The Washington Redskins knew there would come a day when their offense couldn't sprint up and down the field virtually unimpeded. They knew an afternoon would come when an opponent would find a way to stop quarterback Brad Johnson and running back Stephen Davis, and they would have to make some big plays in the fourth quarter in order to win.
That day arrived today, and the Redskins responded in style. They trailed the desperate New York Jets by four points in the late stages, but did enough right and got enough breaks down the stretch to escape Giants Stadium with a 27-20 victory in front of 78,161.
"This is a statement game for us," Johnson said. "It's a huge win. . . . It shows we can win in the fourth quarter."
The Redskins (2-1) won for a second straight week in this stadium on the heels of a fourth-quarter collapse in their season-opening overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys at home. A triumph over the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at Redskins Stadium would leave the Redskins with a 3-1 record entering their bye week--a far cry from last season, when the Redskins were 0-7 when their bye arrived.
They scored 50 points here last Sunday in overwhelming the New York Giants, but they called this victory more significant because they found a way to win a game that was a toss-up in the fourth quarter.
"We haven't been able to do that for four years," wide receiver Michael Westbrook said. "That's a sign of maturity. This was bigger than last week, and now next week is even bigger."
Said Coach Norv Turner: "This is the kind of game I expected. . . . I really thought our guys responded. To me, it's a team win. We won it in the fourth quarter."
The Jets (0-3) took a 14-13 lead into the final period and increased their lead to 17-13 on John Hall's 37-yard field goal with 8 minutes 10 seconds to play. But the Redskins, aided by a pair of pass-interference penalties on Jets cornerback Ray Mickens as he tried to cover wide receiver Albert Connell, drove 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Davis's four-yard run put them in front, 20-17, with 4:11 remaining.
Later, defensive end Kenard Lang stripped the ball from Jets quarterback Rick Mirer, leading to Davis's third touchdown run of the day--and eighth of the season--and a 27-17 advantage with 2:21 to go. An instant-replay reversal took away a touchdown catch from Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and left New York with only a 34-yard field goal from Hall with 1:45 to play.
Larry Centers recovered an onside kick by the Jets, but the Redskins had to survive one more scare. Davis lost the ball on a run for a first down in the final minute, and Jets cornerback Aaron Glenn scooped up the would-be fumble and raced to the end zone.
But the officials ruled--correctly, according to television replays--that Davis was down before he fumbled, and the Redskins sealed the victory with one kneel-down by Johnson.
"We had some bad things happen, but we never gave up," Redskins running back and kick returner Brian Mitchell said. "When you win a close game you have to really fight for, it means a little bit more. It's a little bit sweeter."
The Redskins pushed their record above .500 for the first time since they ended the 1997 season with an 8-7-1 mark. They've won road games in back-to-back weeks for the first time since early in the '96 season and they further dissipated the Super Bowl hopes that the Jets had when the season began.
"You make your own luck," Jets linebacker Bryan Cox said. "We're not going to beg for calls. We've got to make plays. . . . We had a chance to win the game, and we didn't come up with a stop."
Davis had his second three-touchdown game of the season, and now has three more rushing touchdowns than he had in his previous three years in the NFL. He ran for 93 yards on 24 carries today.
But he averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, and the Jets made things difficult for a Redskins offense that entered the game ranked first in the NFL. Johnson completed 17 of 28 throws for 241 yards and no interceptions, but didn't have a touchdown pass. The Redskins had only 13 points in the first 55 minutes after totaling 85 points and 899 yards in their first two games. They finished today with 333 yards, four fewer than the Jets.
The Redskins insisted the Jets didn't do anything unexpected on defense. "We just weren't making plays early, and we made them late," Davis said.
On the Redskins' go-ahead drive, Johnson went to Connell as he worked against his former Texas A&M teammate, Mickens. Completions of 13, 4 and 15 yards got the Redskins to their 47, then the first interference call against Mickens accounted for 35 yards to the New York 18. On third and three from the 11, Mickens was penalized for interfering with Connell again to advance the ball to the 4. Davis lunged across the goal line on the next play.
After defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson recovered the fumble forced by Lang, a Johnson-to-Connell completion on third and five from the 16--with the Redskins declining another interference call on Mickens--produced nine yards. Davis ran left for a touchdown on the next play.
The Jets got an 81-yard kickoff return by Kevin Williams, who was caught from behind by Redskins rookie cornerback Champ Bailey. On second down, Johnson beat Bailey on a post pattern and momentarily caught Mirer's pass in the end zone. But the ball came loose just as Johnson landed, and just before he and Bailey ran into the goal post. The officials originally signaled touchdown, but changed the call after checking the replay and ruled the pass incomplete because Johnson lost it before he had both feet on the ground.
"They just made the right calls," Davis said.
Mirer also threw an incompletion on third down, and the Jets had to settle for a field goal. The Redskins--after Centers's onside kick recovery and Davis's near fumble--had survived.
"This was a huge win, back to back in New York," Brad Johnson said. "Winning is a cure-all. . . . Stat-wise, it was not my best game, but I felt like I made some plays when we needed them. I'm excited about this team. I'm excited about where we are and where we can go."