The Redskins have a chance Sunday to complete their finest regular season since 1942, when they were 10-1. But first they must get past an old rival, St. Louis, a young man with a hot hand, Neil Lomax, and maybe an old nemesis, Jim Hart.
Lomax, a second-year quarterback, says there won't be any surprises. The Cardinals in RFK Stadium will stick with much the same game plan they followed in the 12-7 loss to the Redskins in Busch Stadium three weeks ago.
"We didn't really get to use most of our stuff. We don't practice those fumbles at the goal line," said Lomax. The fumbles stopped three drives deep in Redskin territory.
"We're a running team with O.J. (Anderson) carrying and Wayne Morris blocking. Everybody knows that. We'll mix it up and give O.J. the ball as much as we can."
Added Hart, "We thought we played a pretty good game against Washington, with the exception of not scoring when we were in close and giving the ball up. We've had a good pass-run relationship all year and our team has to have that. We can throw 10 to 20 times and call on O.J. for the rest."
It may be a blessing for the Redskins that Hart, 17-year passer with a penchant for handling Washington defenses, has to wait his turn behind Lomax these days and sometimes the call doesn't come.
Three weeks ago Lomax was in charge for three quarters on the frozen rug at Busch Stadium and managed zero points. At 12-0, on came Hart. The Cardinals quickly scored and missed a game-winning pass at the gun by the wave of Redskin safety Mark Murphy's hand.
But Lomax had perhaps his finest moments as a pro last week, driving to a game-winning touchdown over the Giants in the final minute. So there's a good chance Hart won't get in Sunday.
That would suit Lomax.
"There's an uneasiness I feel whenever I'm not performing right," he said yesterday. "As a young player, I need all the confidence I can get from my coaches and everybody else. So it's difficult."
It could get easier for Lomax in the aftermath of the Giants. Four points down with a minute to play, he took the ball on his 30-yard line and coolly led the drive to a 24-21 victory. It made the Cardinals 5-3 and guaranteed them a place in the playoffs.
"I felt assured that we had a chance with 70 yards to go and a minute left," said Lomax. "I felt a peace within me. I wasn't nervous at all."
His coaches were. "I know they were thinking of (making) a change," said Lomax, "but it was late in the game. Jim was cold so they couldn't use him. And look what happens--we win in the last 10 seconds."
Lomax said he has often felt he was getting the hook too quickly, but Coach Jim Hanifan insists he is doing all he can to build Lomax's confidence.
"Neil is our starting quarterback. At times, like the first Redskin game, we have the luxury of using a Hart. I'm hesitant about it, though, in that as a second-year man Lomax has done really well. And we're building a young team. We didn't want to have all the cogs in place and then have to make a major change (at quarterback)."
In addition, said Hanifan, "I don't want Neil looking over his shoulder."
So it may come to be that the Redskins get relief from Hart-burn as they strive to close the strike-shortened season at 8-1.
Last year, Hart led the Cardinals over the Redskins in September, 40-30, completing 12 of 22 passes for 226 yards even though all three of his regular receivers were out injured. In November the Redskins won, but Hart completed 24 of 39 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
Will Washington see Hart again? It depends on circumstances and Lomax's fragile ego. Hanifan won't say what he'll do, other than that he is leaning toward sticking longer with Lomax.
Hanifan would say that he believes the Redskins are as good as their division-leading record implies.
"There are some superb players on that team," he said.
"We don't see too many," said Hanifan.