Suddenly, the Redskins are a big league football team. Six weeks ago, thoughts of oh-and-16 furrowed the delicate brow. But now we can look at the standings without distress. Praise be, zealots can start a playoff watch. Yes, yes, the Redskins, nee Deadskins, are one of seven teams tied for the NFC's second wild-card playoff spot.
That's not the best part. San Francisco lost today for the first time since David Stockman knew to keep his mouth shut. The Bengals and the Jets won again. Those teams are 5-1 the last six weeks. Amazing enough, so are the Redskins, who now walk with the big shots. They showed why today.
They won a game the way good teams win games -- by making a killing mistake but then refusing to die from it. They won by making big-league plays under pressure. The old guys did it: Joe Theismann and Joe Washington, John Riggins, Dave Butz and Mark Moseley. And the most unlikely young guy did it: Darryl Grant.
Theismann was 25 for 38, undaunted under a relentless pass rush by the NFL's best set of linebackers. Washington handled the ball 26 times, none more important than the hands-only catch of a Theismann bullet setting up the first of Moseley's dramatic field goals. Unable to get outside, the Redskins asked Riggins to do the punishing dirty work inside; he carried 26 times for 82 yards. Butz gave the Redskins a mean pass rush for the first time this season.
And what's this about Darryl Grant? Is this the Grant drafted in the ninth round because Bobby Beathard, the general manager, liked the way he snapped for punts? If you trace it back far enough, Darryl Grant, who didn't play from scrimmage today, won this game. This takes some explaining, and we'll get to it right after a stop with The Hero.
Mark Moseley says it's nothing to kick those 49-yard field goals with the world ending. After his first one today, after watching it fly the last 10 yards as the clock ticked down to :00, Moseley made a little fist and punched at the air. A job done nicely. With the game-winner, coming from a foot nearer the goal post, Moseley just walked away -- carrying Joe Theismann, who really thinks it's something to win by a miracle.
Theismann leaped into Moseley's arms. Soon enough, Moseley disappeared from sight in the madding crowd of celebrants. And afterward, still calm, Moseley said he hadn't been thinking of anything in particular as his moment came nearer. "I've been through those situations before," he said. His job, Moseley explained, is "just go out and do my job."
But right there with the big name guys, hopping up and down for joy, was Darryl Grant, who also said afterward, "That's my job."
Grant spoke, as all Washington knows by now, of his 20-yard return of New York's squibbed kickoff following a touchdown with only 45 seconds left. That touchdown put the Giants ahead, 27-24. It is a stretch of the imagination to believe Grant's job description calls for a 266-pound offensive guard to pick up a queerly bouncing ball and take off running through a herd of Giants looking to turn him upside down.
But he did it, and he made it look easy. He has 4.8 speed. His real job on kickoff returns is, as he says, "to be Mike Nelms' eyes." With his bulldozer bulk and sports car agility, Grant makes holes for Nelms. Today, however, the Giants chose to kick short of Nelms.
"They hit it to the wrong guy in the wedge," Moseley said.
"Positive yardage," Grant said when asked what he wanted to do on the squib. "The coaches had alerted us to the squib. I just wanted to go straight ahead. Then . . . "
" . . . I saw a hole, and I wanted to bust out the other end."
Could the bulldozer have gone all the way?
"I'm not that fast," he said, smiling again.
He didn't need to be. Getting the ball to the 46-yard line was work done nicely. From there, the game was Theismann's, with Moseley pacing on the sidelines. "It was the best game of my 11-year professional career," Theismann said. Immodest, perhaps, but insightful; for with defeat a tiny mistake away, Theismann did all the right things.
A flip to Washington for four yards, to the 49.
A pass incomplete.
Now, 26 seconds to go. No receiver open on third-and-seven. Times past, Theismann might have forced the pass, might have given the game away. Already the Redskins had given up a touchdown on a fourth-down, 27-yard pass with 45 seconds left -- an unforgiveable mistake. But now, with no receiver open, Theismann scrambled to his right for 10 yards to a first down at the 39-yard line.
Now, 16 seconds -- and Joe Washington drops a perfect Theismann pass.
Eleven seconds, Washington again -- this time over the middle, this time reaching overhead to latch onto a Theismann bullet. The gain: eight yards, to the 32, close enough for Moseley.
The Redskins were the better team here today. They gained 418 yards to New York's 248, this against the NFC's second-ranked defense. They controlled the ball nearly 43 minutes to New York's 21. They allowed the Giants only nine pass completions in 24 tries. They committed one turnover, New York two.
More important, the Redskins are building a habit that good teams have. They score on a team right after that team scores on them. It demonstrates strength of offense as well as strength of resolve.
In the last two weeks, Detroit and New York have scored on the Redskins nine times.
Six times the Redskins came back with scores of their own on the very next series. Those six scoring drives have taken 354 yards of error-free movement. A seventh time, the Redskins scored in only the third series following a Detroit score.
"We've doubled our progress since we were 0-5," said Dave Butz. Asked to grade the Redskins on a scale of 100, Butz said, "Right now we're pressing an 86, and we have the potential to get in the mid-90s. And I mean this year."
"What you're seeing," Joe Theismann said, "is the development of character. Our young guys are seeing that no matter what the odds, no matter what the circumstances, nobody on this football team is going to quit. We did not fold up our tent after they scored at the end today. What's happening, with this win and last week's win, is that winning is becoming contagious."