The Redskins aren't supposed to lose the way they did today. Maybe that's why their 13-10 defeat by the Miami Dolphins hurt them more than any of the previous five this season.
The Redskins want opponents to challenge their secondary, one of the team's few strengths. But Miami quarterback David Woodley did just that, and he did it so well that the Dolphins won a game that just as easily could have become the Redskins' second straight victory.
Woodley, playing with fractured ribs, completed 15 passes, six of them responsible for 232 of the Dolphins' 296 passing yards. Three of the completions set up all his team's points and another kept Washington (1-6) from touching the ball over the game's final 4 1/2 minutes.
"We played a very good team evenly and we still didn't win, that really hurts," tackle Mark May said. "To think we came this close. But you have to give Miami credit. They kept coming up with the big plays."
Uwe von Schamann's 25-yard field goal with 9:34 left in the fourth period provided the winning points for Miami (5-1-1), which was coming off an embarrassing loss Monday night to Buffalo.
A 50-yard pass to tight end Joe Rose preceded that kick, von Schamann's second of the afternoon. His first, from 37 yards, came after a 47-yard catch by Duriel Harris. Miami's only touchdown, a one-yard run by Andra Franklin in the third quarter, came after a 39-yard completion to Jimmy Cefalo and a pass interference call on Lemar Parrish at the one.
But even after von Schamann's field goal, Woodley wasn't finished. With the Redskins trying desperately to get one last scoring chance, he found Cefalo for a 54-yard gain on a third-and-13 play from the Dolphin 29. That enabled Miami to run out the remaining 106 seconds.
Coach Joe Gibbs had figured the only way his team could beat the Dolphins -- and make the best use of his battered offensive line -- was to be conservative on offense and rely heavily on the defense, ranked first in the NFC.
Against a Miami defense that had allowed 10 touchdown passes and 1,500 yards the last three weeks, he chose to mix the running of Joe Washington and John Riggins with Joe Theismann's controlled passes.
"We wanted to try to be as balanced as we could, we wanted to go 50-50 with passes and runs and then go with what was working best," Gibbs said. "We wanted the trend of the game to decide what we should do. We were having a tough time going deep on them, and we were doing the job running the ball, so we wanted to stay with that."
A similiar approach had produced the Redskins' first win last week against Chicago by reducing both major penalties and turnovers. "We wanted to be balanced and do what we did well against the Bears," Theismann said. "We had been beating ourselves. So why not stay with what was successful?"
The plan almost worked. The Redskins controlled the ball, mounted some long drives and limited their turnovers to two and their penalties to three. They were in a position to win if their defense could hold up.
But Miami used some fine work of its own to prevail. The Redskins tried to generate a pass rush by blitzing. But the Dolphins used men in motion, new offensive sets and passes to their backs to neutralize this tactic. Once Washington stopped blitzing, Woodley, who was not sacked, had plenty of time to get off his long passes.
"Sometimes the other team is just as responsible for what happens as you are," safety Mark Murphy said. "They have some fine players who were involved in some good plays. Sometimes you just get beat because they do a better job than you do."
The Redskins enjoyed some fine moments. Theismann completed 17 of 23 passes for 149 yards, Riggins gained 77 yards on 20 carries and Joe Washington ran for 66 on 13 carries. Art Monk had four catches for 42 yards.
But the Redskins still couldn't convert scoring opportunities, a problem that has plagued them all season.
In the first period, a 28-yard pass to Monk had the ball at the Miami 37, but Joe Washington fumbled at the 30 and the Dolphins recovered at the 34.
In the second quarter, they had a first down at the Dolphin eight after completions of 25 yards to Don Warren and 12 to Rich Caster, but had to settle for a 20-yard Mark Moseley field goal (and a 3-0 lead) when Theismann's third-down pass to Washington didn't connect.
In the fourth period, with the Dolphins ahead, 13-10, the Redskins moved into Miami territory with a crisp display of passing and running. But after getting a first down at the 36, the drive stalled. A screen pass to Riggins on second down resulted in a six-yard loss, and Theismann's third-down pass to Rick Walker was overthrown, forcing a punt with 4:17 remaining.
Thanks to Woodley's completion to Cefalo, who beat cornerback Joe Lavender, Washington never got the ball back.
The Redskins were in man-to-man coverage on that pass. Lavender was supposed to receive help from either Murphy or Tony Peters, depending on which side the Dolphin tight end ventured. But when the tight end, Rose, went up the middle, both defenders stayed with him, leaving Lavender alone.
"I thought we could score any time we got the ball in the fourth period," Joe Washington said. "We were moving on offense, and the line was controlling them. We just have to eliminate more of our mistakes. We're getting better, we're making progress, but there is still room for improvement."
Perhaps the most surprising development was the work of the Redskins' offensive line, which controlled Miami's defensive front in the final 20 minutes despite more shuffling. Tackle Joe Jacoby aggravated his sore neck, and George Starke played almost the entire game despite a broken right hand. Guard Melvin Jones did not play at all. His right guard spot was taken by Ron Saul, who has spent 12 pro years playing left guard.
The line helped set up the Redskins' only touchdown, a one-yard plunge by Riggins. Starting from its 20 late in the third, Washington methodically drove down the field. Theismann completed four passes, then Riggins and Joe Washington were able to cover the final 29 yards utilizing huge holes opened by the line.
A 14-yard gain by Washington off a draw play and then runs of 5, 8 and 1 yards by Riggins pulled the Redskins to a 10-10 tie with 13:16 left.
But Miami came right back. Woodley's pass to Rose, who had caught only eight passes this season, was the key play. Woodley threw off his back foot, yet the throw was perfect, falling into the arms of Rose, who was three steps ahead of Peters. Rose finally was tackled at the Redskin eight.
A fine third-down pass deflection by linebacker Monte Coleman at the three forced von Schamann's winning field goal.
"It wasn't a matter of having the wrong coverages on their passing plays," Lavender said. "Sometimes you are going to be successful, sometimes you aren't. You can't always make the play. But we aren't going to have many bad plays. Our secondary is too good for that."
Miami had another chance for a score, but halfback Tony Nathan fumbled at the Redskin eight on a hard tackle by Peters, and Parrish recovered at the one. Otherwise, both teams were content to maneuver for field position until the final 15 minutes.
"In a game this close, it comes down to which team can produce two or three big plays; those usually decide things," Theismann said. "In this case, Miami was the team that made the big plays. If we had, we would have won. It's that simple."