At the very moment Washington Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder's worst nightmare came to pass, backup quarterback Doug Williams' dream came true.
Yesterday afternoon in front of 53,593 at RFK Stadium, the Redskins won a football game over Detroit, 20-13, and officially kicked off a new quarterback controversy.
For the first time in his seven seasons as head coach, Joe Gibbs changed his quarterbacks with a game still hanging in the balance. At the seven-minute mark of the first half, with the score tied, 3-3, Gibbs benched the slumping Schroeder and put in Williams. With the crowd cheering in the background, the 32-year-old veteran promptly led the Redskins to two touchdowns and a 17-3 halftime lead they never lost, although the offense did not play well in the second half.
The Redskins (7-2) held their two-game lead in the NFC East over the Dallas Cowboys (5-4), while the Lions fell to 2-7. Next week, the Redskins play on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, and Gibbs already has made his decision on who will start at quarterback. It's Williams.
Schroeder was not the only player to leave the game. Veteran offensive lineman Jeff Bostic was called upon to replace guard Ed Simmons when the rookie sprained his right knee late in the first half. After being called for two holding penalties, Bostic was replaced late in the game by rookie Darrick Brilz. It's possible rookie Ray Hitchcock will be activated if Simmons' injury is serious.
Running back George Rogers continued to be plagued by injuries when he pulled up lame late in the first half with a strained groin and was replaced by various running backs. Rogers said he would be able to play against the Rams.
In a game in which the momentous meshed with the routine, Williams completed 11 of 18 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, a 16-yard strike to running back Kelvin Bryant with 2:27 left in the half and a 42-yard bomb to wide receiver Gary Clark with only 27 seconds remaining.
Washington's offense coasted the rest of the way, although that certainly was not the plan. The final 12 minutes of the game were played in Redskins territory; two interceptions by an opportunistic secondary were the only thing to save the Redskins from possible overtime.
Cornerback Barry Wilburn intercepted Detroit quarterback Chuck Long at the Washington 2 with 11:04 left, and cornerback Darrell Green stopped the Lions' final drive with an interception at the 15 with one minute to go. It was Wilburn's sixth consecutive game with an interception. It was Green's third interception of the game, ending a personal season-long slump for the Pro Bowl player.
Schroeder, another Pro Bowl performer seeking to pull himself out of a bad stretch, had a different fate. He watched the last 37 minutes of the game from the sideline, where he silently stood with his arms crossed. This was after he nearly threw two interceptions, overthrew Clark and tight end Clint Didier on pass patterns he used to hit with regularity, and fumbled on a sack on what became his last play at quarterback yesterday. Overall, he was five for 10 for 33 yards.
Schroeder offered no explanations and left the locker room in a hurry. Gibbs said it was time for Schroeder to receive some personal attention on his passing game, and planned for quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome to work with Schroeder this week on another practice field, something Schroeder hasn't done much since replacing Joe Theismann almost two years ago.
What's wrong with Schroeder? Gibbs said his accuracy is down, and that the reason might be the sprained right shoulder he suffered in the first game of the season, combined with the four-week layoff during the strike.
"I may have rushed him back," Gibbs said. "He's as intense as ever, as tough as ever. The difference is he's not as accurate."
Williams, who started the Atlanta game in the second week of the season, said he had no illusions about his role as the starter over the long haul.
"Jay is the future of the Redskins," Williams said.
All of this spiced up the Redskins' 14th consecutive victory over the Lions in Washington. The Lions never have won here, although this game was much closer than most anticipated.
After Eddie Murray and Ali Haji-Sheikh exchanged field goals, Williams entered in a no-lose situation. The crowd immediately was on his side. He threw a long incompletion on first down, but there was no stopping the Redskins on this drive. Bryant ran for 10 yards, then Rogers went for four. Williams ran a fake reverse for seven, setting up his first pass, a mere six-yarder, to Art Monk. Rogers pulled the muscle on his next run, good for 10 more yards, before Williams connected with Clark over the middle for 24 yards.
On second down at the 16 moments later, Williams threw to Bryant on a crossing pattern for the touchdown that put Washington ahead to stay with 2:27 left in the first half.
With 1:25 to go, after a Lions punt, Williams started at the Washington 39. He threw four consecutive completions -- short, short, short, long -- and the Redskins were in the end zone again. On the touchdown pass, Williams stepped up in traffic and threw long to Clark, who caught the 42-yard scoring pass and joyously high-fived and fun-bunched his way to the sideline with 27 seconds left. The Redskins led, 17-3.
Murray connected on a 41-yard field goal on the Lions' first possession of the second half to close the gap to 17-6, but Haji-Sheikh made a 41-yard field goal on the Redskins' first drive for a 20-6 lead. Schroeder continued to hold on placements, his only second-half duty.
The Lions roared back to within a touchdown on running back Karl Bernard's two-yard run with 1:51 to play in the third quarter. On that drive, Long continued to exploit what looked to be the over-cautious side of the Redskins secondary. Although the secondary had four interceptions, it appeared to play off Lions receivers, allowing completion after completion underneath. Long finished 23 for 37 for 249 yards, but no touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, the Lions were constantly threatening and the Williams-led offense was nearly invisible. Not so the crowd. Four times on a third-down-and-10 play at the Washington 30 with 5:31 left, Long tried to call signals, but stepped back because he couldn't hear himself. It got so bad Gibbs was called upon to step onto the field and wave his hands for silence. The crowd wouldn't even pay attention to Gibbs. When Long finally got the play off, he was ignominiously sacked by linebacker Monte Coleman for an 11-yard loss.
The Lions reached the Washington 14 on their last drive before Green made his final interception.