The Washington Redskins feared this game for many reasons, especially because it came a week after an emotional loss to the New York Giants and a week before a rematch in the Meadowlands.
They also feared it because games with the Philadelphia Eagles sometimes resemble street fights and, at times, yesterday's certainly did. The Redskins survived, though, defeating the Eagles, 13-7, before 53,567 at RFK Stadium.
The outcome leaves the Redskins (4-2) two games behind the Giants (6-0) and virtually eliminates the Eagles (2-4) from the NFC East title race. The Redskins now face the toughest three weeks of their season, going on the road for games at New York, Detroit and Philadelphia.
"That was a typical NFC East game out there," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Real physical and hard-hitting and I'm thrilled we got out of it with the win. Now we've got to set our sights on the Giants and see if we can find some answers."
The Redskins won because of a defense that again was tremendous, sacking Randall Cunningham five times and knocking the quicksilver quarterback on his back several other times. He got the Eagles into the end zone only with 43 seconds remaining when wide receiver Fred Barnett won a jump ball there with cornerback Darrell Green for a nine-yard pass.
The Redskins' defense the 59 minutes before that more than made up for an offense that had a laundry list of mistakes and misplays. Chip Lohmiller missed four field-goal tries and Stan Humphries -- 14 of 31 for 200 yards -- had an erratic afternoon, throwing five passes that bounced out of the hands of Eagles defensive backs.
In fairness to Humphries, he didn't have the easiest of days either. He was twice knocked into mild fog, once on a forearm shiver to the head by linebacker Byron Evans. He also walked off in the fourth quarter with a one-inch lump on his left hand. Gibbs was so certain the hand was broken he told backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge to get ready, but Humphries was in on the next possession.
Later Humphries acknowledged the mistakes, saying: "As long as we win, I've done my job. We've moved the ball all day long, but made too many mental errors or bad throws."
He also made just enough big plays, especially late in the first half when he completed passes of 33 yards to Gary Clark and 44 yards to Art Monk to set up Gerald Riggs's one-yard touchdown plunge. Monk helped assure the victory when he recovered an Eagles onside kick following their touchdown.
Though the Redskins weren't perfect, they weren't the Eagles either. Coach Buddy Ryan has developed a swaggering, freewheeling style that prides itself on intimidation and taking a few penalties.
The Eagles took more than a few yesterday. The Redskins didn't have a turnover for the fourth time in six games, but the Eagles were penalized seven times for 70 yards. Safety Andre Waters spent a quiet day in the secondary, but the Redskins can thank other Eagles for penalties that boosted both their second-half scoring drives.
Another Washington drive stayed alive when safety Wes Hopkins came on to the field to argue and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"You can't knock our effort," Ryan said. "My God, they got after it. It was a hard-hitting game. We thought we were good enough to beat them and they probably think we're good enough to beat them too. But we didn't do it."
The Redskins won most of these smaller battles and the bigger one. But this victory extracted a price.
"I'm so sore I can barely pull my shirt on," Redskins center Jeff Bostic said, speaking for several others.
Defensive end Markus Koch suffered a sprained left knee expected to sideline him "a week or longer," Gibbs said.
Koch's injury means that last year's starter at right end, Fred Stokes, will be back in the starting lineup. The Redskins rotated defensive linemen to keep fresh people running at Cunningham and the result was that Tim Johnson had two sacks and Eric Williams one.
Johnson had been a starter in Pittsburgh and Williams in Detroit. But when they joined the Redskins this season, they were forced to deal with playing only in pass-rushing situations. Both may have gotten their formal baptisms yesterday. Charles Mann and Stokes had the other sacks and linebacker Wilber Marshall forced a fumble.
"You've got to have a lot of discipline with a guy like Cunningham," Johnson said. "He only needs a hole so big and he's gone 10, 20, 30 yards. You really have to stay in your lanes."
A week ago the Redskins had dominated the ball (35 1/2 minutes), but scored only 20 points. Yesterday's game started the same way, with Washington driving 43 and 49 yards its first two possessions.
Lohmiller ended the first drive by missing from 51 yards, the second by missing from 48. In between, the Eagles gave the Redskins their only scare of the first half, Cunningham's 49-yard touchdown pass to Barnett on which tackle Ron Heller was called for holding Koch.
Lohmiller would also miss from 41 and 50 before hitting from 33 and 39 in the second half.
The Redskins' third possession ended with Brian Davis downing Ralf Mojsiejenko's punt at the 1. In a game of field position, the Redskins had grabbed one of the ultimate advantages. At least until Cunningham dumped off a 10-yard pass to tight end Keith Jackson that started an 88-yard drive.
That march stalled 16 plays and nine minutes later when Todd Bowles separated Jackson from the ball in the end zone. Roger Ruzek trotted out and missed a 28-yard field goal attempt to leave it 0-0 with 2:53 left in the half.
The Redskins got the ball back at the 20 and Riggs (52 yards, 14 carries) gained two. The two-minute warning arrived and the fans let Gibbs know they were not happy about the idea of running out the clock.
Humphries then threw an incompletion but, on third down and facing a heavy rush including a hit by Evans that leveled him, Humphries passed down the middle for Clark.
The wide receiver reached behind him and snared the ball for a 33-yard gain to the Philadelphia 45. "Give Gary the credit for that one," Humphries said. "He reached back and made a great catch."
Clark: "I just looked up and it was there. I guess it stuck."
Humphries threw one more incompletion, then lofted one down the left sideline. Monk had beaten Hopkins and made the catch sliding out of bounds at the 1.
"Art ran a deep route past their zone, right through their zone," Humphries said. "A great play."
Riggs scored on the next play and the Redskins led, 7-0.
Stokes opened the second half by stripping Cunningham of the ball. Darryl Grant recovered at the Philadelphia 31 and four plays later Lohmiller missed from 50.
But the Redskins weren't allowing the Eagles anything and on the final Washington possession of the third quarter they began an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Lohmiller's 33-yard field goal.
Humphries connected with Clark for 10 to the Washington 36 as the quarter ended, then opened the fourth with a 19-yarder to Jimmie Johnson, who made an over-the-shoulder catch between defenders. Earnest Byner (46 yards, 16 carries) picked up seven to the 38.
Evans was flagged for flogging Humphries, and Byner gained five and two before Humphries missed Clark. Lohmiller's field goal made it 10-0 with 12:03 left.
The Eagles again couldn't move and the Redskins drove 40 yards to line up Lohmiller for a 39-yarder with 6:36 left. The Eagles had made another big mistake, a 15-yard penalty on cornerback Izel Jenkins for slapping tackle Ed Simmons.
Finally, with 2:35 left, the Eagles put together a drive, 77 yards in 11 plays to close to 13-7. But when Monk covered the onside kick, the Redskins had won.
"It was a typical story so far," Clark said. "We're just not scoring touchdowns. We played great defense and that saved us."