For the second straight week, Mark Moseley gave stunning proof that his kicking leg is healthy again. First, he made a 49-yard field goal with five seconds left to force an overtime, and then he kicked a 48-yarder to reward the Redskins with an emotional 30-27 victory today over the New York Giants.
Moseley's winning kick, which came with 3:44 gone in the overtime, was four yards longer than his field goal that beat Detroit with 43 seconds remaining in regulation last week. But this one, as far as his teammates were concerned, was much sweeter.
"To win here (at Giants Stadium), to beat a good team, like this, well, it's one of the biggest wins of my career," said quarterback Joe Theismann, who played what he considered his best game as a Redskin. "I was tired of being part of great games that we lost. This time, we played well and won, and does it feel great."
This was the Redskins' fourth straight victory and fifth in their last six games. After an 0-5 start, they have a 5-6 record and are tied, with six other teams, for the second National Football Conference wild-card spot.
All five wins were over teams with records of .500 or under. But the Redskins get a test against one of the league's best when they meet the Cowboys next Sunday in Dallas.
"Before today, it was a long shot to think of us being a playoff contender," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Now to win the last three games against good teams like this, you have to feel different about it. That's what I told my players, too."
The Redskins have been involved in a series of wide-open, roller coaster games the past six weeks, but none could top this one.
Instead of talking about playoffs today, the Redskins came perilously close to losing a game they should have had wrapped up long before the final moments of the fourth period.
Despite outgaining New York by almost 200 yards and holding the ball almost 20 more minutes in regulation, Washington trailed, 27-24, with 45 seconds to go after reserve quarterback Scott Brunner threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to reserve receiver John Mistler.
But just as it did against Detroit, the Redskin offense came through under pressure, moving from the Washington 46 to the Giant 32 to set up the field goal attempt by Moseley. Two weeks ago, Moseley was so restricted by three muscle pulls in his right leg that his range was limited to no more than 42 yards.
Helping to set up the tying points was a 20-yard kickoff return by guard Darryl Grant, who picked up Joe Danelo's squib kick at the Washington 26 and ran past several would-be tacklers. Even New York Coach Ray Perkins would wonder afterward why Danelo was not told to kick the ball deep.
After the Giants took the kickoff in overtime and had to punt, Washington quickly ended things. Taking over at the Giant 47, the Redskins used four plays to move again to the 32, when Gibbs sent in Moseley.
"After the way Mark kicked the first one (five yards over the cross bar), I figured that was close enough," Gibbs said. "I didn't want to take any chances. He had the range, he felt good and I just knew he could make it."
Once again, a kick return hurt New York. The Giants had controlled Mike Nelms throughout the game, but in overtime, he was able to bring back Dave Jennings' punt 26 yards up the middle to give the Redskins wonderful field position.
For Moseley, his field goals were sweet satisfaction. Earlier, he had missed from 49 and 47 yards and made one from 25 yards. But the last two times, he said he knew he would be on target.
"In the huddle (before the last successful kick), the guys were ready to go home," Moseley said. "So I said, 'Let's do it.' As a kicker, you cherish the opportunity to get a field goal, but this was something extra special. Every time we play New York, we either seem to win or lose on a field goal."
The Redskins probably will wonder for days why this game was so close for so long. They outplayed the Giants decisively, yet fell behind by as many as 10 points in the third quarter before rallying to go ahead in the fourth.
A one-yard touchdown run by John Riggins, who gained 82 yards rushing straight ahead against the NFC's No. 2-ranked defense, and a three-yard Theismann scoring pass to tight end Don Warren after a 29-yard completion to Terry Metcalf gave Washington a 24-20 lead with 6:35 left in the game.
The Redskins' revamped defense, which limited New York to 248 yards, became tougher and forced two punts. The Giants got the ball again at their 40 with 1:50 remaining, only to have quarterback Phil Simms lose nine yards on a first-down sack by Dexter Manley and Dave Butz.
Simms suffered a possible dislocated right shoulder on the play and was replaced by Brunner, who had started the previous week against Green Bay. Brunner immediately threw completions of 21 and 20 yards to move to the Redskin 27. But three more passes fell incomplete to set up fourth and 10.
Brunner dropped back and spotted Mistler up the middle behind safety Tony Peters. Free safety Mark Murphy slipped and couldn't provide double coverage. Mistler caught the pass for the score, and Danelo kicked the conversion for a 27-24 lead. Earlier, Brunner couldn't handle the snap on another conversion try and his feeble pass fell incomplete, which may have cost New York the game.
Grant's return on the ensuing kickoff gave the Redskin offense an emotional lift. On first down from the 46 with 38 seconds left, Theismann found Joe Washington for four yards, then scrambled himself for another 10 on a third and six. Theismann, who was 25 of 38 for 242 yards, also gained 49 yards avoiding the Giants' strong pass rush.
With 16 seconds remaining, the ball was at the New York 40. Joe Washington dropped a screen pass, but picked up eight on another pass to get to the 32, well within the range of a healthy Moseley. His kick, with a supporting wind, was strong and true.
The Giants won the toss preceding the 15-minute overtime and elected to receive. They tried two runs from their 20, then Brunner missed badly on a third-down pass, forcing a Jennings punt to Nelms, who danced away from tacklers to the New York 47.
Even though the Giants had stopped Joe Washington on draw plays all game, Gibbs ordered that play on first down. It worked wonderfully, as the little halfback sprinted to the 35. A two-yard run by Riggins off left guard, a one-yarder by Joe Washington off left tackle and an incompletion set up Moseley's winning kick, which cleared the crossbar by about a yard. Prior to the game, Moseley had made only three of 11 attempts outside 34 yards.
"I don't think anyone doubted that Mark would win this game," Warren said. "He's the best kicker under pressure I've ever seen. None of us ever felt we'd lose, even when they scored at the end. We played too well to lose."
Theismann, performing better every week, outwitted the Giant secondary. Riggins somewhat neutralized the Giants' talented linebackers with his bulldozing runs after New York had cut off Joe Washington's sweeps. But the Giants combined timely big plays with a costly Theismann interception that led to a first-quarter touchdown to stay even until the end.
"We've got to stop making these games so close," Joe Washington said. "I don't think the coaches can take many more like these."
But Gibbs wasn't complaining.
"I don't know how much prouder I can be of this team," he said in a locker room filled with emotional players after the game. "When we were 0-5, we were at the lowest point of any team in the NFL. Now I think we cherish winning more, it means so much to us.
"To be where we are, after the start we had, it's a testimony to these guys never quitting."