Joe Gibbs obviously was listening when owner Jack Kent Cooke promised Washington fans that the Redskins would be exciting this season. It's only halfway through the preseason schedule and already the team's new coach is providing the kind of offense not seen from the Redskins in a decade.
Gibbs' razzle-dazzle club made it two straight with an easy 27-13 victory over a Minnesota team that used its veterans much of the game. But the Vikings weren't prepared to handle the Redskins' offensive diversity or a fired-up Washington front four that stopped quarterback Steve Dils, who put on a fine show himself in RFK Stadium just last November.
This is the preseason, when coaches normally concentrate on building their running game and sending bored fans home early. Last night, Gibbs had the Redskins throwing from the opening play and even ordered another halfback option pass. This time it worked, much to the delight of Redskins fans in the RFK Stadium crowd of 44,662.
Last week, Terry Metcalf's option try fell short. But Joe Washington's wobbly pass last night was caught by wide receiver Zion McKinney. He turned it into a 29-yard touchdown that gave the Redskins a comfortable 24-10 lead in addition to setting off a prolonged standing ovation from the appreciative, but perhaps stunned, crowd.
That pass ended a fine night for Joe Washington. He gained 35 yards in four carries, including a marvelous 18-yard run behind a powerful block from pulling tackle George Starke. He scored the Redskins' second touchdown by leaping over a Viking defender and landing in the end zone.
"The only thing Joe didn't do was leap a tall building in a single bound," said quarterback Joe Theismann. "He adds so much quickness and speed, something we haven't had in a long time. It gives the whole offense a different look. I had just said in the game that he had run, caught and leaped, but hadn't thrown yet and sure enough, he completes a pass."
The other backfield newcomer, Metcalf, got a chance to start with Wilbur Jackson and capitalized on the opportunity by gaining 38 yards on seven carries. He also caught a six-yard pass from Theismann for his first NFL touchdown since returning from Canada.
And John Riggins, again the recipient of vocal fan support, gave more signs that he is nearing full stride after a year's layoff. He gained 29 yards on six attempts, including a powerful 13-yard run up the middle in the third quarter.
Theismann played only the first half and dodged a decent Minnesota pass rush to complete 11 of 15 passes for 143 yards. He threw on the first three downs of the game, completing all three, including a 41-yarder to Ricky Thompson.
Add two field goals by Mark Moseley, who had five attempts, and 399 total yards, including 220 passing, and the result was an overwhelming performance, considering how early it is in training camp.
"We're starting to get some big plays going," Gibbs said. "And Theismann has been super impressive the last two weeks. We're just starting to get to know each other but he has some pizazz. But we can't get too excited. This is only preseason."
Only injuries to linemen Jerry Scanlan, Melvin Jones and Joe Jacoby clouded Gibbs' joy. Scanlan, the starting left guard, has bone chips on his knee, which will be removed by Monday. He could miss a week to 10 days. Jones has a strained Achilles' tendon and Jacoby was held out of the game when blood appeared in his urine yesterday. With Ron Saul and Bob Kuziel already hurt, the club has some depth problems in the offensive line.
But the Redskin offense wasn't the whole show. Washington's front four, which had been criticized by defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon for its spotty play, gave Dils all kinds of trouble.
The Minnesota quarterback had led his team to a 39-14 win here last season. Last night he got off 41 passes, completing 19 for 262 yards, but he was also sacked four times and harassed on a half-dozen other plays. The only touchdown the Vikings could score was on a 73-yard play to Sammy White, who shook off the tackles of Mark Murphy and Joe Lavender at midfield before scoring.
Gibbs gave newcomers Fred Cook and Wilbur Young lots of playing time on the line, and they responded impresssively. Young, who has improved rapidly the last week, had one interception (nullified by a penalty) and recorded a sack. Cook had a couple of strong tackles on end sweeps. And aging Coy Bacon, who has been in Gibbs' doghouse all training camp, had a sack.
Could the Redskins be showing too much of their offense too early?
"That remains to be seen," Gibbs said. "But we are a new team and a new coaching staff trying to put together a team. We need to see everything. We've thrown the option pass from two different sets. I guess I could be concerned, but teams know it now. It will keep defensive backs off the line and help our running game."
Gibbs was less pleased with the play of his special teams. The Redskins were called for roughing the kicker and one of Moseley's three errant field-goal tries was blocked.
The Redskins scored the second time they had the ball. A roughing-the-passer penalty gave them a first down at the Viking 24, and five plays later Metcalf caught the touchdown pass from Theismann.
"It was my first one back in the NFL and it means a lot," said Metcalf, who kept the ball as a souvenir. "I still think I've got it but I have to prove that I do. It keeps me fired up and working hard."
After the Vikings had tied the game on White's touchdown reception, the Redskins went ahead for good on Washington's four-yard score. The score was set up by a 23-yard pass from Theismann to tight end Rick Walker on third and one moved the ball to the four.
Minnesota added a 50-yard field goal just before the half ended, but a 45-yarder by Moseley and Washington's option pass in the third period took care of any Viking victory chances.
McKinney felt especially good about catching Washington's option pass. Earlier he had dropped two potential touchdown passes from Tom Flick, who played the entire second half for Theismann.
The Redskins caused two turnovers. They forced a fumble on a kickoff return and linebacker Monte Coleman intercepted his second pass in as many weeks.
Gibbs has until Tuesday to pare his 83-man roster down to 60.