Surely, there must be easier ways to earn a rest.
Perhaps during their next 13 days without a game, the Washington Redskins will reflect on their 29-27 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at RFK Stadium and their heads will shake. But their division crowns won't fall off.
The Redskins won their third consecutive NFC Eastern Division title yesterday primarily because veteran Mark Moseley kicked a 37-yard field goal, his third of the game, with 1:33 to play and because Neil O'Donoghue's hurried 50-yard field goal attempt was wide left as the gun sounded, ending the Cardinals' season.
Had O'Donoghue made the field goal, the Cardinals (9-7) would have won the division and the Redskins would have had to play in the wild card game next Sunday. "Right now, I'm almost too tired to have a cocktail," Redskins running back John Riggins said.
So, the Redskins (11-5) will play either the Los Angeles Rams or the Chicago Bears in a division playoff game at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30 at RFK Stadium. They are but two victories away from reaching their third consecutive Super Bowl.
The Redskins' victory also kept the New York Giants' playoff hopes alive. If the Dallas Cowboys lose to Miami Monday night, the Giants are a wild card team. If Dallas wins, it makes the playoffs.
"It would have been a very tough road to go as the wild card," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Now that we won this thing, I can honestly say it was a hard season. So many things were going wrong, so many guys were hurt . . . but we have really done it down the stretch."
The Redskins will breathe a sigh of relief in that they won't have to again face the Cardinals' Neil Lomax, who completed a stunning 37 of 46 passes for 468 yards. That's merely the most yards and most completions the Redskins have yielded in any game in their 47-year history.
The Redskins also will breathe a sigh of relief over how they lost track of a 23-7 halftime lead and still rallied to win. They can smile about how wide receiver Art Monk caught 11 passes (two for touchdowns) to shatter the league record with 106 receptions this season.
The old record was 101 receptions, set by Houston's Charley Hennigan in 1964. "The last record lasted 20 years," Monk said, "and I hope this one lasts a while, too."
Monk's most important catch came on the Redskins' game-winning drive, a 20-yarder on a third-and-19 situation that set up Moseley's division-winning kick.
The Cardinals had seemed unstoppable in the second half, scoring on their first four possessions. Lomax completed 25 of 28 passes for 314 yards in the half, without the help of a running game.
"A lot of those passes were dinks," Redskins linebacker Mel Kaufman said, "but they were all killing us."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' defense continued to crowd the line of scrimmage, blitzing often. It's a strategy they used to generate a 26-24 victory over Washington earlier in the season.
The Redskins had shut down the Cardinals' offense in the first half. In fact, the Cardinals' only first-half score came on a one-yard drive. Cornerback Wayne Smith had intercepted Joe Theismann's pass and returned it 12 yards to the Washington one. From there, Lomax pushed in for the touchdown.
Other than that, the Redskins' offense percolated with production in that first half. Theismann threw scoring passes of 23 and 12 yards to Monk. He hit wide receiver Calvin Muhammad for a 60-yard pass play. Riggins burst up the middle for a five-yard score. And Rich Mauti, a reserve receiver, blocked a punt by Carl Birdsong at the St. Louis 15 that led to a field goal by Moseley.
Make it 23-7 at the half. "We came out in the second half expecting to pound and pound away," Redskins tackle Mark May said. "But they came out and scored twice quick and we had to change."
Lomax kept throwing short. It barely mattered that the Cardinals rushed for just 43 yards. Or that they had lost kick returner-alternate running back Stump Mitchell to injury on a first-quarter kickoff runback.
The short passes, made more effective by the Redskins' negligible pass rush, worked as well as any diamond-studded running game.
When Lomax looped a pass over the middle to wide receiver Roy Green, a certified Redskins-wrecker this season, Green outran the double-coverage of cornerback Darrell Green and free safety Curtis Jordan for a 75-yard touchdown.
Now, the Cardinals made it 23-17 with 8:14 left in the third quarter. RFK grew silent. Each team then made a field goal.
Leading, 26-20, the Redskins drove to the St. Louis 34 with eight minutes to play, then reached fourth down. Gibbs opted not to allow Moseley to attempt a 51-yard field goal for a nine-point lead, choosing to punt. (In fact, Gibbs had not let Moseley try a 51-yarder in the first half, too, and Riggins was stopped for no gain on fourth and one, also from the St. Louis 34.)
