Right from the start, don't blame this one on the Washington Redskins' defense.
To get a proper fix on how the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Redskins, 16-10, today at Veterans Stadium and dropped Washington back into a three-way tie for first in the NFC East, you will need both index fingers.
Point one at the Redskins' offense, which scored its fewest points since the 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders in the Super Bowl and seemed at its most inept. Quarterback Joe Theismann threw a season-high three interceptions and constantly threw into crowds. He completed just 21 of 38 passes for 149 yards.
And while fullback John Riggins, 35, became the oldest player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (his 26 carries gained 92 yards, for 1,046 on the season), he also fumbled three times, a real rarity. The Redskins lost two of the fumbles, one at the Philadelphia two-yard line.
And point your other index finger at the Redskins' special teams, which keeled over in several self-destructive ways: Mike Nelms fumbled a first-quarter punt, which the Eagles recovered at the Washington 49 to set up the first of rookie Paul McFadden's three field goals; Mark Moseley missed on two of his three field goal kicks from inside 35 yards, although one failure was negated by a penalty on the Eagles.
And, worst of all, the Redskins' kickoff coverage team allowed rookie Andre Waters to race 89 yards for a touchdown with 5:08 left in the third quarter. This turned the Eagles' 10-9 deficit into game-winning gold.
"I ran the whole distance with him along the sidelines . . . We finally got the big run we were looking for all season," Eagles Coach Marion Campbell said, his team uplifted to 5-6-1. Kicker Jeff Hayes and cornerback Anthony Washington chased Waters, who said, "I felt (Washington) touch me at around the three- or five-yard line. And if he would have caught me, I would have dragged him into the end zone."
By game's grim end, the Redskins had committed six turnovers, had been penalized 10 times for 124 yards (the most penalty yards in Joe Gibbs' four years as coach) and Theismann was left to say, "We're still in first place, but God only knows how."
Here's how: the Redskins are in a three-way tie for first in the NFC Eastern Division with Dallas and the Giants with four weeks left in the regular season. Somehow, Dallas lost, 14-3, at Buffalo, the Redskins' next opponent. The Giants beat St. Louis, 16-10, and, by virtue of having the best record in head-to-head competition among the first-place teams, hold a technical advantage.
"It was one thing after another today," Gibbs said. "Our history have been that if we turn the ball over we don't win."
"We just can't stand prosperity around here," free safety Curtis Jordan said. "It's like we wouldn't know what to do if we had a two-game lead."
The Redskins were finished for good when Theismann's third-down pass to wide receiver Art Monk was intercepted by cornerback Elbert Foules at the Eagles' 14 with four seconds to play. Only one play earlier, Theismann had thrown into the end zone for tight end Clint Didier and for victory -- but Didier never got his hands on the ball.
"I thought that might have been it," Gibbs said. And while Theismann, in his worst performance of the year, said, "I didn't play well," Gibbs remained his greatest supporter, saying, "I want to sit down and look at the films . . . Joe's not the product of all of those fumbles. When we're having problems on offense, then Joe is having problems."
Since the victory over Dallas six games ago, the Redskins' offense has produced little. Today, it netted just 261 yards, marking the fourth time in five weeks the offense that averaged 384 yards a game last season hasn't reached 300.
Gibbs shook his head. "We needed one drive (today)," he said. "We tried to orchestrate a drive by doing what we like to do. We just faced too many third and threes and third and fours."
Perhaps it was fitting that Moseley and punter Hayes both had their backs to the same locker room wall, sharing a cubicle. The press surrounded them after the game.
Moseley missed wide left on a 23-yard kick in the second quarter. He was let off the hook when nose tackle Ken Clarke was penalized for roughing the kicker. Given a first down, the Redskins scored on Theismann's three-yard pass to Didier for a 7-3 lead about two minutes before halftime.
Both Theismann and Moseley said the roughing call was warranted. The Eagles, however, argued that they had tipped the kick, which would have negated the roughing penalty.
"Nobody could see the ball touched," referee Jim Tunney said. "There was no question on whether or not he (Clarke) ran into him."
"The ball was falling before I hit it and I hit the side of it," Moseley said. Theismann, the holder, was asked if the ball was falling before Moseley kicked it. Theismann seemed miffed. "Who knows?" he said.
Hayes shouldn't have felt so bad. After all, he made a remarkable save after he fumbled a snap, dodging one defender, then letting loose with a 50-yard punt on the run. "I'd have had my head on the chopping block if I didn't get that punt off," said Hayes, who had two punts blocked last week.
He said he was frowning today because he kicked the ball Waters returned for the touchdown, then failed to catch him. "It always seems like I'm on the field when something goes wrong," Hayes said.
The Eagles' Campbell overlooked the fact that his offense netted a flimsy 165 yards today and couldn't succeed on a third-down play until the first play of the fourth quarter.
Instead, Campbell looked to his defense and said, "This game ranks up there with the Cowboys game in the NFC title game in 1980." The Eagles won that game, 20-7.
The Eagles took a 3-0 lead early in today's first quarter after Nelms fumbled a punt and linebacker Mike Reichenbach recovered at the Washington 49. Nelms said the wind affected the ball's flight. "The ball was fading, fading, fading until the last second. It's the first time in the NFL that I've ever muffed a punt and lost it (to the opposition)," he said.
The Redskins had driven to the Eagles' six when Riggins first fumbled. Safety Wes Hopkins, who recovered two, said, "Even the greatest running backs will cough up it up if you hit them enough."
Riggins said, "A guy just put his hat (helmet) on the ball."
The Redskins' defense continued to bail out the offense. Quarterback Ron Jaworski was just 14 of 28 passing for 127 yards. The Redskins' run defense, troubled recently, yielded just 64 yards on 27 carries (a 2.4 yards-per-carry average).
"It was a good defensive game for us," Jordan said. "I think we've played well defensively for the last two or three games."
The Redskins' defense made only two gaffes the entire game. And they said one really belonged to the official.
The Eagles were able to close to 7-6 by the half because of two penalties against the defense. First, after Jaworski threw incomplete on first down from his 20 with 50 seconds left in the half, defensive tackle Dave Butz was assessed with a 14-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.
"I shouldn't have done it," said Butz. "I was trying to fall at his feet. It wasn't a hit. It was more like a bump on his ankles."
Three plays later came the biggest play of the drive. Jaworski threw deep over the middle for all-pro receiver Mike Quick (zero catches today). Strong safety Ken Coffey intercepted at the Redskins' 11, but cornerback Vernon Dean was cited for pass interference.
This became a 34-yard play, putting the Eagles at the Redskins' 21. McFadden ended the half with a 34-yard field goal.
"First off, the ball wasn't coming near the guy," said Dean. "I took off for the ball, which a defensive back is allowed to do. When I cut on (Quick), he stumbled over my feet. I didn't touch him. The ref said I pushed him. It was a bad call."
Riggins fumbled at the Washington 27 early in the third quarter and the Eagles recovered, setting up McFadden's third field goal, of 41 yards, to take a 9-7 lead with 11:57 left in the period. "I didn't have a hold of it," Riggins said. "I was still trying to get a first down. That's not the way to do it."
After a short drive, Moseley kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Redskins a 10-9 lead with 5:26 left in the quarter.
On the next play, Waters went for the game-winning return. Greg Williams, a special teams captain, said, "Because of that, I feel like the special teams is responsible for us losing this game."