretch with two reserve tackles and a tight end who joined the club two days ago and didn't know the plays, Theismann took his team 51 yards in three minutes to set up Moseley's game-winning boot with 1:55 to play, offsetting a go-ahead touchdown by the Giants almost four minutes earlier.
Normally, Washington would have expected Moseley, one of the game's premier kickers, to be accurate in this moment of pressure, a he has been in so many similiar situations in the past.
But he already had missed from 43 yards earlier in the half, his third failure of the young season, and the Giants had blocked his first conversion try. So Coach Jack Pardee faced a sticky decision at the two-minute warning. His team trailing, 21-20 should he send in Moseley or should he go for a first down on fourth and inches frm the Giant 29?
"If it had been an inch or a half-inch, I would have called a quarterback sneak," Pardee said. "But it was more than that, which meant a handoff. I didn't want to risk it. It was in the perfect field goal range for Mark. I knew he wasn't going to miss any more."
Pardee said he never reconsidered the decision. "I was too busy praying," he said.
The prayer worked. And Moseley's success, followed less than a minute latter by Lemar Parrish's second interception this afternoon, gave the Redskins a much-needed first victory of the season after an embarrassing opening loss to Dallas. It was also the first time in five Washington has won in this stadium, and only the second time the team has managed to score even one touchdown.
But Pardee may have to do even more patching and filling this coming week. Tackle Terry Hermeling has a sprained knee that the Redskins fear could sideline him for weeks. Tight end Don Warren was limping badly at the finish and reserve tight end Phil DuBois was sidelined with hip and Kidney bruises.
"We needed this one badly," Pardee siad. "We broke the Meadowland jinx and it got us over the top. We aren't a great team; we still have a lot of work to do. But we got tougher today. After all that has happened to us the last few weeks, we've stayed together. We could have fallen apart out there but we didn't."
This was a much sharper Redskin team, especially on offense. Even considering that the Giants' defense isone of the league's worst, Washington still displayed a much improved running game. Last Monday, the backs could gain just 58 yards against Dallas. Today, the new backfield of Wilbur Jackson (50 yards on 14 carries) and Rickey Claitt (77 yards on 15 carries) helped the club power for 208 bruising rushing yards, 326 altogether.
Yet even after Washington got a 20-yard touchdown pass from Theismann to Clarence Harmon, a 37-yard scoring romp by Theismann on a scramble out of the pocket and a two-yard TD plunge from Jackson to go up, 20-14, the Redskins couldn't apply the knockout punch in the final half.
The offense wasted so many opportunities in the last two quarters that it wasn't until Parrish's second interception -- he had another nullified by an interference call in the end zone -- with 1:06 left that Pardee and his players could breathe easy.
They should have been celebrating much earlier. The Giants could muster only 11 yards throught the first 22 minutes of the second half. While they were shut off by the Washington defense, which had three interceptions and forced a fumble, Theismann had the Redskins at the New York 26, 40 and one and came up empty each time.
The failure at the one early in the fourth quarter was particularly devastating. Brad Dusek had recovered a Giant fumble at the New York 26 moments before and runs of 10 and six yards by Claitt, the rookie free agent from Bethune Cookman, had his team inside the 10. Jackson picked up a first down at the three, but two plays later, inside linebacker Harry Carson smacked into Claitt while he was switching the ball from one arm to another. Claitt fumbled and the Giants took over at the 18.
That's when young quarterback Phil Simms, who had been struggling most of the game against the experienced Washinton secondary, suddenly found his poise.
After Coach Ray Perkins Successfully gambled on fourth and inches at his 23, Simms found a wide open Gary Shirk for a 21-yard strike, then wide receiver Johnny Perkins for 16 and a first down at the Washington 34.
Two plays later, the Giants lined up in a formation that caught the Redskins by surprise. "We lost a guy in our coverage," Pardee said. "They had a guy (Alvin Garrett) who used to be a wide receiver but was running as a halfback. It mixed us up."
While Washington was trying to get its man to man coverage straightened out, reserve tight end Tom Mullady sneaked behind the secondary and Simms unleashed a fine pass that his receiver pulled in at the 10 before romping in ahead of free safety Mark Murphy. Joe Danelo added his third conversion of the day and the Giants were ahead, 21-20, with 5:40 left.
But Theismann, Pardee and offensive coordinator Joe Walton faced much, much more than a one-point deficit. Hermeling had been sidelined since the end of the first half with the bad knee and fellow tackle George Starke came out midway through the last quarter with a mild knee sprain. And Warren, who suffered a hairline leg fracture just two weeks ago, was tired and limping badly.
So backup tackle Fred Dean was sent in for Hermeling and Gary Anderson, normally a guard, replaced Starke. And Rick Walker, a free agent signed Friday after a four-year career with Cincinnati, took over for Warren since DuBois, normally Warren's replacement, couldn't play with his hip and kidney bruises.
"It was a real interesting situation," Theismann said. "On every play, we had to tell Rick what to do. Joe Walton would send in a play and instructions for him. We were patched together, but there was a good feeling in the huddle, a real good feeling."
Theismann, a New Jersey native, had never won as a pro in his home state. And he had not had the sharpest afternoon of his career, completing just seven of his first 17 passes in this game. "I wanted to win here and get rid of this jinx," he said
He shrugged off the past frustrations for one last drive. Starting from the 20 with 5:34 remaining, Claitt and Harmon loosened up the Giants with surprise runs that netted 11 and seven yards. Then Theismann took over.
He found John McDaniel over the middle for 12 yards and a first down at the 50. "We had practiced the pattern all week in practice but Joe always had gone to the back," McDaniel said. "But I cut over the middle and he saw me."
After a toss to Jackson misfired, Theismann unloaded under heavy pressure to rookie Art Monk, who made a splendid, leaping grab at the 38. Harmon was stopped for no gain on an end sweep and Walker, of all people, almost pulled in a low pass for a first down. That brought up a third and 10. a
"I ran a post pattern and Joe looked at me and threw it right where I could catch it," McDaniel said of the thirddown pass, which was inches short of the first down at the 29. "I had the first, they just spotted the ball wrong."
Now it was fourth down. Thanks to the two-minute warning, Pardee had extra time to think about his next move. He didn't want to give up the ball to New Yok with that much time on the clock, "but I didn't want to come away without any pints either. I figured Mark would kick the field goal and defense would hold."
He was right on both counts, thanks to the accuracy of Moseley and the Parrish interception. But Pardee knew he was taking a risk. Simms already had shown him he could move his team in a hurry.
Earlier Simms had tossed 32 yards to Garrett for a touchdown on a fourth-and-inches play that caught the Redskins by surprise. But even Perkins was shocked. He thought it was third down when he called for the pass. By the time he realized his mistake and sent in a rushing play, it was too late. Simms dropped back and tossed a high pass just over the reach of Ken Houston and into Garrett's hands for a 14-13 lead with 7:50 left in the first half.
The Redskins went back in front with 21 seconds remaining in the period on a fine sweep by Jackson from the two. The scored had been set up by Murphy's interception at the Giant 39, followed by a 16-yard pass to Warren and a 11-yard strike to Harmon. Moseley, whose first PAT failure snapped a string of 69 straight, was true on this try and the Redskins were up, 20-14. " [TEXT OMITTED]" works in the last period. Afterward, Houston said the difference today "was little things. Last week, we weren't aggressive enough. We didn't just go out and go after the ball and go after people.
"If you are a pro, you don't let something like that happen two weeks in a row. We made sure it didn't."