With a little help from his friends, Jay Schroeder couldn't lose today.
Given great field position, loads of good fortune and a battered offensive line that still managed to make sure the defense didn't lay a hand on him, the Washington Redskins' new quarterback won his starting debut over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-23, at chilly Three Rivers Stadium.
The victory gives the Redskins a 7-5 record with four games remaining, starting with the San Francisco 49ers (6-5) Sunday at RFK Stadium. After all that's happened this season, this is the same record the Redskins had at this time last year, when they won the NFC East Division title.
However, were it not for the Redskins' special teams (especially return man Ken Jenkins), or a patchwork offensive line, or even a right hook thrown by Pittsburgh's Keith Willis to guard Ken Huff's face mask that set up a field goal at the end of the first half, this might have been a different game.
"We knew we had changes this week," said special-teamer Greg Williams. "We had a new guy in his debut. We wanted to help. We wanted to give him a lift. So that's what we did."
If a quarterback had to pick a place to take his first snap in his first pro start, he probably would ask for something inside the opponent's 10.
Thanks to Jenkins' dashing 95-yard kickoff return in the first 18 seconds of the game, Schroeder got first and goal at the three.
It was easy from there. New starter George Rogers -- who later sprained an ankle, suffered a mild concussion and was replaced by John Riggins -- scored on a one-yard run and Washington was on its merry way, 7-0.
"I couldn't ask for a better way to start," Schroeder said.
If you're the Redskins, you know it's going to be a good day when you begin a game with that kind of kickoff return and add a blocked punt minutes later.
Or, when the other team is forced to start a quarterback even younger and less experienced than yours. (Scott Campbell played the whole game for Pittsburgh when David Woodley came down with a stomach virus and Mark Malone was still hobbling around on a sore toe.)
Or, when 11 of your 45 players report injuries to the trainer, but you don't have to take anyone to the hospital.
"We're falling like flies," Rogers said of the injuries, the most serious of which appeared to be tackle Russ Grimm's sprained left ankle and cornerback Vernon Dean's bruised right knee.
"I was just glad to win," Rogers said. "We needed this bad. This one almost was bigger than the one Monday night (the 23-21 victory over New York when quarterback Joe Theismann broke his right leg)."
Schroeder, who coolly replaced Theismann that night, again played with a calm, steady hand. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yard lob to Clint Didier that gave the Redskins a 14-3 lead in the first quarter.
Schroeder was not intercepted. He was not sacked. He led the Redskins to their second-highest point total of the season (they scored 44 against Atlanta).
Schroeder drew Coach Joe Gibbs' highest praise: "It's hard for me to keep from getting too excited about him."
The Redskins burst to a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter, then watched it evaporate within seven minutes for a 17-17 tie. But they never allowed the Steelers, who were on a three-game winning streak, to catch up again after the second of Mark Moseley's three field goals with 13 seconds to play in the first half.
"We're scoring points now," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome. "We're scoring points. That's it."
For weeks, Jenkins has been one shoelace from breaking a long return, his coaches have said. Special-teams coach Wayne Sevier, concerned about the Steelers' usual crunching kick teams, told his players to go "right back at 'em" today.
Jenkins, in his exuberance on an opening kickoff that came up a bit short, said he nearly ran up the heels of his wedge blocker, Steve Hamilton. He followed Hamilton until Hamilton had no one else to block, then darted to the left sideline and gained the honor of having the Redskins' longest return in history that didn't go for a touchdown.
"Sixty yards is about my tops," Jenkins said, smiling.
He finished with 197 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
"I hate to say I'm ever satisfied," Jenkins said. "But I am today."
After Gary Anderson kicked a 22-yard field goal to cut Washington's lead to 7-3, the Redskins' special teams soon were at it again.
As Raphel Cherry detained one blocker, Otis Wonsley, rushing in from the right side, shoved past Steve Morse and blocked Harry Newsome's punt to give the Redskins possession at the Steelers' 19.
Sevier figured that if someone didn't block Cherry, also coming from the right, he would be free. If that man took Cherry, Wonsley would be open.
Didier's touchdown was the result, and the Redskins appeared to be riding high.
Yes and no. A field goal by Moseley made it 17-3 in the second quarter, but Campbell, who completed 15 of 35 passes for 224 yards (and left most of the other 20 passes short), rallied the Steelers for two quick touchdowns.
Sandwiched between a five-yard touchdown reception by Louis Lipps and a nine-yard catch by Rich Erenberg was a controversial fumble call on Art Monk. Schroeder, from his 37, fired to Monk, who appeared to be hit by John Swain just as he caught the pass and dropped the ball.
The officials ruled possession and a fumble. The Steelers scored moments later and the game was tied.
In the waning moments of the half, Dean intercepted a pass deflected by Darrell Green and gave the Redskins the ball at the Pittsburgh 47 with 1:07 to play.
On third down, Schroeder threw to Monk, who made a first down. But, in their hurry to continue playing, the Redskins lined up with the downs marker showing fourth down.
Then, to add to the confusion, Willis and Huff started pushing and shoving following the "fourth-down" play, whereupon Willis took a swing at Huff's helmeted face.
"He connected pretty good," Huff said.
The ensuing unnecessary roughness call gave the Redskins a first down at the 22. Moseley rushed onto the field and kicked a 39-yard field goal to give the Redskins the lead.
The second half saw the return of Riggins, who scored on a one-yard run the first time the Redskins got the ball in the third quarter.
Earlier, Rick Donnalley, who snapped with a huge cast around his fractured left hand, had returned to the lineup when Grimm left near the end of the first half. He played center while Jeff Bostic moved to guard.
After Riggins' touchdown, it was a battle of field goals (two for Anderson, one for Moseley), with two more Washington interceptions (Green's and Rich Milot's) thrown in for good measure.
There were anxious moments when Williams mishandled an onside kick with three minutes to play ("I guess you'd call that E-6," Williams said), but Campbell could move the Steelers no closer than the Pittsburgh 49.
For Schroeder, two games, the two top defenses in the NFL, two victories.
"They didn't put him in any tough situations," said veteran Steeler Donnie Shell. "What can you say, he's won two games. He's a great quarterback."