Could there have been a more gripping revival of a game -- and, perhaps, a career -- than the one quarterback Babe Laufenberg pulled off last night?
With 67 seconds to play, only one timeout left, and 80 yards to go, Laufenberg dramatically led the Washington Redskins to a 37-36 victory over the New England Patriots, completing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Clint Didier with four seconds remaining at RFK Stadium.
It was a drive that did justice to this game, the perfect finish to a crazy, scrambling, squirming Redskins win -- Washington's third consecutive this NFL preseason.
"I feel I'm at my best when I get in a game and things go wrong. There was nothing to lose," said Laufenberg, who completed 12 of the 21 passes he threw in the second half for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
"It would have been too easy if I had great protection and could sit in the pocket all day," he said. "I was getting hit around a lot. I've got a pretty good headache going."
Laufenberg, who until last night seemed to have been replaced by Jay Schroeder as the Redskins' backup quarterback, began the final drive by throwing 10 yards to rookie Joe Phillips to the 30. A personal foul call on rookie Garin Veris for roughing the quarterback took the ball to the 45.
Now, 1:01 remained. Laufenberg fired to Michael Morton over the middle and he gained 20 to the New England 35.
Hurrying, as the clock passed :40, Laufenberg reared back and found his target, Phillips again, this time to the 20. Frantically, Laufenberg called time and ran to the bench. Twenty-four seconds remained.
Under intense pressure from the Patriots' second-string defense, Laufenberg threw two incompletions as 11 more seconds ticked away.
The Redskins lost three more seconds and five yards when they were called for illegal motion. Ten seconds left, and third and 15 at the 25.
Laufenberg backpedaled for the last time. He spotted Didier, a step behind rookie safety Jim Bowman, charging down the middle of the field. Still going backward, Laufenberg threw, over the top of Bowman, and Didier caught the ball and ran alone into the end zone.
"I didn't see the catch," said Laufenberg, "but I heard it."
Veteran Mark Moseley, who kicked two field goals to Tony Zendejas' one in their battle of de-feet, added the extra point that won the game, to the delight -- and certain disbelief -- of most of those that remained from an original crowd of 50,538.
Another very interested spectator, Coach Joe Gibbs, was impressed.
"The poise and getting it done in the end is as critical as anything else," Gibbs said. "(Laufenberg)'s a scrambler and a fighter. He did it last year. He's that kind of guy. He's a gutsy guy who doesn't look as good as some other people (when he throws). Now we've got to weigh that . . . We've got three guys at quarterback and all of them look pretty good."
Decisions, decisions. Almost exactly a year ago, Laufenberg won himself a spot on the roster (later to go on season-long injured reserve) when he nearly rallied the Redskins over New England, eventually losing, 31-27. A spot on the roster one year, the No. 2 job the next?
"We have a lot of tough decisions left, and one is at quarterback," Gibbs said.
But let's leave the choices to another day and savor the best a preseason football contest can offer.
This game was wild. It was tempestuous. It was fickle. The lead changed five times. The two most-watched kickers (Moseley and Zendejas) had to take a back seat to New England's barefoot Tony Franklin, who kicked five field goals, the first three giving his team an early 9-0 lead, the last for an apparent 36-30 victory with 1:07 left to play.
How quickly fortunes turned.
Take Laufenberg, a 25-year-old, two-year veteran who has not thrown a regular-season pass. Six minutes after throwing a run-and-gun, 75-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark to give the Redskins a 30-26 lead, he was on his back after a fumble, seemingly the losing quarterback, with 1:44 to play.
A Steve Grogan-to-Cedric Jones 17-yard touchdown pass with 1:57 to play gave the Patriots a 33-30 lead. Then came the sack and fumble, leaving Laufenberg on the turf, and Franklin's 38-yard field goal that apparently locked things up.
But there was to be a better ending for Laufenberg. "He's the kind of guy that just makes big plays," said Joe Theismann, who played the first half and also was 12 of 21, for 249 yards and one touchdown -- a dazzling, 79-yard pass to Art Monk.
"He's almost the consummate scrambler. He came over to me after the game and said, 'I guess you could say this couldn't have happened at a better time,' " Theismann said.
Laufenberg entered the game at the beginning of the second half with a 20-12 lead, thanks to John Riggins' first touchdown of the year (two yards in the second quarter), the scoring pass to Monk and two field goals.
Moseley, playing to a loud, appreciative crowd welcoming home its embattled hero, hit a 38-yarder in the first quarter. Zendejas, who also kicked off all evening, drew an inquisitive stir from the fans as he ran out for his 42-yard field goal, the first he has made with the Redskins.
Moseley later made a 47-yarder to increase Washington's lead to 23-12.
"I was pleased to see Mark hit that big one," Gibbs said. "That was a real shot, right down the middle."
Said Zendejas: "I was a little more relaxed but there was still a lot of pressure. With Mark making one, I couldn't miss or that would have been murder."
The first half served as an enticing prelude to the second. In it, Riggins returned to a raucous ovation and five carries for 19 yards. (George Rogers started and gained just 15 yards in seven carries.)
After two long punt returns (62 and 34 yards) by Clarence Weathers turned the Redskins' vaunted special teams to mush, it was left to Riggins, of all people, to give the Redskins something -- anything -- to go on.
In nearly eight minutes, a 9-3 deficit became a 17-9 advantage as Theismann found receivers Calvin Muhammad, Monk and Didier deep. It was Didier for a 25-yard gain, then Muhammad on a finger-tip grab for 43 more yards, leading to Riggins' two-yard surge into the end zone.
The next Washington drive lasted one play as Theismann threw to Monk on the fly. Monk carried cornerback Ernest Gibson with him to midfield, then cut inside and left him behind, going untouched into the end zone.
Theismann was so excited he skipped and jumped to the end zone to congratulate Monk.
The air-show numbers were rather staggering. Muhammad, playing in his first preseason game after a compound-dislocation of a finger, caught four passes for 83 yards, Didier four for 83 and Monk three for 108.
Where was Charlie Brown? Watching from the sideline with his sore left hamstring taped.