Somewhere, the Washington Redskins' punt team must be in hiding today. Check the hall closet. You'll find the shamed Detroit Lions behind the drapes.
Yes, the Redskins did defeat the Lions, 28-14, before 50,212 at RFK Stadium yesterday. They are 7-4 and in a first-place tie in the NFC Eastern Division with Dallas, which beat St. Louis, 24-17, yesterday. Five games remain in the regular season, with the Redskins having the current advantage because they have beaten the Cowboys.
But the fact is, once the Redskins took a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter, their world turned over at least a dozen times. "Our blowout," free safety Curtis Jordan said, "almost blew up."
Consider what the Lions (now a lonesome 3-7-1) did to the Redskins to cut into that four-touchdown margin: they blocked one punt, partially blocked another and tackled Redskins punter Jeff Hayes for a loss on a third.
The first time, the Lions stacked one side of the line of scrimmage with potential punt-blockers; the second time, they stacked the other side; the third time, they chose the final possible rushing route -- the middle.
"All I know is, they were all over me," Hayes said.
But the Redskins' defense, the savior on this soggy day, was all over the Lions, too. During the punt-block madness, Detroit reached a first down inside the Washington 25 on three series in the game's final 20 minutes and failed to score.
Same old Lions. By game's end, the Redskins were questioning several of the 19 penalties called (and a whistle that negated a 105-yard interception return by cornerback Darrell Green that would have been a league record) and were giving a game ball to rookie running back Keith Griffin.
With fullback John Riggins sidelined with a back injury, the Redskins created the Griffo Drill yesterday. Griffin, who is 5 feet 8, gained 114 yards on 32 carries, including 71 yards on 20 tries in the second half.
"I hope this game gives the coaches confidence in me," said Griffin, who said he once had 18 carries in a game at the University of Miami. Griffin yielded to running back Otis Wonsley when the Redskins neared the goal line and Wonsley scored two one-yard and a three-yard touchdown on six carries.
Later, Riggins said, "I've needed (the rest) for the past six or seven weeks . . . I just told Joe (Gibbs) 'Why don't we go with Keith and see what happens and if we need it, there's a phone booth on the side and I can just jump into it.' "
And Detroit Coach Monte Clark, whose team lost a touchdown when a call was reversed late in the game, said, "What we needed to do was play the entire game the way we played in the second half . . . (Of the reversed call) That's the thing that is so disgusting, to have them call it a touchdown and then get talked out of it. I wasn't pleased with the results of it today, but I'm not going to take it to the Supreme Court."
The consensus in the Redskins' locker room was stated best by defensive tackle Darryl Grant. "It seemed like the referees didn't know what they were doing," Grant said. "They were very inconsistent. Like us."
The Redskins' ire was raised by three calls made during the second half. More precisely, they were angered by two calls and initially by a third call that ultimately was changed, taking away a Lions touchdown.
Start late in the third quarter, when the Lions' pass rush became so fierce, sacking quarterback Joe Theismann four times. Detroit had rubbed the first-half sleep from its eyes and had closed within 28-14 late in the third quarter, scoring on fullback James Jones' one-yard run and quarterback Gary Danielson's 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Rubick.
Rubick's score was set up by a pass interference call against Redskins strong safety Ken Coffey on a pass intended for David Lewis.
The penalty only measured as an eight-yard gain, but the call irritated Gibbs, especially one minute later. That's when Gibbs thought that Detroit cornerback Bruce McNorton had committed the same pass interference infraction on a deep pass intended for tight end Clint Didier. The play went incomplete and Didier went wild because no penalty was called.
Back judge Jim Poole ruled, "As soon as I saw (McNorton) grab the guy (Didier), I saw the ball hit the ground . . . there was no way (Didier) could have gotten there."
Didier said, "The ball hadn't even reached me when (McNorton) hit me. It was a bad call." And Gibbs said, "Another call I didn't understand was Clint being pulled down from behind. And then our guy (Coffey) has about as good position as you can have and they call interference on him. I just can't see the consistency."
Early in the fourth quarter, after Lions linebacker Roosevelt Barnes partially deflected a Hayes punt, which the Lions recovered at the Washington 36, Controversial Call No. 2 came about.
