With 24 seconds to play at RFK Stadium last night, Doug Williams' 46th and final pass hurtled toward the end zone, into the outstretched hands of Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk. Monk jumped. The ball hit his hands.
In the split second it took for the ball to bounce through Monk's fingers and into the hands of Los Angeles cornerback LeRoy Irvin, Williams' rally to victory became the Washington Redskins' heartbreaking loss.
The Rams upset the Redskins last night, 30-26, before 53,614 spectators as Washington simply ran out of time to make up for first-half mistakes by its special teams and the defense's inability to stop the Rams in the second half.
Despite the loss, the Redskins (7-3) retained a two-game lead in the NFC East with the New York Giants (3-7) coming to town Sunday. The Rams improved to 3-7 with their second consecutive win.
Williams, starting in place of Jay Schroeder, completed 24 of 46 passes for 308 yards. He threw two touchdown passes to Monk and also scored on a one-yard run. But his fumble on a sack on the third play of the game also gave the Rams their first touchdown.
"Doug did a great job of moving us down the field," wide receiver Gary Clark said. "What more could the guy have done? He was on it all night and that last drive was no different."
Behind, 7-0, in the first 95 seconds of the game, the Redskins time and again clawed their way back, only to watch the Rams move back ahead. With 1:49 left to play, the Redskins had their final chance to win, down by four points with 70 yards to travel and no timeouts remaining. They couldn't do it, but they came awfully close.
Three short completions and a pass-interference call put the ball at the Rams 31 with 40 seconds left. After an incompletion, Williams threw to a leaping Clark, who made a sideline grab for a 17-yard gain to the 14.
Now there were 29 seconds to play. Over the middle, in the end zone, Monk had split two defenders. Williams fired the ball into Monk's hands. It would have been a difficult catch, but it was the type of play Monk almost always makes. He dropped the ball as he was hit, fell to the ground, picked himself up and headed back to the huddle to try again.
With 24 seconds left, Williams tried Monk again. This pass was a bit tougher, but still within Monk's reach. But it bounced out of his hands and into Irvin's for an interception and touchback with 19 seconds to play. The game was over. The crowd fell silent. The Rams jumped for joy. The Redskins dropped to their knees.
They could have won the game with a miracle comeback. Instead, they lost it with uncharacteristic blunders.
"We gave up a sack for a touchdown, we got a punt blocked, we got a kick run back for a touchdown . . . you can't give up those kinds of plays to a team like the Rams and win," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Obviously, we're very concerned . . . Our special teams, in particular, are killing us."
On their way to a 23-16 first-half lead, the Rams relied on almost everything but their offense. They scored a touchdown on Williams' fumble and on Ron Brown's 95-yard kickoff return and had another set up on a blocked Steve Cox punt inside the 5. With special teams and a defense like that, who needs an offense?
From the Redskins' point of view, the first half was an awful mixture of special teams errors and dropped passes. Yet they still were in the game, thanks to a late drive for Williams' one-yard touchdown run with 1:15 left.
Williams' debut as Washington's starter began inauspiciously. On his first third down, he dropped back to pass and cocked his arm. By then, defensive end Gary Jeter had blown past former replacement guard Darrick Brilz into the Redskins' backfield. Jeter slammed into Williams, sending the ball into the hands of linebacker Mike Wilcher.
Wilcher, who went to Eastern High School in the District, broke free from the crowd near the line and ran 35 yards into the end zone for the touchdown with 13:25 to play in the first quarter. The Redskins and the capacity crowd were stunned.
Eight minutes later, the Redskins scored their first touchdown because of the savvy of a couple veterans. It looked like Williams and Monk had played together for years on this play. Monk ran a down-and-out pattern on the right sideline as Williams rolled to his right. Cornerback Jerry Gray, who was covering Monk, apparently thought Williams might run and took several steps in. Seeing that, Monk dashed backwards into the end zone, where Williams' pass found him all alone for the touchdown with 5:46 left in the quarter.
The Redskins could not tie the game, though, because Ali Haji-Sheikh missed the extra point. In what has become commonplace for Redskins kickers, Haji-Sheikh hit the right upright, and the score stood at 7-6.
Washington drove 42 yards in nine plays the next time it had the ball for a 22-yard Haji-Sheikh field goal and a 9-7 advantage.
The lead was short-lived. Eighteen seconds later, Brown, an Olympic gold medalist in 1984, sprinted 95 yards with the kickoff for a touchdown. He began his run with a phalanx of five blockers along the right sideline, then cut across the middle of the field and barely outraced safety-valve Darrell Green into the end zone. The Rams led, 14-9, with 35 seconds left in the first quarter and had run only six offensive plays.
Mike Lansford added a 37-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. Then, two series later, Rams veteran Nolan Cromwell blocked Cox's punt and the Rams took over at the Washington 2. Two plays later, Charles White hurdled the middle and the Rams were up, 23-9. Cox, who had several other punts nearly blocked in the first half, seemed to take four steps before punting. That's at least one step more than usual.
But the Redskins were not yet done. They took the ensuing kickoff and relied on three Williams completions to reach the Rams 5. The most important was a 62-yard catch and run by Monk over the middle. From the 5, Rogers tried the right side twice before Williams faked a handoff and bootlegged into the right corner of the end zone for his first touchdown as a Redskin.
The Redskins began their first two second-half possessions in Rams territory, but had only three points to show for it.
The first drive began at the Los Angeles 44 and ended at the 44 when Clark dropped a well-thrown Williams pass on third down. It was Clark's second drop; Monk also had two up to that point, before the final series.
On the next drive, Haji-Sheikh kicked a 29-yard field goal, and, with 7:03 left in the quarter, the Redskins were within four, 23-19.
At that point, the Rams' offense finally put together a touchdown drive. There was one near-miss, when Brown dropped a perfect Jim Everett bomb after he had faked out cornerback Barry Wilburn.
But Brown was not about to miss his next chance. On second down and 14 at the Washington 26, Everett again called Brown's number, firing to his wide receiver between Wilburn and free safety Todd Bowles.
This time, Brown hung on and scored, and the Rams were back ahead by 11, 30-19, with 3:38 left in the quarter.
But in less than four minutes, the Redskins scored again. It appeared they were stopped after an incompletion on third down, but linebacker Kevin Greene was called for a personal foul, and the Redskins' drive was alive.
Soon, Williams lofted a soft 20-yard pass to tight end Clint Didier to the Rams 28.
Then, moments later, he fired to Monk crossing over the middle of the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-26 score with 14:56 to play.
As it turned out, there was to be no more scoring.
"Doug fought his guts out," Gibbs said. "He had some big plays. It was too bad the last one got away."