Reality hit Jay Schroeder yesterday. It hit him in the back. It hit him on the arms, on the legs and even scampered into his mind now and then. It often came in waves, and it had names: Jeff Fuller and Michael Carter, to drop two who dropped him.
Reality also hit the Redskins. Hard. San Francisco looked very much like a playoff team; they didn't. Only one more reality, the fact that nearly everyone stays in playoff contention until the final game, keeps the town from officially turning to basketball and hockey.
"So who won?" chirped Schroeder, as he ascended to the chair Coach Joe Gibbs had just vacated in the Redskins' interview room.
The brilliant wit with which all reporters are endowed at birth suddenly went silent; Schroeder was left to finish his own setup:
"Guess we didn't."
In 35-8 defeat, he had been terrific and he had been terrible. Now he was mostly tired, having surpassed Sonny Jurgensen in a statistic that ought to read: most times arm cranked up in futility.
Schroeder passed 58 times. Twice with the Redskins (in consecutive games late in the 1967 season) Jurgensen threw 50 passes; once with the Eagles he threw 57.
"Usually, you don't win throwing that many times," Schroeder observed to Jurgensen, who nodded. On his most pass-happy days, Jurgensen was 0-2-1.
Although footballs are designed to take goofy bounces, football usually runs an honest course over time. That's starting to happen with Schroeder.
A week ago, the special teams put him in a position early from which he scarcely could fail: first and goal from the Pittsburgh three.
This week, the special teams put him in a position early from which he scarcely could survive: they allowed 49er Carl Monroe to run the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
The two prior games, Schroeder had been alert to every possible way he could cost the team dearly; yesterday, he wasn't.
A mixup in something called "blitz breakoff" caused the three most horrible things that can happen to a quarterback to occur in a matter of seconds: a sack, a fumble, an opposition touchdown.
It was second and nine at the 49ers' 23 with about four minutes left in the first half; San Francisco was ahead, 14-5, but John Riggins all of a sudden looked 26 instead of 56 and the Redskins were driving.
Fuller came full-bore on a blitz, which was all right with the Redskins because at that very moment Keith Griffin was scooting past him, apparently toward a very open area.
At such times, Schroeder is not supposed to throw when he sees the whites of the blitzer's eyes. The Fullers of the NFL are allowed to get almost as close to the quarterback as you are to this page.
Then the ball is looped over their heads to the open receiver for a naughty-trick 15 or so yards. Trouble is, Schroeder never saw Fuller charging toward his back.
Krazy Glue wouldn't keep the ball attached to a quarterback's hand under those circumstances, Fuller not being especially polite.
Happily for the 49ers, Keena Turner also was blitzing. And when the ball popped from Schroeder, Turner grabbed it and ran 65 uncluttered yards. Instead of maybe a 14-12 lead, the 49ers were up, 21-5.
"I'll see him next week," Schroeder promised.
Still, even had Schroeder done his part, the play likely would have been doomed. Griffin also misread the coverage.
Of all those passes, the one that showed his inexperience most, Schroeder volunteered, was the one that helped the 49ers get that 14-5 lead.
It was a long sideline pass, toward Gary Clark, on third and 18 from the Redskins' 31. Momentarily, Schroeder forgot something important from the quarterback's manual: don't try the impossible until you must.
"I saw the guy (Dwight Hicks) sitting there waiting for it," Schroeder admitted. "I never should have thrown the ball. They turned it into seven points (in three plays), and that's the last thing you want to happen.
"It was a dumb mistake."
If Schroeder was not nearly as astute as he had been in his previous games, neither was he as lucky.
"There had to be a lot of things go right around him," Gibbs said. "I (still) think he's a real player, a really gifted guy."
Among the things that did not go right around Schroeder: the special teams were porous once, which was once too often; the running game got stuffed; a few passes got dropped; and Art Monk fumbled on the first play of the second half.
Some of the Redskins' best friends yesterday were not even close to RFK Stadium. The Browns beat the Giants and the Vikings overtook the Eagles to make Washington's playoff chances even brighter -- with a victory.
For the most part, what happened to Schroeder was the inevitable: a fine defense finally got to him. In every way that is possible.
Near their end zone near the end of the first half, the 49ers pressed Washington's wide receivers; hoping to take advantage of that the next play, Schroeder quickly called a play designed for a lob to Monk.
"They laid off," said Schroeder, who then was forced to throw a give-up completion to Clark and settle for a field goal.
This was one of those days every quarterback endures, though the initial one for Schroeder: wonderful stats; woeful results.
"What was learned," he said, "was that the kid's gonna stick it out, that he'll do the best he can, even when it's not going well . . . I didn't feel any different than the last two weeks."
One assumes he felt differently this morning, that he awoke with his first NFL pain.