Almost everyone got what they wanted yesterday as the Buffalo Bills escaped without serious injury and with their dignity and the Washington Redskins finished an erratic regular season with a final positive punctuation mark.
The Redskins forced four turnovers and got a team-record tying five field goals from Chip Lohmiller to defeat the Bills, 29-14, before 52,397 at RFK Stadium.
They did it with 20 straight points -- including 17 in the fourth quarter -- with a terrific defensive performance, especially from linebacker Wilber Marshall, and with quarterback Mark Rypien and an offense that scored on seven of its 10 possessions.
It was exactly the kind of game they'd hoped to take into the playoffs, particularly after last weekend's stinging loss in Indianapolis. Although the Redskins (10-6) haven't been notified, an NFL source indicated last night that the Redskins and Eagles most likely would open the playoffs Saturday afternoon at Veterans Stadium.
That's what Coach Joe Gibbs expected even before he gave his players today and Tuesday off before returning Wednesday for a short, intense week of work.
"At this time of year, rest and getting the game plan ready are the most important things," Gibbs said. "We did this same thing about three weeks ago and it worked out."
The Bills (13-3) entered the game having already clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so they took the path of least resistance, resting quarterback Frank Reich, running back Thurman Thomas and other starters in the second half.
Still, the Bills were in the game most of the way. The Redskins led, 9-0, at the half and were in front only 12-7 after three quarters. But Lohmiller's fifth field goal made it 15-7 and Alvin Walton's 61-yard interception return set up a touchdown to wrap things up.
"We would have liked to have won the game," Bills Coach Marv Levy said. "When you know what the playoff picture is, you walk on eggs a little bit more in hopes someone doesn't get hurt. The Redskins are a darn good team. We weren't out there playing alone. But I'm glad to see we could get playing time for some of our other players."
The Redskins used running back Earnest Byner for only a half and he finished with 34 yards on 11 carries. That broke his string of 100-yard games at four but ended his best pro season with 1,219 yards -- the third-highest total in Redskins history.
With Philadelphia beating Phoenix Saturday and clinching the home field for next week's playoff opener, Gibbs could do some experimenting of his own. Gerald Riggs, returning after six weeks on injured reserve, was terrific in the second half, rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries. He also caught an 18-yard pass and looked like he'd barely missed a day.
"I wanted to use him a lot," Gibbs said. "There's no sense guessing what he could do next week. If Earnest needs a blow, we wanted to get him ready. I wanted to get him hit a lot because that's one thing you can't get in practice."
The other Washington priority had been to let Rypien throw and throw and throw, to get into the flow of the game and hopefully go to Philadelphia with a hot hand.
He wasn't spectacular, but he was certainly solid, completing 16 of 26 passes for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was at his best during one stretch in the second quarter when he hit six in a row, and for the day gave Gibbs a lot of reasons to be encouraged.
Playing on the road may not be a bad thing for Rypien, who was booed several times during the afternoon, twice when calling timeouts. Gibbs brushed off the booing, saying, "That's part of life in the NFL."
Rypien had trouble doing likewise and came close to venting his frustration when he said: "Everyone could hear them. Sometimes they've not treated me very well the last couple of years, and I get bent out of shape about it at times. I called time out and they boo. Whose fault is that? I do it because we didn't have the right people against what Buffalo was running. I go to the sidelines and the coaches say, 'Great job.' But I get booed. I know that's going to happen."
Gibbs: "He was solid. He made some excellent calls, and I had some things I wanted to take a look at. That made him look bad when they didn't work out, but I was the one that should have been booed."
Gibbs repeated that Rypien and the 1990 Redskins are a lot alike in that they've played well at times and not so well at times. He also emphasized that the way people remember the Redskins quarterback likely will be determined by how he plays in the playoffs.
Virtually the entire first half was played in Buffalo territory and the Redskins had to go only 18, 33, 78, 48, 39, 6 and 32 yards for their scores. Their first four possessions started in Buffalo's end of the field, mainly because the defense kept making big plays.
Marshall made three of them, getting a sack and forcing two fumbles. He sacked Reich on the third play of the game, and Rick Tuten's 29-yard punt and Brian Mitchell's 12-yard return started the Redskins at the Buffalo 38.
Art Monk gained nine on a reverse, Byner picked up gains of five and four, and after two incompletions, Lohmiller kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead 4:11 into the game.
Buffalo's next possession ended with Marshall stripping tight end Keith McKeller of the ball. He fell on it at the Buffalo 41, and Rypien hit Gary Clark for 16 and Joe Howard for seven. On fourth and one at the 16, Gibbs went for the first down, and Rypien's pass to Don Warren in the end zone was knocked away.
The Redskins got points when they got into Buffalo's end of the field. Lohmiller kicked a 24-yarder 1:19 into the second quarter and got a 19-yarder with a minute left in the half to make it 9-0.
"We missed some things down close," Rypien said, "and that's a concern."
Bills safety Leonard Smith intercepted Rypien's second pass of the second half, and the Bills drove 59 yards to make it 9-7. Kenneth Davis caught a 13-yard pass from quarterback Gale Gilbert for the score, but the Redskins helped the drive along with 38 yards in penalties -- 33 on an interference call against cornerback Darrell Green.
Lohmiller kicked his fourth field goal, a 43-yarder, with 4:25 left in the third quarter and his fifth, a 32-yarder, with 11:34 left in the fourth.
That made it 15-7, and when the Bills drove to the Washington 35, Gilbert threw for tight end Pete Metzelaars, who was running one-on-one with Walton.
"They'd run that same route a couple of times before," Walton said. "I was looking forward and read it all the way."
He stepped in front of Metzelaars at the 33 and came within six yards of his second touchdown of the season when Davis pulled him down.
"I'd pulled a hamstring earlier," he said, "and I knew someone might catch me. Then I fell on the ball and couldn't breath. I didn't get to celebrate."
That made it 22-7 and Buffalo's next possession ended when ex-Bill Martin Mayhew got his seventh interception of the season. The Redskins drove 32 yards for their final touchdown and it came on an 18-yard pass from Rypien to Stephen Hobbs with 2:31 left. It was Hobbs' first career reception.
When it ended, the Redskins refused to enter a war of words with the Eagles, although several have talked privately about the taunting that went on during a 28-14 loss six weeks ago when the Redskins got nine players hurt -- including quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries.
"Their philosophy is to talk and try to back it up," Rypien said. "We prefer to play the game, then if you win you can talk."