They are just four incidents among a grand total of 769 plays the Redskins have been involved in this season: a touchdown pass off a broken pattern, a holding penalty, a clip, an illegal chuck down field. Yet they tell so much about Washington's continual struggle this year -- and about the fragile line between winning and losing.
The Redskin script really hasn't changed since the opening loss to Dallas six weeks ago. The team has been penalized too many times for too many yards. sIt has scored too few points. It has thrown too many interceptions. It has missed too many field goals.It has given up too many long plays.
But Monday night against another ailing team, the Denver Broncos, this scenario seemed headed for a new, brighter chapter. After Wilbur Jackson ripped off his most impressive run as a Redskin to tie the game at 10 early in the third quarter, the Washington bench was lifed with the first real wave of optimism the players had felt this season. They could sense that they were about to assume domination of the game, as long as they could stay away from those killing mistakes that had carved out a disappointing 1-4 start.
Already, slump-ridden Mark Moseley had kicked his first field goal in four weeks, Joe Theismann hadn't thrown an interception, the defense had settled down after a shaky first period and, perhaps most important, the Redskins had been penalized only once. This was to be their best performance of the year. They were almost healthy and their enthusiasm and leadership had returned; and they were overpowering Denver, seeking the end of the nightmare.
Instead, the game's final 26 minutes -- and four critical plays -- would become a microcosm of the Redskins' 1980 season.
The situation: Denver's ball, third and five at the Bronco 13, 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Moments earlier, Jackson had run 52 yards for the tying touchdown. A clip on the ensuing kickoff had pushed the Broncos deeper into their territory.
The play: Quarterback Craig Morton, who had replaced starter Matt Robinson late in the second period, drops back to pass. He is looking for tight end Riley Odoms, who had lined up on the right side of the field before running a short crossing pattern toward the center.
Morton never gets off the pass. He is sacked at the three by defensive end Coy Bacon. Denver will be forced to punt from its end zone. Washington most likely will have the ball at midfield -- the break the Redskins think they need.
But wait. Head linesman Ed Marion throws a late flag. Strong safety Tony Peters, starting his first game in place of Ken Houston, is called for hitting Odoms illegally down field. Denver accepts the five-yard penalty and the first down at the 18. The Broncos then use 13 plays to drive to the Washington five, from where Fred Steinfort kicks a 23-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead.
"That was the most important play of the game," said secondary coach Richie Petitbon. "We had everything going for us and you could feel the game turning.It was at least a six point swing for them."
The explanation: Peters had Odoms on man-to-man coverage. Odoms ran about five yards and tried to cut in. But Peters got to the turn-in spot first and established position, which is a legal move. Peters put his hand up so Odoms wouldn't run over him, also legal. The two bump. No flag. Yet.
"When he saw that I had beaten him to the spot, he tried to maneuver around me," Peters said. "He grabbed me by the shirt and tried to pull me and turn me around." Peters wound up doing a complete turn as Odoms tried to sprint away. By now, the two players were past the 20-yard line, beyond the area in which defensive backs can touch receivers. As Peters finished turning, his right arm pushed against Odoms.
"I was fighting to get loose," Peters said. "I managed not to lose my balance and I used my arm to stop his pulling and to get his arm away. If you look at the whole play, I couldn't be called. He was doing as much as I was."
Marion, standing along the far sidelines 25 yards from the play, threw his flag. Morton already had been sacked.
"We ran into each other," Odoms said after the game. "I couldn't run my pattern." But Peters says he knows Odoms was as surprised as he was by the call.
"Usually, the receivers always complain before the flag," he said. "Riley hadn't said a word."
The situation: Denver's ball, third and nine from the Washington 32, eight minutes left in the game. The Redskins had just scored a touchdown on a Theismann-to-Art Monk pass for a 17-13 lead.
The play: Wide receiver Rick Upchurch lines up on the left side of the Bronco formation. The Redskins give him double coverage, with Joe Lavender and Mark Murphy. Upchurch runs a crossing pattern, cutting to the right sideline. Midway through the route, Odoms glides past Lavender, who correctly switches assignments, leaving Murphy to handle Upchurch.Upchurch can't shake his defender by the time he completes his assigned route.
Morton, meanwhile, is under heavy pressure from the Redskin front four. Tackle Dave Butz, in particular, has made good penetration. When Morton can't unload to Upchurch, he is on the verge of being sacked by Butz, so he steps to his right. The surge of the defensive line carries the Washington players past him and he throws a 32-yard touchdown pass to Upchurch to win the game.
The explanation: "Both of our defensive ends (Karl Lorch and Bacon) made the same mistake," said defensive coordinator Doc Urich. "They tried to pinch inside instead of taking a circle route to contain him outside.
