Another week of second-guessing and self-doubt ended with another near-perfect performance for the Washington Redskins, who dominated the Miami Dolphins from beginning to end in winning, 42-20, before 53,599 at RFK Stadium yesterday.
The Redskins rolled up 467 yards on the NFL's top-rated defense and were never really stopped. Mark Rypien had perhaps his best day, completing 21 of 28 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He found Art Monk 10 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns, and Earnest Byner rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
It was the third-best day of Byner's seven-year career and his second 100-yard rushing day in three games. He made some brilliant runs, cutting back and weaving in and out of a defense that hadn't allowed any individual 100 yards this season. Byner also had the advantage of an offensive line that had a terrific day, clearing holes and holding the NFL's best pass-rushing team sackless for the first time.
The Redskins were no less impressive defensively as they intercepted Dan Marino twice and hurried him into a 17-for-33 day.
All of a sudden, the Redskins (7-5) appear back on the road to the playoffs, remaining a slight tiebreaker behind the Philadelphia Eagles (7-5) in the race for the home field in an opening-round game.
Yet, Gibbs said during the week that looking at possible playoff matchups had become secondary to going out and winning a game. The Redskins had beaten only one winning team in three seasons and this was a day to prove themselves capable of still doing it.
They did it so convincingly against the now 9-3 Dolphins that it was hard to remember these were the Redskins who had gone to Dallas on Thanksgiving and been whipped by the Cowboys, who needed a miracle comeback to win in Detroit and who haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 3 and 4.
Three or four times this season the Redskins have won or lost what appeared to be turning-point games, and each time they've come back with another terrific or horrific performance. So while they were ready to raise a glass to themselves this day, they held off on the party favors.
"They caught us at our absolute best," Coach Joe Gibbs said, "and it came at a good time. We've just been inconsistent and I have no idea why. Now, we'll see which team shows up next week. Will it be Elmer and the boys, or a good football team? I've driven myself nuts trying to figure it out."
This was a week the Redskins were challenged by their coaches, by the media and, finally, at a players-only meeting Saturday night, by themselves. Monk called the meeting to discuss leadership, effort and that this team still has a chance to prove it's good.
"This team has to realize it has to play hard every Sunday," offensive lineman Joe Jacoby said. "We can't rely on anyone else. We can't rely on things falling into our lap. We have to fly around and control things like we know we can. But this is only one game and we have to come out and do it again next week" when the 10-2 Chicago Bears visit RFK.
They did it this day by scoring touchdowns on three of their first four possessions and running up a 21-0 lead with 5:49 left in the first half. The Dolphins got just 54 yards their first five possessions as the Redskins used a variety of coverages and defensive fronts.
They sacked Marino only once, but were close enough most of the afternoon that he never could settle comfortably in the pocket. Cornerback Martin Mayhew intercepted Marino's fifth pass of the day, and the Redskins controlled everything except for one hairy minute in the third quarter when the Dolphins scored 14 points.
"They beat us pretty good," Marino said. "They didn't do anything different than they've been doing. We just didn't make the plays."
Washington opponents had scored first in five straight games and the Redskins were in danger of falling behind when Ralf Mojsiejenko's line-drive punt set up the Dolphins at the Washington 45.
On first down, though, Marino took a three-step drop and fired to the left sideline for Tony Martin. Mayhew read the play all the way, stepped in front of Martin and had his team-leading sixth interception. Mayhew may get more interceptions because he gets more chances, with Darrell Green playing at a Pro Bowl level on the other side..
That was the beginning. The Redskins took over and drove 61 yards in nine plays for a 7-0 lead with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Gibbs had promised to establish the run and did, Byner getting 24 yards on six carries. But Rypien's hot day also began here and his first big play went for 21 yards to Ricky Sanders on third and two.
The Dolphins ran three plays and punted, and the Redskins chopped off 63 yards in six plays. Monk scored on a six-yard catch 42 seconds into the second quarter.
On first down, Gibbs sent in two tight ends and appeared ready to establish the run. But Rypien hit Gary Clark down the middle for a 47-yard gain. Then on third and nine at the 15, he hit Monk with a 10-yarder.
Rypien found Monk again and again on quick sideline routes against Tim McKyer, one of the NFL's best man-to-man cornerbacks.
"That's an advantage of seeing a team only every year or two," Rypien said. "You don't want receivers to run past you, so maybe you play a little soft. We saw that route was there pretty much all day."
Once more, the Dolphins ran three plays and punted and the Redskins put together a good drive, 72 yards in 12 plays. Byner scored on a seven-yard run, but almost everything else worked as well.
Monk caught an 11-yarder in front of J.B. Brown on third and five. Byner gained three on fourth and one at the Miami 36. Brian Mitchell, making his debut at running back, relieved Byner and gained nine and four yards.
The Dolphins drove for a field goal just before halftime, after Sanders dropped a possession pass, and opened the second half with another to make it 21-6.
But the Redskins drove 72 yards with Jimmie Johnson catching a three-yard pass to make it 28-6. Byner picked up 29 yards on four carries and the Redskins were blowing off the ball so well they faced only one third down. That came at their 35, and Kelvin Bryant caught an 18-yard pass as Rypien was decked by linebacker Eric Kumerow.
The Dolphins again couldn't move and the Redskins drove 51 yards with Byner scoring on a 13-yard run to make it 35-6. That was the drive the Redskins debuted their biggest line in history when veteran Joe Jacoby subbed for Russ Grimm.
That teamed 6-foot-6, 290-pound Jim Lachey at left tackle and 6-7, 310-pound Jacoby at left guard -- the first time he has played guard since 1981. "He's so big, he blocked my view on some of those counters," Lachey said. "That was fun. We had it going pretty good by then."
Monk caught passes of 11 and 10, and when Byner broke through the left side and scored, he ran to the back of the end zone and greeted a few dozen fans.
That's when the Dolphins stirred for the only time. Marino hit James Pruitt with a 24-yard pass to make it 35-13 with 13:49 left in the fourth quarter. Nine seconds later, Jarvis Williams stepped in front of a Rypien sideline route and sped 42 yards to make it 35-20.
But, pressed that one time, the Redskins drove 82 yards in 13 plays and 8:55 to sew it up. Byner picked up 24 yards rushing, Monk and Clark made big catches and Monk scored on a seven-yard reception.
"We had to answer a few questions about ourselves," Grimm said. "We turned it up a notch today, but this is just one game. That was our brand of football out there today. But we can to come back and do it again next week. There comes a point where you either have to get it done or else. We'd just about reached that point."
at Giants........ 9....22....11....0
at Eagles........11....29.... 7....0
at Cowboys.......14....39.... 8....1