Joe Gibbs called it "a classic NFC East game." He didn't mean that books will be written about it or that stories will be told a dozen years from now. He didn't mean that NFL Films will be forever discovering secrets of how the Washington Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 13-7, on Sunday at RFK Stadium.
But for an afternoon in October, it wasn't bad. It was a game where two of the NFL's best defenses played at their highest level, a game of tension and emotion and a game that kept the Redskins (4-2) in sight of the NFC East championship as they prepare for a rematch with the unbeaten New York Giants (6-0) at the Meadowlands this weekend.
Gibbs, having reviewed the films, said he saw what others did: that four missed field goals by Chip Lohmiller would have made a huge difference. He saw too that quarterback Stan Humphries missed some plays.
But Gibbs also saw a defense that again was outstanding, sacking Randall Cunningham five times, shutting out the Eagles for 59 minutes and limiting them to 270 yards of offense. Redskins coaches and executives lined up to watch a couple of hits involving linebacker Wilber Marshall, and Gibbs said it bothered him that more people couldn't appreciate the game for what it was.
"Sometimes, I'm kind of amazed," he said. "I think we've lost our appreciation for real battles. It's a shame because you're missing some of the best things in football. You get a hard-hitting game that may be only 13-7, but it seems that's not what we want today. We'd rather see a 36-35 game where everyone plays as sloppy as you can."
He said Sunday's game was "very physical and ought to have been respected for that. There was big-time hitting in that game. There were a lot of shots passed out and it wound up being defensive because teams didn't turn the ball over. That happens sometimes in those kinds of games.
"It's amazing to me the offense gets the attention and it's what everybody talks about. But the bottom line in the NFL normally is your defense. It's what will have the most say about getting you to the playoffs. It's more consistent, it can be more consistent each week and it can lead you. Offense will be spotty from week to week."
"He made some very good plays and competed again very hard. But there were several times he got balls in their hands and you don't want that to happen. There's some good news and bad news."
-- Joe Gibbs on Stan Humphries
If it's defense that gets teams to the playoffs, the Redskins should be happy campers. This was the team that was going to win despite their defense, not because of it.
But after six weeks, the Redskins have allowed 82 points, second only to the 75 allowed by the Chicago Bears.
That defense has the NFL's fourth-best turnover differential, and among teams who've played only six games, the Redskins are second to the Miami Dolphins in sacks -- 22 to 19. They're on a pace for 51, which won't touch the club record of 66 in 1984, but far outdistances last season's 41.
(Meanwhile, the Redskins have allowed only four sacks -- the low in the NFL.)
Those 19 sacks have come from eight players, with Marshall, Charles Mann, Tim Johnson and Fred Stokes getting three apiece.
Humphries completed 14 of 31 for 200 yards Sunday. He didn't throw a touchdown pass for a second straight week, but he didn't throw an interception either. And while Humphries made some mistakes, Gibbs and several of his players went out of their way to compliment the quarterback for his toughness and his leadership.
The Eagles dropped at least three would-be interceptions, but Humphries had a terrific 33-yard throw to Gary Clark at the end of the first half. Art Monk then made a sliding 44-yard catch at the 1 to set up Gerald Riggs's touchdown run -- the only Washington touchdown of the game.
"Stan played with a lot of guts and showed a lot of leadership," Clark said. "They had pressure on him all day and he never wilted. He took some shots and got back up. He was out there scrambling and making some plays. He has great leadership qualities and people notice that."
Humphries wasn't sacked, but he was knocked down six times and took some hard shots. At one point, Humphries and Gibbs thought he'd broken his left hand, and he was nearly knocked out after linebacker Byron Evans leveled him with a shot to the head.
(An NFL source said the league is reviewing the play by Evans and that a fine could be coming late this week. Eagles safety Andre Waters was fined $10,000 last week for a shot on Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon.)
Gibbs agreed that Humphries had very nearly made some disastrous mistakes, but again emphasized that he was making only his third NFL start and that he learns something almost every time he snaps the ball.
"He made some very good plays and competed again very hard," Gibbs said. "But there were several times he got balls in their hands and you don't want that to happen. There's some good news and bad news. I like Stan. He's very competitive and he showed a toughness in wanting to compete. And he showed talent. There's a couple of real good plays he made that most people wouldn't recognize. There's also three plays in there where we could have gotten in trouble. One of them wasn't his fault. It was a missed breakoff on a blitz. But this is something he's going to have to learn and become convinced of. If we don't turn the ball over against the Giants, we're going to have a good chance of winning."
So for the second time in three weeks, it's the Redskins and Giants. With the NFC collapsing around them, the Redskins could be headed for the playoffs no matter what they do against the Giants.
But to have any chance of winning the NFC East, the Redskins probably have to beat a team that has dominated them in recent years. The Giants have won eight of the last nine nonstrike games, including five in a row.
They've all been close. The Giants won, 24-20, at RFK last week, and the last four meetings have been decided by a total of 11 points.
"Our number one goal was to get back to the playoffs, and like everybody else, I'm adding up the numbers, seeing who's in there with us," Gibbs said. "First of all, we just want to get in. Second, we'd like to win the division, and this game is very important for that. The players will make up their minds about how important this game is. It's super important, but does it mean we won't make the playoffs if we don't win? No."