The Washington Redskins made the most of their first postseason game in seven years. They sprinted to a 27-point, first-half lead behind the gritty running of tailback Stephen Davis and the harassing play of their defense, then coasted to a 27-13 triumph over the Detroit Lions in an NFC first-round playoff game before 79,411 at FedEx Field yesterday.
"In the first half, it was a total team effort," Redskins fullback Larry Centers said. "That's as good as this team has played."
The Redskins advanced to a conference semifinal game at Tampa Bay Saturday at 4:15 p.m. But not all the news was good for them.
Davis, who had missed the previous 2 1/2 games because of a sprained left ankle, returned to run for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. But he didn't return to the game after spraining his right knee in the second quarter. Davis and Coach Norv Turner said they expect him to play against the Buccaneers.
Offensive tackle Andy Heck tore his left hamstring in the first quarter, perhaps ending his season. The Redskins replaced him with the seldom-used Kipp Vickers.
The team also lost Pro Bowl guard Tre Johnson when he was ejected following a third-quarter fight that began with a scuffle between quarterback Brad Johnson and Lions defensive end Robert Porcher. Tre Johnson struck an official as he was being pulled away from a group of players. The Redskins believed that Johnson, who said the blow was unintentional, would be fined and hoped he wouldn't be suspended by the NFL.
"In the first half, that's as good as our team can play," Turner said. "In the second half, our defense continued to play. That's as good a defensive game as we've had in a long time. . . . I think we lost some focus offensively in the second half. We also lost some players."
Davis had runs of 58 and 32 yards before being hurt. The Redskins got touchdown runs by Davis on their first two possessions and field goals by Brett Conway on their next two drives for a 20-0 lead. A 30-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to wide receiver Albert Connell 1 minute 19 seconds before halftime made it 27-0. The Lions didn't score until the fourth quarter, when Ron Rice returned a blocked field goal attempt 94 yards.
"We wanted to peak at this time of the year," Centers said. "We want to be on an upswing. We want to peak around January 30th" when the Super Bowl is played in Atlanta.
Detroit fell to 0-20 all-time in Washington, including 0-3 in the postseason. The Lions looked like a team that lost its final four regular season games to stumble into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. They committed 12 penalties and gave little help to quarterback Gus Frerotte, who was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.
"This was extremely embarrassing," Porcher said.
Frerotte's return to Washington was far from rewarding. He dislocated his left pinkie when he was sacked by Redskins linebacker Greg Jones on the game's first play. It was little consolation that he threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Ron Rivers on the game's final play, and he had a beer dumped on him by a fan as he left the field.
"When you have to throw it every down, they're going to come flying at you," Frerotte said. "It's like a big buffet for those defensive linemen."
Said Redskins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson: "We didn't play a thinking game. We played an attacking game. . . . We kept going after Gus."
The Redskins handed the ball to Davis on their first two offensive plays, and he looked a bit uncertain of the sturdiness of his injured ankle, gaining only five yards. Johnson threw incomplete to wide receiver Irving Fryar on third and five. The Redskins punted, but Detroit's Clint Kriewaldt ran into punter Matt Turk for a five-yard penalty and a first down.
The Redskins capitalized. Johnson threw to Fryar for 17 yards on third and 10. Johnson's deep pass for Connell was incomplete, but the Redskins got 41 yards and a first down at the Detroit 1-yard line on an interference call on cornerback Bryant Westbrook. On third down, Davis dove into the end zone for the touchdown.
Conway converted the extra point, but Heck had to be helped off the field and went to the locker room soon thereafter.
The Lions punted again, and Davis wasted no time making an impact. He ran behind guard Keith Sims and Vickers on the left side of the line, cut to the sideline and gained 58 yards. It matched the longest postseason run in Redskins history. Johnson threw to Centers for eight yards on third and seven, and connected with Alexander for 12 yards to get the ball to the Lions 4. On first down, Davis cruised into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.
Cornerback Champ Bailey stepped in front of wide receiver Germane Crowell and intercepted Frerotte's third-down pass to end Detroit's next drive. The Redskins had to settle for Conway's 33-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
Detroit couldn't manage a first down, and the Redskins handed the ball to Davis five straight times en route to Conway's 23-yard field goal that made it 20-0. On third and two from the 5, Davis tried to go outside left but was forced to cut back. He was tackled for a one-yard gain, and was on the ground when his right leg was twisted by Detroit defensive tackle Dan Owens.
Davis remained on the ground as the team's trainers rushed to his side. He got up and jogged off the field to a huge ovation, but his day was done. He left the field at the two-minute warning in the second quarter and watched the second half from the Redskins' sideline as Skip Hicks took over at tailback.
The Redskins drove 82 yards shortly before halftime to make it 27-0. On first down from the Detroit 39, Hicks ran for nine yards. Hicks then made a good block on second down to foil a Lions blitz, and Johnson threw a strike to Connell at the 5. Connell went to his knees to make the catch, then got up and reversed direction to maneuver around Westbrook into the end zone.
The Lions nearly scored on a Hail Mary completion from Frerotte to Herman Moore on the final play of the half, but Moore was tackled at the Redskins 3 as time expired. The competitive portion of the game was over, but the fireworks were not.
Johnson threw an interception to Detroit linebacker Stephen Boyd on the Redskins' first possession of the third quarter. As the play ended, Porcher hit the quarterback. Johnson began wrestling with Porcher, and players on both sides pushed and shoved. Tre Johnson was swinging both arms and fists as he was pulled away from the pile, striking an official.
The Lions didn't get on the scoreboard until just under 9 1/2 minutes remained. The Redskins lined up for a 31-yard field goal try by Conway, and Lamar Campbell, rushing from the outside, deflected the kick into the air. The ball fell into Rice's hands at the 6. He got outside, then maneuvered his way around Johnson and Conway easily for the touchdown.
Frerotte threw his only touchdown pass of the game as time expired, connecting with Ron Rivers on a five-yard pass that completed a 90-yard drive. Frerotte hit 21 of 46 passes for 251 yards with two interceptions.
A Different Day
In the Dec. 5 matchup between the Redskins and Lions in Detroit, the Lions dominated the air, while the Redskins abandoned the run and made many mistakes in a 33-17 loss at the Silverdome. But in yesterday's first-round NFC playoff game the tables were turned as the Redskins controlled the line of scrimmage and Lions QB Gus Frerotte in a 27-13 victory at FedEx Field. Here is a comparison of the two games:
21-32, 280 yards/Gus Frerotte/21-46, 251 yards
1 TD, 0 Int./Gus Frerotte/1 TD, 2 Ints.
12 carries, 51 yards/Stephen Davis/15 carries, 119 yards
21 carries, 116 yards/Redskins' rushing/46 carries, 223 yards
14-122 yards/Redskins' penalties/6-75 yards
9-65 yards/Lions' penalties/12-126 yards
5 catches, 122 yards/Germane Crowell/5 catches, 41 yards