The Redskin defense starting blitzing again today, and the tactic so upset the Bills' offense that Buffalo came perilously close to losing a game it had to win to stay in the chase for a playoff spot.
"That's what bothers me so much about this loss," Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Our defense played very hard, they played as well as they have in a long time and we still didn't win. To see them hustle like that, well, you like to win those games."
Redskin Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon expected the Buffalo offense, No. 3 in the NFL statistically, to run up a handsome amount of yardage today, even without injured halfback Joe Cribbs.
Instead, Bill quarterback Joe Ferguson had his worst day of the season (six of 18 for 76 yards), reducing the Buffalo offense to an assortment of running plays.
Although those were successful enough to gain 188 yards, the Redskins suddenly found it much easier to defense a one-dimensional offense. Ferguson completed two of three passes on Buffalo's opening 77-yard scoring drive. After that, he threw for only 42 yards.
"It was probably one of the toughest defenses we've faced all season," Ferguson said. "They gave us a lot of different coverages and confused us a lot of times. This may surprise you people (reporters) but I don't feel real good about this game, about the way we played. But I'm glad we won."
"We hadn't been blitzing much in the last few games," Redskin safety Mark Murphy said, "and I don't think they expected it. It surprised them.
"We also picked on one of their formations, when they used four wide receivers and only one back, who really is a tight end. We knew they'd have trouble picking up a blitz in that set, and they did. They still ran on us a lot, but they weren't getting big plays. As long as you stop those, you eventually are going to cause fumbles and get turnovers."
Ferguson, who had been sacked fewer times than any other regular NFL quarterback this season (seven times), was dumped thrice by a Redskin pass rush that has been woeful most of the year. Buffalo gained only 229 yards, the lowest output allowed by Washington in seven weeks.
"We still gave up 21 points," linebacker Neal Olkewicz said. "That's too many if you lose. They were really banging us around out there, but we held up well. It was good to play better, because we have been struggling. I just wish we could have won the game, too."
The only pass that really hurt Washington was a 21-yard touchdown completion to Jerry Butler on that opening Buffalo possession. Otherwise, Ferguson was either missing his receivers or throwing passes away under heavy pressure.
"I sure found out how come they are the No. 1 offensive line in the league," said tackle Perry Brooks, who had one of the sacks. "They hold, hold, hold. You can't get after somebody that way. But we knew we had to get after Ferguson to play a good game."
The Bills were hurt by the absence of Cribbs, their leading rusher and No. 3 receiver. His replacement, Roland Hooks, gained 109 yards, but didn't catch a pass. And he doesn't have Cribbs' breakaway potential.
"If we had forced a few more turnovers, things might have been different," Murphy said. "We got a couple, but in a game like this, that's not enough."