The Redskins benefited from a great deal of good fortune -- including a botched hold on an attempted field goal that would have put Philadelphia ahead in the final minute -- to beat the Eagles, 15-13, yesterday at RFK Stadium and give Joe Gibbs by far the most significant victory of his 14-game head coaching career.
It was the first time this season that the Redskins had defeated what an overjoyed Gibbs called "a team with a winning record, a team that everyone admires and knows will be in the playoffs. This game really tells a lot about the character of our guys, to win after we've been knocked out of the playoffs, to beat someone like this after losing our first five games.
"We needed this one badly, really badly. It's going to be something we can build on for next season, I'm sure of that."
The Redskins now are 6-8, matching their victory total of last season with two games remaining, at home against Baltimore Sunday and at Los Angeles Dec. 20. The Eagles (9-5), who have lost three straight and five of their last eight, still can win the NFC East title. They must win at Dallas next week and at home against St. Louis, and hope the Cowboys (11-3) lose their finale against the Giants in New Jersey.
Gibbs knew how fortunate the Redskins were to win the game against an opponent that outgained them, 416 yards to 176, and drove into Washington territory 10 times, only to be stymied by three interceptions, one fumble, an uncalled timeout and that bungled field goal attempt.
"This makes up for a lot of things that happened to us early in the season," guard Russ Grimm said. "If it was luck, I don't think anyone on this team is going to complain."
The Redskins didn't go ahead for good until 6:22 remained, when the last Eagle turnover, a tipped Ron Jaworski pass, was intercepted by linebacker Monte Coleman and returned 52 yards for a touchdown.
But Mark Moseley, usually so automatic on extra points, missed his second conversion of the game, and the Redskins led by only 15-13, giving Philadelphia a chance to win with a field goal.
The Eagles, getting the ball with 2:17 left, surprised Washington with some new formations and quickly marched to the Redskin seven. Even Gibbs had conceded that Franklin would make a 24-yard field goal.
"I was already talking about what we were going to do when we got the ball back," Gibbs said. "You have to figure a guy like Franklin wouldn't miss from that range."
But Franklin never got off the kick. The snap from center Guy Morriss was hard and a bit high, but should have been handled by holder John Sciarra, who simply dropped the ball. Sciarra then tried to run, but was tackled after two steps by Coleman and Dexter Manley.
"It was something you couldn't believe," said linebacker Rich Milot, who joined in a wild celebration along the Redskin bench. "That just doesn't happen."
Said Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil: "Right now, I feel sort of snake-bit."
Earlier, Vermeil had tried to call a timeout after failing to get reserve fullback Billy Campfield into the game. But he couldn't get Jaworski's attention and the Eagles ran off a play -- the pass that was tipped by fullback Booker Russell into Coleman's grateful hands. Campfield, a much better receiver, would have replaced Russell.
"It was a screen pass," said Coleman, who has been struggling all season with injuries and inconsistent play. "I read it and came up. The ball bounced right to me. Dexter Manley threw a good block, and I just took off. The only guy who was left was Jaworski, and I wasn't going to let him tackle me. Last year Danny White (of Dallas) got me in the open field, and I wasn't going to let that happen again."
The Redskins' inability to create turnovers against quality opponents is a major reason they have a losing record. But yesterday, they kept turning back the Eagles by forcing mistakes. The Redskin secondary, a unit that had been ineffective against long passes all year, played especially well.
Although Jaworski threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns, he never could produce the important play the Eagles needed to put away the Redskins after taking a 13-6 lead at intermission.
Those two scoring passes, a 25-yard completion to Campfield, who had beaten cornerback Jeris White, and a five-yarder to Campfield, who this time outmaneuvered Milot, came against what safety Tony Peters called "perfect defenses for those passes."
In the second half, Jaworski wasn't as fortunate. He tried to throw away a pass from the Washington 28, only to have it intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Joe Lavender. Then he was thwarted by Coleman's interception after the Eagles had moved to the Redskin 47.
"In the third quarter, we started to blitz a linebacker more on obvious running plays," safety Mark Murphy said. "That helped. And now that we have all our regular nickel people playing, our pass defense is good, just as it was last year."
Washington also benefited from some strange play-calling by Vermeil. The Eagles were gaining 4.4 yards a rush (Wilbert Montgomery gained 116 yards), yet Vermeil kept calling passes, even when it was apparent Jaworski was struggling.
But the Redskin offense couldn't capitalize much on the defense's success, mostly because Philadelphia's league-leading defense was dominating the line of scrimmage.
Jaworski's fumble in the first quarter led to a six-yard touchdown run by Joe Washington and a 6-0 Redskin lead. But an interception of a pass by Joe Theismann later in the half negated Murphy's interception of another Jaworski pass. After Lavender's interception in the third quarter, Brenard Wilson intercepted another pass by Theismann.
The Redskins finally perked up a bit when John Riggins replaced Joe Washington in the single-back offensive set. Riggins gained 33 yards during a 53-yard drive that set up a 45-yard field goal by Moseley. On the ensuing series, Coleman came up with his dramatic defensive play, and the Redskins finally had the lead again.
"We had some things that we thought could work with Joe (Washington)," Gibbs said. "We wanted to use Riggins more. He gives us a strong runner against a very physical defense.
"This is a very difficult team to play. They are good, really good, and they kept shutting us down. We just were trying to stay close, and we did, thanks to our defense."
Still, Philadelphia wasn't finished. After an exchange of punts, the Eagles took over at their 20 with 2:17 to go. A 21-yard pass to Charles Smith, an 11-yarder to Montgomery and a high, 22-yard pass to Harold Carmichael at the Washington 14 had Franklin warming up on the sidelines.
Three plays later, he trotted onto the field, hoping to win the game. Instead, it was the Redskins who soon were celebrating.
"They used some formations on us on that last drive that they hadn't used all season," Murphy said. "It messed us up a little. And you'd need Ralph Sampson to stop Carmichael on some of those high passes.
"It was a really meaningful win for us. It showed the younger players we can stay with the really good teams in this league, and that's important. There was an awful lot of emotion on the sidelines, the kind you like to see. Everyone was just really happy."