The Washington Redskins arrived home from St. Louis Sunday night only to turn on the television to watch Dallas rally to beat New Orleans, 30-27, in overtime.
"I couldn't believe it. New Orleans gave them a gift," Redskins punter Jeff Hayes said, after the Saints squandered a 27-6 third-quarter lead.
In one desperate day, the Redskins were beaten once (26-24 by the Cardinals) and tied twice: Both Dallas and St. Louis have equaled the Redskins at 5-3, creating a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East.
Yesterday, the Redskins took stock and licked their wounds. All-pro center Jeff Bostic underwent surgery at Sibley Hospital to repair a severe knee injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Bostic tore three of the four knee ligaments and suffered a torn cartilage that was surgically stitched together, rather than removed, trainer Bubba Tyer said.
While team doctors said the injury is not career-threatening, they said that there is no chance Bostic will return this season.
"It's devastating," said Joe Bugel, the line coach. Tight end Don Warren added, "It hurts a lot. A lot of the blocking we do counts on Bosco blocking the nose guard one-on-one. We'll miss him."
Now the focus turns to Rich Donnalley, the third-year center/guard acquired from Pittsburgh Aug. 20 for a sixth-round draft pick. Bugel said Donnalley will start Sunday against the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.
Bugel says he would rather start Donnalley at center than move all-pro left guard Russ Grimm to center, a move the Redskins made after Bostic's third-quarter injury in Sunday's loss at Busch Stadium. Veteran Ken Huff entered to play in Grimm's spot.
"Grimm is the best guard in the league. He and (all-pro left tackle) Joe Jacoby are such a great pair on that side and we depend on them so much," Bugel said, stating the reason for keeping Grimm at guard.
With only one reserve lineman (Huff) now on the active roster, the Redskins will bring in two offensive linemen for tryouts today at Redskin Park. The team will sign at least one.
It is likely that J.T. Turner, the eighth-year guard cut by the Giants who was given a tryout by the Redskins several weeks ago, will be one player at the tryout. Bugel said Bruce Kimball, a third-year guard the Redskins cut in August, might be given a look.
Donnalley, who is 6 feet 2, 257 pounds, worked with quarterback Joe Theismann for the first time yesterday, trying to master the timing and coordination on center snaps. Donnalley had been centering for reserve quarterback Jim Hart on the Redskins' scout team.
Donnalley said, "One minute after Bostic got hurt, Joe Bugel came up to me and said 'It's your job. You'll have to do it now' . . . What went through my mind was what I had been thinking all along -- these days in the NFL, it's hard to keep a whole offensive line intact every week throughout a season . . . I would have bet the house that something like this would have happened at some point."
Before Bostic's injury, the five down linemen (Grimm, Jacoby, Bostic, right guard Mark May and right tackle George Starke) had missed a combined total of just two games over the past 2 1/2 seasons: May missed one game last year and Starke missed one game this year.
Meanwhile, defensive coach Richie Petitbon said there likely will be one other change made against the Giants this week: Ken Coffey will play full-time at strong safety and Tony Peters will rest until his lower abdominal pull is less painful.
Peters was beaten on one of the most crucial plays in Sunday's game: an 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Neil Lomax to wide receiver Roy Green that brought the Cardinals to 24-23 early in the fourth quarter.
"The corner (Darrell Green) was supposed to jam Green first and Tony had him man for man after that," Petitbon said, noting that "we'd like to get a better jam at the line than we got.
"It was a play-action and it looked like Tony got a peek in the backfield and Tony really didn't start to run (with Green) until it was too late.
"(Peters) has got to get better (physically) because we can't afford plays like that. That play shouldn't have gone for a touchdown . . .It's kind of tough when you don't have somebody who is 100 percent and he runs against somebody who is faster than he is in the first place," said Petitbon, who on Sunday again platooned Coffey (pass) and Peters (run) according to the likely play situation.
Petitbon outlined other key plays in the game after scrutinizing game films: Of the 38-yard touchdown pass to Roy Green for the game's first points: "Darrell had a chance to make the play, but the ball went right through his hands. In fact, Curtis (Jordan, free safety) pulled up because he thought Darrell had the ball (for an interception)."
The Redskins were caught blitzing, Petitbon said, when Lomax hit tight end Doug Marsh, who beat linebacker Mel Kaufman for a 19-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
Petitbon said the Redskins were successful on all three of their blitzes on the Cardinals' final 10-play, 59-yard drive that led to Neil O'Donoghue's game-winning field goal in the final moments. Blitzes caused one sack and two incompletions on the drive, Petitbon said.
The problem, Petitbon said, was Lomax's cool under pressure. Although Lomax was sacked three times, he often eluded onrushing tacklers to make big plays.
"I think that hurt us as much as anything," Petitbon said. "Overall," he said with a sigh and a frown, "we didn't play very well."
Coach Joe Gibbs reiterated his postgame remarks, saying of the Cardinals' defense that limited the Redskins to just 296 net yards (second lowest of the season behind the 260 achieved in the 30-14 victory over the Giants five weeks ago), "I've never seen anybody change that much. They came with every blitz imaginable . . . (But) the long and short of it was that we could not get the first down when we needed it. We just did not get the one play we needed to win the game."
On the Redskins' first two drives in the fourth quarter -- when they held a 24-23 lead -- they continued to run the ball. On an eight-play drive early in the quarter, they passed just twice, before punting.
And on their final drive, begun at their 22 with 2:53 remaining, the Redskins ran Riggins twice (for a total of three yards), before Theismann threw wide for wide receiver Art Monk on third down. The Redskins punted, then lost.
"What I was looking for in the (final drive of the) fourth quarter was the same thing we had in the drive before, when we ate up about six minutes and made three or four first downs," Gibbs said.
Actually, the Redskins got just two first downs on that first drive. Riggins ran on six plays in the eight-play march that consumed 5:08 and ended with Hayes punting from the St. Louis 46 with 6:23 left to play. The Cardinals then drove to set up a 40-yard field goal that O'Donoghue missed with 2:53 to play.
"On that last (three-play) drive I didn't want to come out and throw on first down," Gibbs said, "because (St. Louis) was pressing (receivers) at the line and it probably would have to have been a deep pass for us. I wasn't willing to put the ball up there and stop the clock then. I felt like we went to our bread and butter, hoping for the first down, and I thought we'd have a good chance to get one."
The Redskins might take solace in one point: of the three teams now tied for first, their schedule over the second half of the season seems to be the easiest. All three teams will play four home games and four road games. The overall record of the Redskins' remaining opponents is 26-38; Dallas' are a combined 34-30 and St. Louis' 37-27.