The Washington Redskins almost waited too long to come back to work yesterday afternoon at RFK Stadium. Gone for a month on strike, many of the Redskins stayed away for another 3 1/2 quarters of their first game back.
But when they returned to their old selves, they did so with a vengeance. Trailing the New York Jets by nine points in the final six minutes, they got a touchdown from Kelvin Bryant and Ali Haji-Sheikh's 28-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining to prevail, 17-16.
The victory improved the Redskins' record to 5-1, two games ahead of any other team in the NFC East. Perhaps as important, the Redskins finally seemed to win back their 53,497 impatient fans, many of whom booed the team loudly in the second half, chanted, "We Want the Scabs" or "We Want Doug (Williams)," and then came back to the fold with relentless cheers as the game drew to a close.
The Redskins won because they did a complete about-face with eight minutes left. In falling behind 16-7, the Washington offense was lifeless. And then, all of a sudden, everything changed.
Quarterback Jay Schroeder had completed only nine of 28 passes when he walked to the line with 7:54 to play and the Redskins on their 39, down by nine.
On first down, Schroeder swung a pass to Bryant toward the right sideline for 15 yards. After an incompletion, Schroeder again threw to Bryant, crossing over the middle of the field, for a 39-yard pass, run and chase through the Jets' defensive backfield.
With the ball now at the 7, Schroeder threw another incompletion, then a five-yard pass to wide receiver Art Monk, before finding Bryant for a two-yard scoring pass with 5:55 to play.
The score stood at 16-14 when the Jets, after a 57-yard kickoff return by JoJo Townsell, were stopped cold by the Washington defense at the Redskins 42. Dave Jennings' punt went to the Washington 21 and the Redskins offense was back with 3:32 to play.
Schroeder found wide receiver Gary Clark along the right sideline for 11 yards, then threw two more incompletions, the last of his long afternoon.
On third down at the 32, Schroeder threw the game's most important pass. He spotted wide receiver Ricky Sanders deep, with a step on safety Harry Hamilton. Schroeder got the ball to him 39 yards downfield, at the New York 29. Little more than two minutes remained.
From that moment on, the Redskins set up a field goal, a risky proposition at best for this team in the last year or so. Coach Joe Gibbs said he had a "gut feeling" Haji-Sheikh would make his first field goal as a Redskin after a prestrike miss in Atlanta a month ago (because of a bad snap) and a 40-yard miss earlier in the game.
He was right.
First, though, Bryant ran 14 yards to the 15, then he and Schroeder gained a yard each on successive carries before Bryant ran for two on third down. Bryant entered the game in the fourth quarter after twice telling Gibbs earlier in the game his pulled right hamstring was too sore to play. Gibbs decided not to ask Bryant how he felt the last time. He just put him in. Bryant ended up with 84 total yards on three rushes and four receptions in about 10 minutes work.
As the Redskins ran their final plays, the Jets were forced to use their timeouts to stop the clock for their final shot at victory. After the last timeout, Haji-Sheikh kicked his 28-yard field goal for the lead.
"As a kicker, you lie awake at night thinking about kicking a field goal with the game on the line," Haji-Sheikh said. "I tried to thump it."
During the last two series, Schroeder completed six of 10 passes for 111 yards. His game totals were 15 of 38 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, with 9:31 remaining in the game.
As hard as the Redskins seemed to try to give the game away before the last eight minutes, the Jets (3-3) seemed incapable of taking it. When Jets safety Rich Miano intercepted Schroeder at the New York 26, Coach Joe Walton ordered his team into a conservative attack.
After two carries by running back Johnny Hector got the Jets one yard, quarterback Ken O'Brien threw incomplete deep and the Jets had to punt, setting up the Washington touchdown drive. When asked about his play selection, Walton said, "We try to score on every play."
After the Redskins took the lead, the Jets had a final chance when, after the kickoff, they began at their 25 with 46 seconds left. After two completions, they were at the Washington 45 with 10 seconds to go. Instead of throwing a short sideline route to set up a reasonable field-goal attempt, O'Brien threw a bomb into the end zone that fell incomplete.
Then, with three seconds to play, Pat Leahy, who made three field goals, badly missed a 62-yard attempt.
"On the next-to-last play, they were playing for the out balls and that is why we went long," Walton said.
Led by free-lancing linebacker Monte Coleman's eight tackles, six assists and 2 1/2 sacks and defensive end Charles Mann's three sacks, the Redskins allowed the Jets only 200 total yards to their 378.
The Jets only reached Washington territory twice in the first half, settling for one Leahy field goal of 33 yards with 2:25 left. The Redskins scored first on Schroeder's 20-yard pass to Clark with 11:21 left in the first half.
With the Redskins special teams lacking the emotion -- and performance -- of their replacement counterparts, the game dragged through the third quarter. The Jets inched closer, 7-6, on Leahy's 23-yard field goal with 7:39 left in the third quarter, then took the lead, 13-7, on tight end Mickey Shuler's reaching 15-yard scoring catch with six seconds left in the third quarter.
It wouldn't have been a real game if the Redskins didn't suffer more injuries. Reserve linebacker Anthony Copeland tore ligaments in his left knee on the second-half kickoff and will undergo surgery today. He likely will be lost for the season.
Defensive tackle Dave Butz, suffering from the flu, checked himself out of Arlington Hospital yesterday morning to play, then went back last night. Butz said he has lost about 21 pounds the last week. Offensive tackle Mark May dislocated a finger and guard R.C. Thielemann sprained a toe.
Craig McEwen, a standout replacement six days ago at Dallas, did not play.
Jets' defensive end Mark Gastineau, who crossed his teammates' picket line the first day of the strike, had no sacks or tackles.