Danielson, who said he didn't even remember the first half after he was knocked silly on one scramble, lobbed a pass to wide receiver Leonard Thompson, hoping for an 18-yard touchdown pass that would close Detroit within 28-21 with nearly 11 minutes to play.
But cornerback Green intercepted the pass, skidding across the ground in the end zone. Green arose, hesitated, then ran out of the end zone down the left sideline, picking up blockers across the way.
Deploying his world-class speed, Green finished with what seemed to be a 105-yard touchdown return (three players have returned an interception 102 yards before) and a 35-14 Redskins lead.
But side judge Dick Creed ruled that Green had dropped his knee to the ground, signaling for a touchback. "He intercepted the ball, went back and then he went down on one knee. He was up and then went down. I blew the whistle," Creed said. "He was down long enough, that is why he held up. I blew the whistle and he took off."
"As soon as he caught the ball, the official blew his whistle," Thompson said. "I didn't try to tackle him because he blew the whistle."
Green said he never signaled for a touchback. "I just saw (cornerback) Vernon Dean and he said, 'C'mon, run with the ball!' So I did."
As Green began to make his return, several Redskin offensive players ran onto the field, which might have negated the touchdown return, anyway.
Thus, the ball was placed on the Washington 20. The Redskins' drive failed with slightly more than six minutes to play. With punt-blockers stacked in the middle, Hayes tried to avoid a third block.
He didn't have a chance. Rushers were within a yard when, hurriedly, he fumbled the ball. Linebacker Kirk Dodge recovered at the 22.
On came Controversial Call No. 3, a call that would leave Jordan saying, "I've seen better officiating in Lubbock, Texas, in jayvee games. I know I'm not supposed to say that, but there were a lot of blatant missed calls."
On fourth and goal from the four, Danielson threw for wide receiver Jeff Chadwick, who was slanting over the middle, inside the zone coverage of cornerback Green.
Chadwick dove for the ball and back judge Poole signaled for a touchdown (28-21, maybe). Then the ball trickled out of Chadwick's hands.
Poole held firm: touchdown. A horde of Redskins surrounded him, arguing. The referees briefly conferred. They ruled an incompletion. The Redskins' world would not turn over again.
"The back judge (Poole) did not see the ball hit the ground," referee Pat Haggerty said. "The ball hit the ground. The side judge (Creed) saw the ball hit the ground."
Both Chadwick and Danielson later admitted that the ball was not caught. "I was really surprised when someone said they called it a TD," Chadwick said.
And to think, at halftime, the Redskins seemed in a rout-minded cruise control. Defensive tackle Grant admitted, "I was thinking about the Terp-Miami game (in which Maryland rallied from a 31-0 halftime deficit to win, 42-40, Saturday). A few players were whispering about that at halftime."
There seemed no need to worry. The Redskins' special teams had been effective and creative. The kick coverage was excellent and on one punt return, Mike Nelms caught the ball at the Washington 40, ran three yards and threw across field to linebacker Monte Coleman. Coleman raced 27 yards to the Detroit 27.
That nifty move, which the Redskins have been practicing for weeks, set up Wonsley's first touchdown. It followed Theismann's seven-yard scoring pass to running back Jeff Moore.
Meanwhile, Detroit was a miserable wreck. The Lions, trailing by 14-0, faked a 39-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, but linebacker Mel Kaufman batted down Danielson's pass. And defensive end Dexter Manley, who had three of the four sacks recorded by the Redskins, constantly seemed to be harassing Danielson.
The Lions' pass rush revved up in the fourth quarter, shifting and blitzing. "Our offense was sporadic today," said Theismann (17 of 36 for 203 yards). He completed just seven of 17 for 73 yards the last half.
The Lions outgained the Redskins, 358 yards to 290. However, the game belonged to the Redskins' defense: lock, sack and Darrell.
"You get pushed inside your own 25 three times and don't give up any points," said Coleman, "that's pretty good. It's also unusual."
"The whole second half was bad memories," Gibbs said. "All I can say is, I'm glad we got the win. I've never been in a game quite like that."