A game for fine-tuning, the Washington Redskins called this. Simple enough, they defeated the Buffalo Bills, 27-19, in both teams' final preseason game before 25,851 at Rich Stadium.
Certainly, the game wasn't as close as numbers might make it appear. Nor as exciting.
Buffalo (1-3) is a team on the fritz. Tonight, the Bills committed four turnovers. Even the Rich Stadium scoreboard didn't work, flashing the same question marks on the screen that first-year Bills Coach Kay Stephenson must have seen on the field.
Providing the perfect analysis, nine days before the season opener against Dallas, Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said, "I thought in spots we looked pretty good, in spots we looked ragged."
The Redskins (2-2) built a 17-3 halftime lead as rookie cornerback Darrell Green (21-yard interception return for touchdown) and veteran running back Joe Washington (10-yard touchdown catch) both showed quick hands and nimble feet. The defensive line, meanwhile, suffocated the Bills' running game.
That lead swelled to 24-3 before reserve quarterback Matt Kofler brought the Bills within 24-13 with 11 minutes to play.
After Mark Moseley kicked a 31-yard field goal with two minutes left, giving the Redskins a 27-13 lead, Kofler ran one yard for a touchdown with four seconds left. Cornerback Vernon Dean had been called for pass interference on the previous play, moving the ball 13 yards to the Washington one.
It was a graphically fitting finish for beleaguered Buffalo when kicker Fred Steinfort slipped on the conversion attempt, never getting the chance to raise his left leg. When Buffalo recovered the ensuing onside kick, it lateraled the ball three times before a heap of bodies fell in a pile near the Buffalo 40, the game ending like a fraternity beer bash.
"My biggest concern tonight was that we got a bunch of guys hurt," said Gibbs. Linebacker Monte Coleman sprained an ankle in the first half and didn't return. Defensive end Dexter Manley suffered a sprained left ankle. Offensive tackle Don Laster sprained his neck. The severity of these injuries was not disclosed.
The Redskins have to cut 11 players to reach the final 49-man limit Monday. Running back Reggie Evans (12 carries for 42 yards) likely earned himself a roster spot, but second-round draft pick Richard Williams (eight carries for 12 yards) was mostly harmless tonight. Wide receiver Mark McGrath (three catches for 60 yards) also gave credence for his belonging on the roster.
The Redskins' defensive line dominated play in the first half, twice stopping drives on third-and-one plays, once holding Buffalo to a field goal after it had reached first and goal at the four. Buffalo gained only 70 yards rushing, nearly 70 yards below its preseason average.
For the second time this preseason, Green gave the Redskins an early 7-0 lead. In the 13-10 overtime loss in Atlanta, Green returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown 1:42 into the game. Six minutes into tonight's game, Ferguson aimed for running back Roosevelt Leaks on the right sideline, but Green leaned in from the inside, and, with arms outstretched, caught the ball. He sprinted 21 yards down the sideline into the end zone, untouched.
Both teams achieved only two first downs in the first quarter, but the Redskins generated one scoring drive. Quarterback Joe Theismann, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 123 yards in the first half, twice passed to wide receiver Alvin Garrett for long gains (23 yards, then 20), placing the Redskins at the Buffalo 22.
The Redskins settled for Moseley's 36-yard field goal, making it 10-0 with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
Ferguson (10 of 23, 107 yards) had enough problems of his own during the first half. His receivers kept dropping passes, each drop bringing forth a few more boos from a stadium that was filled to only one-third capacity. Twice free safety Mark Murphy tackled wide receiver Robert Holt hard, making him drop the ball. The second drop was one of intimidation, a defensive trait so prevalent for the Redskins last season.
But the Redskins' secondary--even with all the generosity of the fumbling Bills' receivers--did get beat for 272 passing yards. After Ferguson threw to Perry Tuttle for a 42-yard gain (behind Dean), bringing the ball to the Washington 18, the Bills drove to first and goal at the four.
Running back Robb Riddick ran for no gain. Ferguson threw two incompletions and Buffalo settled for Steinfort's 22-yard field goal, closing Buffalo within 10-3 with 11:30 left in the half.
This is when Theismann directed the Redskins' most impressive drive of the preseason. Laster and newly acquired Roy Simmons replaced injured starting tackles Russ Grimm (bruised shoulder) and Mark May (recuperating from right triceps injury) and opened holes for running back John Riggins (nine carries for 36 yards).
Theismann completed a 20-yard pass to Rick Walker, then a 24-yarder to McGrath that put the ball on the Buffalo 28. Six plays and 18 yards later, Theismann dropped back and passed over the middle to Washington.
Washington spun off his defender at the line of scrimmage and caught the ball at the five, then leaped on top of three defenders at the goal line as he fell into the end zone. This gave the Redskins a 17-3 lead with 3:47 left in the half, ending a 84-yard drive and ending the questions about Washington's recovery from offseason knee surgery.
In the third quarter, reserve quarterback Bob Holly, a second-year player showing a veteran's cool, led the Redskins on a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
Holly, who completed nine of 16 for 124 yards in his chance to show coaches he can be trusted when it counts, finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Don Warren, wide open over the middle. The Redskins led, 24-3, with 7:32 left in the third quarter.
This is when Kofler began to accumulate yardage (and points) against the Redskins' secondary. In all, Kofler finished 11 of 18 for 168 yards, consistently beating newly acquired cornerback Anthony Washington.
Steinfort kicked a 42-yard field goal that brought Buffalo to 24-6 with 13:08 left. Later, Kofler threw a 43-yard pass to rookie tight end Tony Hunter, then a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Byron Franklin, who beat Green. This closed Buffalo to 24-13 with 10:50 left.
When strong safety Curtis Jordan intercepted Kofler's pass at the Buffalo 36 with seven minutes left, it set up Moseley's 31-yarder with two minutes left.
Other than Manley, Laster and Coleman, the only Redskins to report an injury was defensive tackle Perry Brooks, groin pull.