November 24, 1987: Close Not Good Enough
Coaches of bad teams usually decide that the best way to win is to try and let the opposition beat itself. It worked last night for John Robinson. His guys might have had goat horns on their helmets, but the Redskins were growing them by game’s end.
Instead of getting into specifics immediately, a question ought to be asked: Was the team that walked off the field with only its third victory of the season actually better than the one that suffered only its third loss before matters even began?
The Redskins have been playing that poorly of late. In reality, they are 4-3 for their season, perched atop the NFC East by two games because of Ed Rubbert, Anthony Allen, Lionel Vital and lots of others fading from memory.
Who would have imagined the Realskins blessing strikebreakers? Without them, the stock crash might be the secondary doom-talk around town. Good thing the Rubberts created such a cushion; better everybody else in the division also is ordinary just now.
The Rams, on the other hand, are winners in their last two games. They are 2-2 since trading the alleged best runner to hit the NFL in years, Eric Dickerson.
Those fans about the country with no Redskins ties were thrilled early and often. How many times does one team (the Rams) score 23 points in the first half while the other is playing excellent defense?
All week, the Redskins planned ways to keep the Rams offense off the field. When that came to pass, however, they were furious. Never did a strategy scenario include Los Angeles returning a fumble by Doug Williams for one touchdown, Ron Brown running 95 yards with a kickoff for another and a blocked punt setting up yet another.
In truth, there might have been some concern about the Rams getting to punter Steve Cox. His job also has been in jeopardy, and last night his pals did not exactly conspire in his defense.
Once the pride of Washington during Monday night shows, the special teams last night were dreadful. That was only slightly more surprising than Art Monk dropping a few passes, including one in the end zone with 29 seconds left and the Redskins mustering what seemed another comeback victory.
The Redskins’ troubles did not begin and end with new quarterback Williams, but he does have this unlucky stat: In two games, the football has dropped from his hand and been in the end zone several seconds later.
Reggie White of the Eagles stole the ball from Williams in the season opener and lumbered for a touchdown; last night, one Ram caused Williams to fumble and another grabbed it and ran 35 yards into the end zone.
Williams was very good very early and very late, completing seven of his first 10 passes and five of his final six.
Trouble is, two of those last throws did not end up as completions. From the Rams 14-yard line, Williams twice put the football where he was supposed to -- in Monk’s hands.
The first pass seemed a certain touchdown. Some Redskins fans were in early celebration, some Rams in agony as Monk seemed to bring the ball to his chest. Then -- remarkably -- the ball fluttered from his grasp.
Next play, with 24 seconds left, Williams also whipped the ball toward Monk. This one was a much tougher catch. But he has made it often, if not routinely, during a quietly sensational career.
Not last night. He was bumped, and the ball came to rest in the eager hands of Rams right cornerback LeRoy Irvin. What Robinson hoped would happen had.
Without Dickerson, Robinson still has the Rams plodding along on the ground. This usually works with a lead -- and the generous Redskins gift-wrapped a seven-pointer at the half.
Brown’s kickoff return either was one of the loveliest of the season or an abomination, depending on the rooting interests of the beholders. It was dazzling, the final 55-plus yards being a sprint with the only player in the league capable of running him down.
Darrell Green has chased and caught such as Tony Dorsett and Dickerson. Last night, he had a slight angle on Brown in a battle of world-class sprinters. He closed, but an ankle-grab at the 5 was too late.
Very likely, special teams coach Chuck Banker could have gathered the 10 fans closest to the Redskins bench and been as pleased with their effort. None of the 10 men other than Green employed to at least touch Brown did.
Poor Cox fielded a one-hopper of a snap on his first punt. Then his evening got depressing. Fans from the farthest reaches of RFK Stadium sensed his punt late in the half would be blocked an instant before it happened.
So quick and fierce was the rush by Nolan Cromwell, it appeared that he might actually hit the ball with his hands before Cox did with his foot. As it developed, Cox kicked it into Cromwell’s stomach -- and the Rams had first and goal at the 2.
There were other special-teams problems. Penalties here; ineffective blocking there. A missed extra point that made a touchdown, instead of a field goal, necessary at the end.
In not-so-quiet desperation, the Redskins even pulled out their ultimate stop -- using Green to return the Rams’ final punt. He managed 10 yards.
The lingering memories for fans always are the late ones. Had Monk managed a catch, the Redskins would have escaped with a victory they did not earn. The Rams were anything but inspired, but they were deserving winners.