Joe Danelo, the Giants' talented kicker, couldn't believe it when an assistant coach told him to try a squib kick in the final moments of today's game against the Redskins after New York had taken a 27-24 lead.
"I don't understand it, I don't understand it at all," said a tearful Danelo, who previously had sent two kicks out of the end zone. "I told him (the assistant), 'I think I can kick it out of here' and he said, 'Squib it.' "
So Danelo bounced the kickoff to the Redskin 26, where guard Darryl Grant picked it up and returned it 20 yards to the Washington 46. The return gave the Redskins an emotional lift and excellent field position that led to a game-tying Mark Moseley field goal with five seconds left.
But it was Danelo's bouncer that bothered Coach Ray Perkins afterward. "I was influenced by too many people," said Perkins, who took responsibility for ordering the squib.
Perkins relied mostly on the advice of Bill Belichick, the special teams coach who was in the press box. Belichick said the decision came down to kicking it deep to Mike Nelms, who leads the NFC in kickoff returns, "or going short and maybe give them better field position." He chose the short way.
Danelo figured in an earlier botched kicking opportunity. On a conversion try with the Giants ahead, 13-7, quarterback Scott Brunner couldn't handle the center snap. "It was slippery, and I just blew it," said Brunner, whose pass attempt for the extra point fell incomplete.
The Giants also gave a boost to the Redskins before the game even began. Washington players said they were influenced greatly by a quote from linebacker Lawrence Taylor following New York's 17-7 win over the Redskins in September.
Taylor said that once his team took the lead in the fourth period of that game, "I knew they would start folding."
"He said we quit in the fourth period," quarterback Joe Theismann said. "We wanted to show him today we don't quit. We haven't quit yet, especially at the end. Just ask Detroit and New England."
This was an especially emotional game for Theismann, who grew up in New Jersey and who never had played well in this stadium. But today he delivered one of his best games, either passing accurately or scrambling away from a heavy Giant rush for important running yards.
"Joe is getting better and better every week," Coach Joe Gibbs said.
But Theismann wasn't the only Redskin star. The defense limited the Giants to 96 yards rushing and allowed only nine pass completions in 24 attempts. Seven Washington receivers caught at least one pass, with Joe Washington (seven) and Terry Metcalf and Don Warren (five each) doing most of the work.
Two of the game's key completions came on correct Theismann reads. One, to Metcalf in the fourth period, gained 29 yards. "If the middle is open, I take it long, if it's crowded I cut in," Metcalf said. "Joe saw that the middle was open so he waited for me to go deep. He read it right, and so did I."
Moments later, Theismann threw a touchdown pass to Warren for a 24-20 lead. "The inside linebacker was blitzing on the play and he's the guy that normally covers me," Warren said. "Joe saw him coming and he knew that meant I would run an inside route." Warren cut to the middle of the end zone and was so wide open "Theismann told me he almost couldn't get rid of the ball. But I'm glad he did."
It was Warren's first touchdown in his three-year pro career. "Coming like it did on a day like this, it means a lot," he said.
"I'm worn out," said Metcalf, who also had a heavy special teams load. "But to win like this makes you feel 22 again. This team is really starting to believe in itself. We know we can move the ball on anyone, and now we've also found out we can do it at the end of games.
"That gives your confidence a big boost. Right now, the only way we can lose is if we beat ourselves."
The Redskins reported two injuries from the game: tackle Joe Jacoby had a pinched nerve in his neck and sat out the second half, as did linebacker Mel Kaufman (bruised left shoulder).