Washington Redskins coaches call it "the big play," that bottled fury that steals the will from opponents' souls in one quick instant.
The Redskins, now 3-1, one game behind Dallas (4-0) in the NFC East, hadn't had too many of those big plays until Sunday. That's when they unleashed four of them to produce a 27-17 victory in Seattle.
"People don't realize it, but three or four plays can swing an entire game," said strong safety Curtis Jordan, who blitzed often enough to help make Seattle's running game go out of sync.
Yesterday at Redskin Park, the big play was the topic of conversation for two reasons. First, because this time, the Redskins produced them and didn't yield them.
And second, because wide receiver Art Monk, one of the Redskins' most precious big-play weapons, practiced yesterday for the first time since he was placed on the injured reserve list a month ago with a sprained knee ligament.
Monk is eligible to return to the active roster for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Raiders at RFK Stadium. When he made his first catch yesterday, teammates cheered loudly, some saying, "He's back. He's back." Monk smiled shyly.
"We're just going to practice him as hard as we can this week and see how he feels and we'll make that decision later in the week," said Coach Joe Gibbs. If the Redskins reactivate Monk, they first must cut one player off the current roster.
Before Sunday, the Redskins offense had constructed lengthy, laborious drives, dominated by John Riggins (now averaging 26 carries for 89 yards per game). There were few deep, quick strikes, though.
As tight end Don Warren said yesterday, "It sure seemed like we had a lot more big plays last year."
Meanwhile, the defense had deadened opposing running games (its current yield of 81.3 rushing yards allowed per game is best in the NFL), but had fallen victim to big pass plays, including two third-quarter touchdown passes by Dallas, which accelerated the Cowboys to a 31-30 victory in the opener.
Fortunes changed Sunday, though. There were four big plays--two by the offense, two by the defense.
Big Play 1: In the first quarter, Seattle rookie running back Curt Warner, held to 34 yards on 15 carries, fumbled and it was recovered on the Seattle 19 by defensive end Tony McGee. (Game films showed that tackle Dave Butz caused the fumble, Redskins coaches said). Six plays later, the Redskins led, 7-0.
Big Plays 2 and 3: Quarterback Joe Theismann threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Charlie Brown one minute into the second quarter (14-3, Redskins) and a 47-yard pass to receiver Alvin Garrett (21-10) only 56 seconds before the half. Both times, the Redskins beat cornerback Keith Simpson.
Warren said Jerry Rhome, now the quarterbacks coach and formerly the Seattle offensive coordinator, had given some helpful tips.
"Jerry told us last week that Simpson always watched the quarterback's eyes, let the receivers go by, then trailed them," said Warren. "He was right and we took advantage of it."
Big Play 4: With less than nine minutes left and Seattle trailing, 20-10, cornerback Vernon Dean intercepted Jim Zorn's underthrown pass at the Seattle 48, then returned it to the 22. Six plays later, the Redskins led, 27-10.
"Actually, the game revolved around the two turnovers," said Gibbs. "(Both times) they gave us a short ways to go and we didn't turn the ball over."
Now that one-fourth of the regular season is over, the Redskins' play has taken a firm definition. Call it power football. Above all, the Redskins have become a second-half team, using Riggins-related force to wear teams down.
Over the past three games, the Redskins have outscored Philadelphia, Kansas City and Seattle, 50-17, in the second half.
The key to all of this power is Riggins, who is being deployed on a pace that is only slightly less overwhelming than his workload in the four-game postseason last year.
So far, he has run 105 times for 356 yards (3.4-yard average). This means Riggins, the back in the Redskins' one-back offense, has run the ball on 40 percent of all offensive plays. (He ran the ball on 48 percent of the offensive plays in the postseason.)
His bullishness doesn't fade after halftime, either. In the 23-13 victory at Philadelphia, he carried 19 times for 71 yards in the second half. In the second half Sunday, Riggins carried 18 times for 38 yards.
Consequently, over the first four games, the Redskins have averaged 19 minutes time of possession during the 30-minute second half.
"He (Riggins) says things that I would not really think would go through a guy's mind," Gibbs said yesterday. "He says blocking takes more out of him than carrying the ball . . . He says blocking is a drain. I never would have thought about it . . . But as I've said before, if John is tired, he comes out."
Offensive tackle Joe Jacoby, who sprained his right knee Sunday, did not practice yesterday but is expected to play Sunday against the Raiders. Trainer Bubba Tyer said he may miss a few days of practice.