The Washington Redskins did about the best they could under the circumstances in their regular season finale yesterday. They secured their first 10-victory season under Coach Norv Turner, escaped with no major injuries and beat the Miami Dolphins, 21-10, before 78,106 at FedEx Field.
The Redskins (10-6) will host the Detroit Lions at 4 p.m. Saturday in a first-round NFC playoff game. If the Redskins beat Detroit, they would play a second-round game at Tampa Bay on Jan. 15. In a mistake-filled performance Dec. 5, the Redskins lost to the Lions at the Silverdome. Detroit (9-7), however, hasn't won since then and is 0-19 at Washington, including 0-2 in the playoffs.
"They're dangerous," Redskins wide receiver Irving Fryar said. "They kicked our butts the last time. We have to play better."
It will be the Redskins' first playoff game since Jan. 9, 1993, and their first home playoff game since Jan. 12, 1992--a 41-10 win over the Lions at RFK Stadium in the NFC championship game.
"It's big in that we won our last two games going into the playoffs," veteran cornerback Darrell Green said. "We kept serve in our last game at home."
Yesterday's game was rendered essentially meaningless to the Redskins and Dolphins (9-7) by the outcome of games earlier in the afternoon. By kickoff, the Redskins no longer had a chance for a first-round playoff bye because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had beaten the Chicago Bears. Miami took the field having clinched an AFC playoff berth because of the Seattle Seahawks' loss to the New York Jets, meaning that it could not be the final Dolphins appearance for quarterback Dan Marino or Coach Jimmy Johnson.
Turner praised the businesslike performance of his players.
"It changes now," he said. "It's a whole different deal. If you make a mistake that costs you a game, it costs you a chance to play again. You're just excited to be in [the playoffs]. You know you need to play your best football to advance."
Redskins guard Tre Johnson said: "Everybody was pumped up for 10-6. You don't want to let down in the last game of the season going into the playoffs. It can only help you by winning."
In a day full of scoreboard watching, the Redskins also secured the second pick in April's college draft when the New Orleans Saints lost at Carolina.
The Redskins placed tailback Stephen Davis and wide receiver Albert Connell on their inactive list for yesterday's game, and Turner replaced quarterback Brad Johnson with backup Rodney Peete for the second half. Tre Johnson suffered a bruised left thigh in the first half, but said the injury will not threaten his participation in the playoffs.
Turner said he is confident the Redskins will have Connell, who was sidelined by an ailing left shoulder, back in the lineup against the Lions. He also indicated he is hopeful that Davis will be ready to play after missing two games because of a sprained left ankle. Despite sitting out the game, Davis won the NFC rushing title with 1,405 yards.
Brad Johnson completed 7 of 11 passes for 75 yards yesterday. He finished the regular season with 4,005 passing yards, his first 4,000-yard season. He became the second Redskins quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, but fell 104 yards shy of Jay Schroeder's club record set in 1986.
In only his second appearance of the season, Peete had touchdown passes of 30 yards to Fryar and four yards to fullback Larry Centers as the Redskins turned a 7-3 halftime lead into a 21-3 advantage in the fourth quarter. Turner got third-string quarterback Casey Weldon into the game in the late stages.
Skip Hicks made his second straight start in place of Davis and provided an eight-yard touchdown run in the second quarter among his 22 carries for 53 yards.
Centers had four catches to finish the season with 69 receptions, leaving him one short of Joe Washington's season Redskins record for a running back. Fryar, who started in Connell's spot, had one catch, putting him four receptions behind Henry Ellard for sixth place on the NFL's all-time list.
"It was a game that didn't mean much as far as the playoffs," Fryar said. "But any time you're on the field playing, it's important to give a good effort."
Said Turner: "I don't think a football player ever thinks a game is meaningless."
Marino played a half and completed 11 of 24 throws for 118 yards. He threw an interception--one of four turnovers by the Dolphins--and didn't have a touchdown pass. With Miami in the postseason even after losing six of eight games following a 7-1 start, Marino will play at least one more game--at Seattle on Sunday.
Damon Huard took over at quarterback in the second half and threw a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Oronde Gadsden, long after the outcome had been decided and the game had disintegrated into something resembling a preseason contest. Miami's only other points came on a 39-yard field goal by Olindo Mare in the second quarter.
The Dolphins had turnovers in Redskins territory on their first two possessions. Redskins safety Darryl Pounds stripped wide receiver Kevin McKenzie following a completion to the Washington 32-yard line on the Dolphins' first drive. Cornerback Mark McMillian got a tipped-ball interception of a pass on a third-and-eight play from the Redskins 15 on Miami's second possession.
After place kicker Brett Conway left a 51-yard field goal try short in the first quarter, the Redskins broke through after taking over at their 21 with 6:55 remaining in the half. Johnson went over the 4,000-yard mark on a 20-yard completion to tight end Stephen Alexander. Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain was called for interfering with Michael Westbrook for a 41-yard gain to the Dolphins 8, and Hicks went wide left for the touchdown.
Peete made an immediate second-half impact, throwing a block on a reverse to James Thrash that produced 37 yards. Peete then delivered a strike to Fryar along the left sideline for the touchdown. Both sides got increasingly sloppy from there--the Redskins bench even got an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when an official tripped over Turner's feet along the sideline during a play.