"But Morton isn't a scrambler and sometimes he is vulnerable if you go inside like they did. If just one of the ends had gone outside, they would have been able to apply pressure from behind and he might not have gotten off the pass."
Instead, there was no one to contain Morton once he evaded the rush. And Upchurch, looking back, saw his quarterback was on the move. The veteran receiver turned upfield and headed to the end zone. Murphy also had looked toward Morton -- "a good football instinct," said Petitbon -- and lost contact for an instant with his man.
"I probably shouldn't have looked upfield," Murphy said. "He got away from me. But part of my job is to help out if he was running. I had expected Morton to throw shallow (short) on the pass and I knew that I had that covered.
"Upchurch broke and I reacted, but too late. I couldn't get there."
Morton, benefitting from the extra time to pass, unloaded the ball and Upchurch caught it just short of the end zone, ahead of a leaping Murphy, and carried it in for the crucial score.
"Craig did a heck of a job on the play," Upchurch said. "He got away from them. I saw he was in trouble and I just tried to get open. I got a step on him (Murphy) and Craig's pass was right there. I thought I was open earlier but Craig couldn't see me because of the pressure."
The situation: Washington's ball, first and 10 on the Denver 39, two minutes to go. Denver has just scored on the Upchurch touchdown to regain the lead. The Redskins are driving but have only one timeout left.
The play: The Redskins are in their two-minute offense, where the running backs become the dominant receivers. Theismann finds Harmon in the right flat and the Washington fullback runs seven yards to the 32 before being tackled hard. Harmon reinjuries an already tender ankle on the play and the Redskins are charged with their final timeout.
There also is a flag lying on the field.
"Holding, No. 74, offense," said referee Fred Wyant. George Starke, playing his first game in a month after a knee injury, is called for holding Denver end Barney Chavous.
The explanation: "Joe was running a waggle (rollout) to the right," Starke said. "I take their left end head up. Since Joe is coming my way, I don't want the end to penetrate.
"It looks like he (the official) saw my left arm entangled in Chavous' right arm. It was there for only a second when I pulled it back. Holding is subject to interpretation. There have been times when I have held, but that's not my style. He (the official) could have called holding but I didn't grab his uniform and I didn't hold on for a long time."
Chavous took an outside route on Starke. Starke's left arm immediately moved outside, against Chevous' shoulder. Offensive linemen aren't allowed to have their arms outside what is called the plane of the body. That means they must only work against the opponents' chest.
"If he had been called as soon as the play started, there would be no quarrel," line coach Ray Callahan said. "But the pass had been completed when the flag went down." Had there been no penalty on the play, the Redskins would have had the ball on the Bronco 32; instead, they were back at the 49. This wiped out what, at worst, would have been a 49-yard field-goal try.
The situation: Washtington's ball, first and 20 from the Denver 49. One play after the Starke holding penalty, no timeouts left.
The play: the Redskins line up in a double wing, with halfback Bobby Hammond in the right slot. Tight end Don Warren sets up on the left. Hammond, one of three receivers on the right, runs a crossing route toward midfield. Warren's primary duty is to protect Theismann from a weak-side blitz. Once he fulfills that task, he drifts into the flat as a safety valve. b
Theismann can't get the ball to either of his two primary receivers, so he turns to his left, where Warren is open. He dumps the pass to the tight end, who runs 21 yards for a first down at the 28.
But again, a flag is dropped. Hammond is called for clipping linebacker Rob Nairne in front of Denver bench.
The explanation: "I was coming across the field and he (Nairne) was following me," Hammond said. "When Donny caught the ball, I turned and tried to block him. He tried to avoid me and I hit him with my shoulder. Then he took a real swan dive and the bench started yelling, 'Clip, clip.'
"I was maybe 10 yards from Donny at first and I didn't want the Denver guy to get to him. If I had made a solid contact, there would have been no problem. But when I started to block him, he tried to avoid me and turned and I just touched him.
Although the block had no effect on the outcome of the play, running back coach Fred O'Connor said Hammond was doing the right thing going after Nairne.
"We tell them to rally to the ball," OConnor said. "He can't stand there and think; he's got to react instinctively. This certainly wasn't an obvious clip. Bobby never left his feet and, if there was contact, it was just barely there. When the guy turned to avoid him, Bobby couldn't get his head in front of him, like the rule says you must."
Earlier in the game, Harmon had caught a 21-yard pass. Hammond, running the same pattern, had pulled off the exact block sucessfully without being penalized.
"I didn't argue," Hammond said. "I knew when I heard them yelling and I saw the flag, what was going to happen. It was just a shame it took place."
Instead of having a first down at the 28, the Redskins wound up with a first down at their 45. Four plays later, having moved the ball 20 yards, Moseley came on to try a 52-yard field goal.
Moseley missed to the left with 13 seconds left. And the Redskins' losing streak was extended to four: their record 1-5.