November 11, 1991: Without A Doubt, A Mark of Excellence

Unless your name is Joe Montana, the performance Mark Rypien turned in yesterday is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Six touchdown passes, one touchdown rushing, 16 for 31 for 442 yards against the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass defense. No sacks, no hurries. Sammy Baugh, make some room.

The Atlanta Falcons have only one defensive game plan. Kill The Quarterback. To do that, they rush the passer with anybody and everybody and leave the cornerbacks to cover receivers one-on-one. To use that strategy is to assume you can get to the quarterback and assume the receivers can be covered.

Wrong on the first count. Very wrong on the second. The Hogs, with help when needed from the tight end and running back, held Atlanta sackless. Rip needed a pair of binoculars to see the nearest Falcons pass rusher. The Posse, as they always do, got open. The blocking was so good they had time to get open deep. The result was Bombs Away, Baby. Even when Rip isn’t having one of his best days, he can throw the deep route as well as anybody in the league. The Falcons foolishly dared him and the result was one of the best passing days a Redskins quarterback ever had.

Of course, Rip wouldn’t say it. We all tried to force it out of him, that it was his greatest day ever (easily), that it’s the kind of game quarterbacks lie awake at night fantasizing over (absolutely). But Rip wouldn’t bite. He Aw-shucksed his way through about 20 minutes of postgame analysis. This must be what coaches mean when they talk about leaving it all on the field.

Rip left it all in the end zones. Just follow the trail of Falcons bodies. Rip to Terry Orr for nine and a score. Rip to Gary Clark for 61 yards and a touchdown. Rip fake to Gerald Riggs, bootleg four yards for a touchdown. Rip 19 yards to Clark. Rip 19 yards to Art Monk. Rip 82 yards to Clark. Rip 64 yards to Monk. The only thing that got in Clark’s way all day was the goal post.

Rip and the Posse thought this kind of performance was possible going in, given Jerry Glanville’s obsession with Kill The Quarterback. When it works, as it has twice this season against the 49ers, the Falcons look like a playoff team. When it doesn’t, they look like Detroit, Week 1.

”With our offense, we kind of look forward to a team trying to blitz us,” center Jeff Bostic said. “I don’t think a team has ever blitzed us as much as Atlanta did.”

Rip was fired up by the prospect of it. “You lick your chops because they’re going to come after you and give you some shots” at hitting the deep passes, he said, adding that one of his big improvements this season has been, “that I’ve talked myself into being patient. Then, it was just a matter of laying it out there.”

If you’re wondering why the Falcons didn’t go to something different once it was obvious blitzing was a flop, the answer is simple. They can’t. “That’s the kind of team we are,” cornerback Tim McKyer said. “We live and die with it and today we died.” It certainly didn’t help that Deion Sanders, their best coverage cornerback, missed the game with a bruised thigh. As a result, the Falcons tried to play a little zone, which was a disaster. But they couldn’t cover man-to-man without Sanders. Clark and Monk have never been more wide open in their lives. Of Rip’s performance, McKyer said: “He took care of business today. He was exceptional. Guys were running wide open, though. That helps.”

Some quarterbacks and offensive linemen would rather not face the kind of constant pressure the Falcons apply. The Redskins relish it. Rypien said that the combination of having such good receivers, the Hogs and a “hot receiver” ready to break off a route when a pass rusher does come free, all add up to “trust and faith” that you’ll beat the blitz.

”He doesn’t have to worry about who {on the defense} is lined up across from him,” Bostic said. “He only has to be concerned with where his receivers are going to be and where to throw the ball.”

This is why there is no danger of Rip getting the big head after such an incredible day. “I think he realizes,” Bostic said, “that the success he has is tied to his protection, his receivers. He has a great sense of the teamwork.” This is why the Redskins are 10-0. They all have a great sense of it.

Still, Rip has been almost excluded from the general credit heaped on the team, as if the Redskins have been winning despite him. And it’s not just a media thing. Fans on the call-in radio shows have been tougher than any reporters, almost vicious at times. It’s like everybody’s waiting for Rip to goof up big time.

There’s just one thing: He hasn’t.

As Clark said afterward: “There have been so many people on Rip’s back, saying that he’s not that good a quarterback, that he’s just an average quarterback. Look at his record {30-12 as a starter}. He probably has only four or five losses in his last 22, 23 games. What more is it going to take to convince people? He’s not the most agile quarterback in the league, but we don’t need that in our system . . . . We just need him to connect with the receivers. There’s no reason he shouldn’t go to Hawaii {for the Pro Bowl} and I mean as a starter and not something else.”