The Washington Redskins took their fans on a wild ride yesterday en route to their first home victory of the season, falling behind by 21 points early before securing a 38-36 victory over the Carolina Panthers on a 31-yard field goal by place kicker Brett Conway with six seconds remaining.
Quarterback Brad Johnson threw four touchdown passes in the second and third quarters to spur the comeback. But throughout the game, the Redskins were hampered by an ineffective run defense and continued poor play on special teams.
But Conway's field goal, which he said left him feeling "more nervous than I'd ever been in my life," set off a jubilant celebration from the crowd of 76,831 at Redskins Stadium. The victory was the first at home for new owner Daniel M. Snyder and ushered the Redskins into their bye week with a surprising 3-1 record.
It was the first time the Redskins had come back from a 21-point deficit since Nov. 4, 1990, when they beat Detroit 41-38. Today, the rally came in a rush, with the Redskins scoring 28 points in an 11-minute span in the second quarter, setting a team record for points in one quarter of regular season play.
What got the Redskins back into the game was the play-calling by Coach Norv Turner and the poise of Johnson. Starting wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell each caught two touchdown passes, and running back Stephen Davis, who managed just 72 yards on 21 carries, had the first touchdown. Johnson completed 20 of 33 passes for 337 yards. He was sacked three times, but has yet to throw an interception this season.
Afterward, Johnson praised Turner, saying the coach has not received enough credit in Washington for his coaching skills. Johnson also praised the explosive ability of his teammates but called on everyone to play with more consistency. And he said it was a victory he would remember the rest of his life.
"These are moments you live for," Johnson said.
But the defense surrendered 481 yards to Carolina, and the Redskins' game-winning drive almost never got going. With Carolina leading, 36-35, with 4 minutes 19 seconds to go, Brian Mitchell fumbled a punt that Carolina appeared to have recovered at the Redskins 19. But Turner challenged the call, and officials reversed it upon review, ruling that Mitchell's knee had been down before the fumble.
Davis kept the drive alive by converting a fourth and one with two minutes remaining. Key receptions by Irving Fryar and Westbrook got the Redskins within field goal range. Conway was called in for the game-winning kick on third down, which left an extra down in case something went awry.
"I didn't hear anything; I didn't see anything," said Conway, who hasn't missed this season.
The Redskins got themselves in a hole early with a defense that failed to contain running back Tim Biakabutuka, who rushed for first-quarter touchdowns of 60, 1 and 45 yards. Biakabutuka, who had rushed for 62- and 67-yard scores the previous week, gained 123 rushing yards in the first quarter.
Defensive end Kenard Lang tried running Biakabutuka down on the first big play, but Lang couldn't match his speed and ended up diving at the running back's footprints.
Biakabutuka's second score came after Mitchell fumbled a kickoff return, which was scooped up by Michael Swift on the Redskins 28. Biakabutuka scooted around the right end for that score and bored up the middle for his third.
Panthers Coach George Seifert replaced Biakabutuka with Fred Lane, and Carolina's running game wasn't as effective.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the 21-0 deficit, Johnson took charge, focusing on scoring one touchdown at a time and hoping for a few Panthers turnovers.
"There was no panic," Johnson said.
The Redskins marched 78 yards in 14 plays for their first score, which Davis got by twisting his way into the end zone on a one-yard run to make it 21-7.
The Panthers (1-3) managed a 43-yard field goal on their next possession, padding their lead to 24-7.
Westbrook flaunted his skills with two big receptions on the next series, shaking cornerback Eric Davis for a 47-yard gain on the first play. He reeled in a 17-yard touchdown pass to narrow the gap to 24-14.
The crowd jumped to its feet, shouting "Defense! Defense!" and the Redskins forced Carolina to punt after three plays on their next two possessions.
Meantime, the Redskins' offense made the most of its chances.
Johnson needed just five plays to engineer the next score. He shook off 282-pound defensive lineman Chuck Wiley to avoid a sack and gain six yards on a scramble. Later, Westbrook grabbed an 11-yard throw in the end zone to make it 24-21.
Johnson got the ball back with 2:42 left in the half. On the first play from scrimmage, he heaved a deep pass to Connell, who was being pursued by two defenders. Swift got a hand on Connell, but he writhed out of his clutches for a 62-yard catch that gave the Redskins their first lead, 28-24, with 2:33 remaining in the quarter.
With two minutes left in the half, quarterback Steve Beuerlein moved his team down the field on completions of 13 and 16 yards. Flushed out of the pocket, he hurled the ball at tight end Wesley Walls. But Darryl Pounds stepped in for an interception at the 1 to squelch Carolina's hopes of regaining the lead before halftime.
On the Redskins' second possession of the second half, Johnson turned to Connell for the Redskins' next score. Connell ran deep to the right side of the field, cut back toward the middle and by the time a defender got close, he was in the end zone, wrapping his hands around a 32-yard touchdown pass. The Redskins' lead was 35-24.
A bold call by Turner in the third quarter marked another shift in the momentum. From fourth and five on the Panthers 35, the Redskins went for a first down rather than a field goal. Johnson was sacked for a nine-yard loss by linebacker Micheal Barrow.
"It's the toughest spot for a coach," Turner said. "A 52-yarder may be out of our range. A punt maybe puts it in the end zone. I thought we'd make it, but we made a mental error on the protection."
From there, the Panthers scored 12 consecutive points on a pair of field goals and a six-yard touchdown pass to Walls to regain the lead, 36-35, with 7:57 left in the game. Beuerlein completed 23 of 47 passes for 334 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
"Today, we either did things good or we did things bad, and there is no in between," Johnson said. "I think we could have played better."