If Washington Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson was suffering from a tired arm, his performance tonight against the San Francisco 49ers certainly didn't reflect it. He completed 32 of 47 passes for a team-record 471 yards in the Redskins' 26-20 overtime victory at 3Com Park.
Johnson's passing yardage was an NFL season high, surpassing Jeff Garcia's 437 yards for San Francisco against Cincinnati on Dec. 5.
Johnson's 65-yard touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook in the second quarter tied the score at 7, and his 33-yard touchdown pass to Larry Centers ended the game two minutes into overtime.
The Redskins had thrown that pass in the flat to Centers, Brian Mitchell and others earlier in the game to counteract the various blitzes the 49ers were sending at Johnson. In fact, that pass had become one of the staples of the passing game. But the game-winning touchdown included a twist.
"We changed the formation," Johnson said. "We ran the play to the other side of the field."
It certainly confused the 49ers, who didn't have a defender near Centers. The Redskins already had clinched a spot in the playoffs before kickoff because the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers lost. But the passing game made them two-time winners.
"We went into a passing frenzy," Johnson said. "We were on the money tonight. . . . I had fun playing tonight. And it's been a while since that had happened. We got into a groove . . . where you're just out there playing ball like you're in the back yard."
Johnson completed seven passes for 125 yards to Westbrook. He also completed seven for 66 yards to Centers, five for 106 yards to an ailing Albert Connell, four for 60 yards to Irving Fryar, four for 52 yards (mostly in the flat) to Skip Hicks (who was replacing the injured Stephen Davis), three to Mitchell for 55 yards and two to tight end Stephen Alexander for seven yards.
Johnson's only interception was a fourth-quarter pass that deflected off the hands of Connell, who because of a pinched nerve in his left shoulder couldn't get his left arm up to make the catch.
"He was in tears, he was in so much pain," Westbrook said of Connell. "He really showed people what he was made of out there tonight, playing when he was hurting like that."
Told Johnson had passed for 471 yards, Westbrook said: "What? That's crazy."
Mitchell's reaction was similar: "Four hundred seventy-one yards? That's ridiculous. Brad was on, I mean really on."
It figured that the Redskins would pass a lot tonight for several reasons. First, Davis boarded the flight for California on Saturday wanting to play. But his ankle was so swollen after the flight, there was no way he could. The team made the NFL's second-leading rusher inactive for the game.
Second, the 49ers have what is likely the worst pass defense in the league, with cornerbacks who couldn't keep up with Westbrook, Connell and Fryar. With a constant blitz from the 49ers, the Redskins were ready to let it fly.
"We were able to hit guys underneath early," Mitchell said. "The long pass to Westbrook really loosened things up. They kept blitzing, though, which puts your defensive backs at risk. And I don't think their defensive backs could stand up to that all day."
Of Johnson's performance, Coach Norv Turner said: "He played great. The 49ers did a lot of things defensively to create problems for us. He made a lot of plays."
The previous team record for passing yards in a game belonged to Sammy Baugh, who threw for 446 yards against the Yanks in 1948. Mark Rypien, in 1991 against the Falcons, threw for 442 yards. Doug Williams passed for 430 yards against the Steelers in 1988. Johnson's final 66 yards came in overtime, on that final drive.
Asked about helping to break the seven-year playoff drought the Redskins had experienced until tonight, Johnson said, "I wasn't here for those [seven] years, but I was intrigued about coming here and helping this team win a division title."