There's nothing like a questionable call, a little helmet throwing and a nose-to-nose chat between a coach and an official to jump-start a lethargic football team.
This afternoon, the Washington Redskins figured out how to get even with the Philadelphia Eagles:
After being called for three penalties on one play and then giving up a touchdown late in the third quarter to fall behind by nine points, they roared back on the churning legs of George Rogers and the sticky hands of Art Monk and scored two quick touchdowns to defeat the Eagles, 17-12, before 60,737 at Veterans Stadium.
The victory, the Redskins' fourth straight on the road, pushed their record to 8-6 and kept them in the middle of the chaotic playoff race with two games to go.
The Redskins must win their last two games against Cincinnati and St. Louis, then hope San Francisco, New York or Dallas loses twice more, or the Los Angeles Rams, who play at San Francisco Monday night, lose three times. The Cowboys kept up their end with a 50-24 loss to the Bengals today. Playoff details, Page D4.
"The good news is Dallas lost," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "The bad news is, we play Cincinnati next week."
For him, the really good news is that his team, fighting those familiar self-destructive tendencies, regrouped from a terrible first half (with the animated assistance of angry Vernon Dean) to find a running game, some incentive -- and even the end zone.
In the process, however, they lost kick returner Ken Jenkins for the rest of the season with a broken bone and dislocation in his right shoulder. Jenkins was injured on an eight-yard punt return late in the first quarter and was replaced on punts by Darrell Green, who had a 90-yard return nullified by a penalty, and on kickoffs by Keith Griffin.
Jenkins is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday. The Redskins might decide to sign or activate a player at another position for the last two weeks.
Quarterback Jay Schroeder also was hurt. Schroeder, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 175 yards and a five-yard touchdown to Gary Clark, said he cracked at least one rib on his right side in the first quarter and had trouble breathing the rest of the game.
"I couldn't take a deep breath," he said. He was injured when defensive end Reggie White crashed into him as he tried a jump pass in a crowd. To add insult to injury, it was intercepted.
Schroeder has cracked some ribs before: three on one tackle in high school, two on one hit in college.
"From past experience, it'll be real sore tomorrow," said Schroeder, who nonetheless is expected to play next week with a flak jacket.
Working in very strange ways, the Redskins were down, 5-3, late in the third quarter. Needing a lift (and perhaps a three-run homer), they got it, but they didn't know it at the time.
Veteran quarterback Ron Jaworski, who completed only two passes in the first half, finally stepped up and located old reliables John Spagnola and Mike Quick on a drive from the Philadelphia 29 to the Washington eight.
On third and two, he figured he'd throw down the middle to Kenny Jackson in the end zone. Dean was with him.
But free safety Curtis Jordan was in front of them both, playing center field, as usual. To Jordan's surprise, the pass hit him, but was too hot to handle as it bounced off his legs onto the turf.
To everyone's surprise, penalty flags popped up everywhere, and the Redskins were at fault. Offside on several members of the defensive line, pass interference on Dean in the end zone, unsportsmanlike conduct on Dean for throwing his helmet when he heard about the interference call.
Faced with a multiple choice, the Eagles picked B, took their first down at the one, and handed off to Earnest Jackson for a touchdown and a 12-3 lead with 18 minutes left in the game.
Gibbs was livid.
"It all was called incorrectly," he said. "Our guy was about to intercept the ball, so you can't be called for interference. They didn't know what they called . . . Then they call the helmet. We see guys all the time throwing their hat down."
After mentioning all this (and undoubtedly much more) to field judge Don Hakes during a TV timeout, Gibbs stepped back, clapped his hands and told his troops to get going.
Schroeder ran into the huddle, looked around and liked what he saw.
"Everybody got a little fire in their eye," he said.
"We felt we were going against the odds," said tackle Mark May, who sprained his ankle in the game. "It ticked us off."
The Redskins play well ticked off. After the kickoff, they scored in four plays: Monk's 39-yard finger-tip catch, Rogers' one-yard run, Monk's seven-yard reception, and Rogers' 28-yard touchdown.
Running behind Russ Grimm, he turned right at the line, broke free from linebacker Reggie Wilkes and burst into the end zone, so happy with the 27th birthday present he had just given himself. The Redskins were back to 12-10 with a bit more than a quarter to go.
They went ahead midway through the fourth quarter on a drive shouldered by Rogers' rushes and Monk's catches until its last play.
Green's 20-yard punt return set them up at the Eagles' 49. Six minutes later, on second down from the five, Schroeder called for Clark on a quick slant to the left, and, voila, there was the touchdown and the lead.
The Eagles (6-8) had three more possessions: the first going nowhere, the second reaching the Washington three before it ran into linebacker Rich Milot, the third ending with Jordan's interception at the Redskin 10.
"I think everybody got their money's worth," Gibbs said.
To offer a few statistics: Rogers, who replaced 36-year-old veteran John Riggins as starter, carried 36 times for 150 yards. It was the most carries for a Redskin in a regular season game.
"I felt like I was doing the Riggo Drill," Rogers said. "I think it probably still will be called the Riggo Drill, but I'll be running it."
Rogers pleased Gibbs to no end, leaving little doubt he is the new starter. Riggins never got a chance to pull his stocking cap off.
"John told me, 'Keep going. Don't slow down,' " Rogers said.
To keep things balanced, Monk caught seven passes for 109 yards, continually getting the Redskins out of jams. It was his fifth 100-yard game in six weeks.
In the first half, mistake begot mistake. Schroeder was intercepted at the Redskins' 46; the next play, Jaworski was intercepted by middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz at the 25.
Just minutes later, Evan Cooper returned a punt 56 yards to the Washington 25; on the next play, Earnest Jackson fumbled when Milot hit him, and Jordan recovered.
The dueling mistakes reached down deep to the Redskins' feet. Mark Moseley left a 47-yard field goal attempt a good five yards short early in the second quarter; on the next drive, punter Steve Cox tried a 48-yarder and watched it drop a foot or two short.
Things got worse. With Jenkins gone, Green broke this way and that for 89 yards on a punt return that looked like the first touchdown.
But Barry Wilburn was penalized for a controversial illegal block above the waist -- sending the Redskins into their first fit of the afternoon -- and there was no touchdown, no nothing.
Pushed back to the 10, Schroeder was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone and the Eagles led, 2-0.
It soon was 5-0 on barefoot Paul McFadden's 44-yard field goal, but Moseley answered with a 32-yarder of his own with 20 seconds left in the first half.