The timing, it seems, is splendid for the Washington Redskins. Right now, they need Buffalo.
For sure, these Redskins need something. The Bills are 1-11 entering today's 1 p.m. game at RFK Stadium (WRC-TV-4), possessing the National Football League's 27th-best offense, its 21st-best defense and, of course, the league's worst record.
At least the Bills were able to rejoice over their 14-3 victory last week over Dallas, in which rookie Greg Bell ran for 206 yards. Players carried Coach Kay Stephenson off the field, quite a switch for the man who has carried the weight of the 1984 Bills' world on his shoulders.
"I don't think too many teams could have gone through what we have this year and come back and won like we did," Stephenson said.
But the Redskins, favored by 13 1/2 points, don't need to look to last week's Buffalo success to gain inspiration. "We're not in first place right now," said cornerback Darrell Green. "That's how we get psyched up . . . "
The Redskins (7-5) really haven't played with teamwide consistency for the last five games and need a victory to keep first-place pace with the Cowboys (8-5) in the NFC East. The New York Giants (7-5) also can remain in first place by beating Kansas City. If the Redskins and Giants win, the three-way tie would be intact, the Giants holding an edge in the tie-breaker system.
Yesterday, the Redskins used one of their two remaining reactivations to put all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown in service for the first time in nearly two months. To make roster space, the team released Virgil Seay, the fourth-year Smurf who had caught just nine passes this season and lost coaches' confidence.
So, at last, the explosive three-wide receiver combination of Brown, Art Monk (league-leading 71 catches) and Calvin Muhammad will extend beyond the imagination.
"I think the possibilities with the three of us are infinite," Muhammad said. "With that much talent on the field at one time, something is bound to happen. Something great. It has to."
"I thank God I wasn't out the entire year," said Brown. "I really want to get back in there. With the three of us in there, we'll have the best wide receiver corps in the NFL."
Brown will not start today. The plan is for him to ease, gently, his way back from a fibula stress fracture.
Although Seay was unavailable for comment, his release seemed to genuinely affect Brown. This hasn't been a good year for the three Smurfs: Alvin Garrett caught one pass, before spending the rest of the season on the injured list; Brown has caught just 12 passes, and now Seay has been cut after 43 receptions (five for touchdowns) for 792 yards in 3 1/2 Redskins seasons.
"We've shared a lot of good moments together," Brown said of Seay. "He contributed to us going to two Super Bowls. He'll be missed."
Meanwhile, all-pro defensive tackle Dave Butz, victim of an intestinal virus, was to be released from Arlington Hospital yesterday afternoon. Butz is expected to play a limited amount today, while veterans Perry Brooks and Tom Beasley fill in.
Also, kickoff/punt returner Mike Nelms (sprained ankle) is still listed as questionable (50-50 chance he won't play). If Nelms cannot play, he would be replaced by Keith Griffin, Rich Mauti and/or cornerback Green.
The most pertinent question of all is, why haven't the Redskins been playing with consistency recently? The mood at Redskin Park has remained confident and light.
Some prankster even taped a small styrofoam cup above punter Jeff Hayes' locker and labeled it "The Jeff Hayes Protection Fund." The cup contained 29 cents and Hayes, who had two punts blocked by Detroit two weeks ago and saw one of his kickoffs returned 89 yards for a touchdown in the 16-10 loss last week at Philadelphia, smiled and said, "Lotta protection, huh?"
The Redskins had a 22-3 combined regular-season record over the past two years. Ask players if they are surprised at 7-5 and the answers are telling:
Tight end Don Warren: "No, I didn't expect to be 7-5. We've lost a lot of close games (three by six points or less). Last year, we would have won those close games. I don't know why we haven't won those games. We've been inconsistent."
Green: "To me, (7-5) is a shock. I never made any predictions, but I never would have expected this."
Brooks said he expected the Redskins to be "about 10-2." Free safety Curtis Jordan, part of a vastly improved pass defense, said, "I thought we'd be 9-3. I think we just need to get hot again. We're the kind of team that can run off four or five wins in a row and most teams can't do that."
Offensive guard Russ Grimm said the problem is as much in the Redskin minds as anything.
"It's been a couple things here, a couple of things there. Maybe it's attitude," Grimm said. "Maybe the guys aren't concentrating during the game." That's a serious accusation, Grimm was told. "It is," he responded. "But it seems like some guys are concentrating and some guys aren't."
And Muhammad, the former Los Angeles Raider, agreed, saying, "It's a lack of concentration. We take some teams lightly . . . and don't do the things we need to do. The Raiders did the same thing."
Doesn't this imply some Redskin complacency? Muhammad said, "From what I've seen, it's not (complacency). But then you see what happens on the field and it kind of makes you wonder. For some reason, we get onto the field and have mental letdowns . . . Concentration has to be there now. This is the money week."