Wouldn't every football team that ever had a problem want to play the Atlanta Falcons?
Take the Washington Redskins. They won big here today on a murky afternoon, 44-10, to creep above .500 (5-4) for the first time this season.
According to Coach Joe Gibbs, it was the Redskins' best game of this crazy season. It was all-pro receiver Art Monk's first 100-yard performance this year, thanks to a nifty strategy shift in the second quarter. It was running back George Rogers' day to run, not fumble or get injured.
It was the Redskins' turn to enjoy a game, not agonize over it.
Aren't the Falcons a wonderful cure-all?
"Everything worked just perfect, just as we imagined it," said reserve running back Keith Griffin, who outgained Rogers, 164 yards to 124, because of a 66-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter. (It was the second time this season two Redskins backs have exceeded 100 yards in the same game.)
John Riggins, the usual starter, watched from the sidelines with a towel over his head, choosing to rest his bruised back for Dallas next Sunday at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium.
He was not missed.
For only the second time in history, the Redskins rushed for more than 300 yards in a game. They gained 307 on 37 carries in front of a crowd of 42,209 and dwindling at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The team record is 352 yards in 1951 against the Rams.
Every time a Washington runner touched the ball, he gained, on the average, 8.3 yards. And the Redskins did this without all-pro left tackle Joe Jacoby, who is out with a sprained right knee.
"It was a great day to be a running back," Griffin said.
How great was it? On the Redskins' first play from scrimmage, after Mick Luckhurst's 28-yard field goal, Rogers ran a tear play out of the I-formation with tight end Don Warren for a 35-yard gain to the Falcons' 42.
The chase was on, although the Redskins settled for Mark Moseley's 39-yard field goal on that particular drive. Moseley was three for three on the day.
The Redskins rode a 3-3 score into the second quarter and a 31-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. It was the Chicago second quarter of five weeks ago, only in reverse.
It began with Griffin's first touchdown on a five-yard run-and-stretch play with 12 minutes to go in the half, set up by another Rogers tear -- this one 34 yards to the Atlanta nine.
If the rout wasn't on by then, it officially kicked in when Atlanta tried to fake a punt two minutes later.
On fourth and inches at his 29, rookie punter Rick Donnelly feigned a kick and started running to his right. What he probably didn't know at the time was that Redskins rookie Reggie Branch had an assignment: Spy Alert.
It's simple, really.
"I go through and check to see if they're doing anything," Branch said. "If they are, I do something. If they aren't, I run down field and try to help out down there."
Something was doing this time, so Branch fought off blocker Johnny Taylor and caught Donnelly for a loss of five at the 24.
"That's my job," Branch said.
From the 24, Rick Walker ran a tight end reverse for four yards; Rogers went around right end for nine; and quarterback Joe Theismann bootlegged around the left side for an 11-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead midway through the period.
There was more. The next Washington drive ended in Rogers' one-yard scoring dive, and the next in a 34-yard touchdown pass to Monk, who caught six passes for 106 yards.
There was one more drive, but the clock ran out on the Redskins before Steve Cox could try a 65-yard field goal.
In six first-half possessions, the Redskins had a field goal and four touchdowns. Cox punted only once all afternoon.
The Falcons (1-8) were in shock.
"I didn't expect anything like this," said Falcons running back Joe Washington, a former Redskin.
Other than the obvious talent gap between these two teams, the difference in the first half could be attributed at least in part to strategy.
Theismann said that after the Redskins' second possession, Monk suggested he run a different kind of pattern. He had been running two- or three-yard slant routes, which is one of the team's "blitz rules."
But, because the Falcons were blitzing so often and leaving the middle open, Monk wondered if he shouldn't try some fade routes over the middle.
Theismann asked Gibbs, and Gibbs said okay.
"Catch (Gibbs) on Sunday (with a change) and he'll let us do it," Theismann said, smiling. "Catch him during the week and he's got a lot of time to think about why we shouldn't do it."
The result was that Monk turned cornerback Bobby Butler inside out on man-to-man coverage.
"If he had six catches, every one of them was on that play," Theismann said of Monk. "And it just was something we fell into."
Passing was not exactly the Redskins' forte today (Theismann was 13 of 24 for 178 yards and no interceptions), but it was a fitting complement to the running binge.
The Redskins did more trapping than usual on the line, trying to cross up Atlanta's Chicago-style "Dubs" defense. Often, the holes were huge, especially for Rogers, who loves the view he gets back in the I-formation.
"I'm more of an I-back than a single back," said Rogers. "I feel really good about this."
Rogers, who also got a sore left shoulder out of this game (it's not expected to be a problem as it was several weeks ago), said he knew Friday he was going to start.
"This game sure helps me," he said. "It gives me a little confidence."
There was no letup for the Redskins in the second half as Moseley kicked field goals of 40 and 48 yards before an exclusive Keith Griffin drive in the fourth quarter.
With reserve quarterback Jay Schroeder in the game, Griffin ran the following yards in succession: nine, three, six, three and 66.
Only then, with less than five minutes remaining, did the Falcons score a touchdown. Reserve quarterback Bob Holly (nine of 17), who replaced David Archer (four of 12) in the second half, threw 14 yards to tight end Arthur Cox with 1:21 left.
The Redskins made it look easy at the expense of former Washington assistant Dan Henning, the Falcons' beleaguered head coach.
"It was the best game for the Redskins," Gibbs said, "but I feel bad for Dan that that's the case."
As for his team, Gibbs has seen too many ups and downs in 1985 to recognize any trends.
"You gotta look at it as, 'Is it a one-time shot?'
"I'm not sure."