The Cincinnati Bengals, who had riddled the Dallas Cowboys' defense in a 50-24 victory one week earlier, scored on four of their first five possessions yesterday, and there was no indication when the barrage instigated by a no-huddle offense would end.
By the middle of the second quarter, however, the Redskins elected to go strictly with a zone defense -- something they rarely do -- and they shut out the Bengals for the final 43 minutes in a 27-24 Washington victory.
"For a moment, I thought they might run it up on us like they did to Dallas," said Washington defensive end Dexter Manley. "We couldn't get our defensive calls straight because of the no-huddle. I was afraid if they kept this up, the score might be 70-0."
By the time Jim Breech kicked a 38-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 24-7 lead with 13:24 to go in the second quarter, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason had completed six of nine passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
Compounding Washington's problem was that cornerback Vernon Dean suffered bruised ribs midway through the first half. He was replaced by little-used rookie Kevin Williams, often giving the Redskins three rookies (including safety Raphel Cherry and cornerback Barry Wilburn) in the secondary.
"They started picking on Raphel right away, and then on the first play that I came in, I was barely loosened up when I see (Cris) Collinsworth going deep on me," said Wilburn.
He was beaten for a 47-yard completion on that play, but settled down to have an excellent second half.
"They had us so confused -- they used three wide receivers, four wide receivers, wide receivers in the backfield and one time, the quarterback lined up at wide receiver and one of the wide receivers (Eddie Brown) lined up at quarterback . . . I knew we would eventually stop them. I just didn't know when."
Increased pressure from Washington's defensive line, the Bengals' failure to establish the run and Cincinnati's choice not to use its no-huddle tactics again until midway in the fourth quarter helped stabilize Washington's overall defensive effort.
Esiason completed 16 of 30 for 155 yards and two interceptions after his torrid start. He also ended as the leading rusher (21 yards on four carries) for a team that entered the game as the No. 2 rushing team in the AFC.
The Bengals had been averaging 146 yards per game rushing; they got 69 yesterday.
Esiason said the Bengals intended to pick on Wilburn as much as possible.
"We were really going after one guy," he said. "They just started covering up for him."
Free safety Curtis Jordan, who calls Washington's defensive signals, admitted concern as he and Darrell Green played together with three rookies much of the second half.
"Cris is tricky. He was giving Barry an education over there," said Jordan. "Finally, I told Barry I would take away the slant for him."
Late in the first half, Wilburn was called for a penalty nullifying a punt return by Green for a touchdown. It was the second straight week Wilburn had cost Washington a special teams touchdown, but this time he said the call inspired him.
"That penalty fired me up," said Wilburn.
"Coach Gibbs said to me, 'Don't worry about it; there is a lot of defense to play today.'
"Then I told everybody, 'We are going to shut them down the rest of the way.' "