"Jeff Hayes is the best in the NFL at kicking the ball inside the 20," Gibbs said. Hayes did just that, returner Danny Pittman making a fair catch at the St. Louis six.
Then, Lomax unleashed a lightning strike. The Cardinals ran just five times in 33 second-half plays. "We figured, 'Let them throw short and we'll come up and hit them,' " linebacker Rich Milot said. "Usually, teams will fumble, but they didn't today . . . Part of the problem was we didn't get a good pass rush."
Lomax drove the Cardinals 94 yards in six plays for the lead. Wham! Twenty-one yards to receiver Pittman. Bam! Twenty-eight yards to Roy Green. Lomax finished with an 18-yard scoring pass to Green. Darrell Green was several steps behind on the coverage. "He made a good move on me," the Redskins cornerback said, "and my feet got mushed in the mud."
So, the Cardinals led for the first time in the game, 27-26, with 6:15 to play. This scoring drive lasted just 1:46. Someone asked strong safety Ken Coffey what he was thinking during the drive and he responded, "It happened so quick, I wasn't thinking of anything."
Now, it was up to the Redskins' offense.
Theismann was exceptional yesterday, completing 20 of 35 for 298 yards, but with one interception. The Cardinals sacked him six times, meaning that Theismann has been sacked 14 times over the past two weeks. "I'm as sore as I've ever been," he said.
The Redskins took possession at their 27 with slightly more than six minutes to play, needing a field goal to win. They drove 53 yards on 12 plays to set up Moseley's kick.
There were two key plays in the drive, both third-down conversions. First, Theismann was pressured out of the pocket by linebacker E.J. Junior on third and four from the Redskins' 33.
Somehow, Theismann scrambled nine yards, keeping the drive and the game alive. "That should have been a sack," St. Louis Coach Jim Hanifan said sadly. "It was a hell of a play."
Soon thereafter, it was time for Monk's heroics. Defensive tackle Elois Grooms had sacked Theismann for a nine-yard loss at the St. Louis 47. The Redskins faced third and 19 with 2:50 to play, still out of Moseley's range.
The call was "Z-Divide," a play that has Monk lined up at tight end and allowed him to gain 36 yards earlier in the half. "It was a formation they had trouble with," Theismann said.
Monk ran 20 yards downfield toward the right side. He was surrounded by three defenders, but Theismann's pass was well-placed. This became a 20-yard gain and a first down at the 27.
The two-minute warning came. Riggins ran three times for seven yards, while wasting all three of the Cardinals' timeouts. Gibbs said he didn't risk a pass, even on third and four from the 21 with 1:42 to play, "because they were blitzing a lot and I didn't want to risk a loss."
Moseley's kick went straight as can be, an arrow piercing the Cardinals' heart. "These are the situations you live for," he said. "That's what I've built my career on . . . Missing the extra point (after a first-quarter touchdown) really woke me up. It might have been the best thing to happen to me."
The Cardinals took possession on their 20 with 1:27 to play.
The Redskins stocked the secondary with six defensive backs and used just three pass rushers. They were willing to give up short passes. Allow nothing deep, they were instructed.
"It seemed like they had 13 defensive backs," said Lomax.
Lomax completed five passes and the Cardinals reached the Redskins' 38 with 25 seconds to play, hoping to get O'Donoghue (who kicked the 21-yard game-winner with three seconds to play in St. Louis) in range.
They tried one more pass. Lomax completed a five-yard toss to Pittman over the middle. "I couldn't believe they threw over the middle," Milot said. The clock was running and the Cardinals, out of timeouts, scrambled to get O'Donoghue ready.
With no time left, O'Donoghue shanked it left. The snap was bad. The Cardinals' season was over. "I felt like I hit it well," O'Donoghue said. "It just tailed off."
"It was a good season," said Lomax, "but it could have been better."
Now, the Redskins have time off. What will they do, before returning to practice Friday? "Baby-sitting and Christmas shopping," defensive tackle Perry Brooks said. Kaufman laughed and said, "Maybe I'll go back to California for a few days and work on my tan."
Free safety Jordan shrugged. "I'm going to take some Geritol. I aged another 20 years," he said. "I think I'll go to a convalescent home and recuperate."