November 18, 1991: Redskins Sack Steelers, Bag Playoff Berth

PITTSBURGH, NOV. 17 -- The Pittsburgh Steelers dared Mark Rypien to beat them, and he obliged with a second straight big game as the Washington Redskins rolled to a 41-14 victory this afternoon before 56,813 at Three Rivers Stadium and became the first NFL team this season to clinch a playoff berth.

A week after their biggest offensive day of the season, the Redskins had another big one, running up 462 yards and 23 first downs in keeping the ball for 37 minutes. They led 17-0 at the half and 27-0 after three quarters. The defensive effort was no less impressive, allowing the Steelers to cross midfield only twice until former Maryland quarterback Neil O’Donnell threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

And when the Redskins were done, their undefeated season remained intact as they improved to 11-0. They also are close to getting home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs thanks to San Diego’s victory over 9-2 New Orleans.

The Saints began the day as the only team with a realistic shot at keeping the Redskins from staying at RFK Stadium for the conference playoffs. Now the 9-2 Chicago Bears, who handed the Saints their first defeat, are the closest team to the Redskins in the race for conference home-field advantage.

The Redskins can wrap up the NFC East with a victory over Dallas at RFK Stadium next Sunday. Dallas’s loss to the New York Giants leaves the Redskins five games in front of three 6-5 teams -- Dallas, New York and Philadelphia -- with five games to play.

They’re the ninth NFL team ever to go 11-0, the first since the 1985 Bears. Since World War II, only two teams have started better -- the ‘72 Dolphins (17-0, including postseason) and the ‘85 Bears (12-0).

”It’s kind of like a dream and it’s the players who deserve the credit,” said Coach Joe Gibbs. “I just told them that I appreciated them taking the coaches along for the ride.”

The Steelers lost for the fifth time in six games, and at 4-7 are all but out of the playoff picture. After watching the Redskins sack O’Donnell five times, force two turnovers and punt only once, Coach Chuck Noll agreed this day’s opponent had something special going.

”They’re the best team we’ve played by far,” he said. “We didn’t make first downs in the first half and couldn’t get them off the field. That was great execution on their part. When we backed off, they went in front of us. When we came up, they went over us.”

Rypien started quickly, with an audible to Art Monk for a 63-yard completion on the third play of a cool, sunny day. Before he was finished threw touchdown passes of 11 yards to Monk, who made an acrobatic play to get both feet down in the back of the end zone, and 49 yards to Gary Clark. Jeff Rutledge came in to throw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders with 2:05 remaining.

The Posse -- Monk, Clark and Sanders -- finished with 15 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns, and the last two weeks they’ve caught 29 passes for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. Monk had the biggest day, catching eight for 130 and moving into fifth place on the all-time yardage list with 10,726.

The Redskins know they’re hot when their coach apologizes for scoring against Noll, which Gibbs did after the last touchdown. He jogged over to Noll after the game and explained the pass was designed to get a first down.

”That was not an intentional thing,” Gibbs said. “If there’s anybody around I respect in the coaching profession, I’d like to be like Coach {Noll}. So I felt kind of bad. He’s got great pride and great poise and he said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that.’ “

Rypien was the biggest star on a day when Monk was outstanding and Clark caught three for 95 yards. The defense allowed the Steelers only 41 rushing yards, and even with defensive end Charles Mann sidelined with a sore right knee, Jumpy Geathers had two sacks and forced a fumble and cornerback Martin Mayhew had an interception and a fumble recovery.

A week after the Falcons had stacked the line of scrimmage and let The Posse run free down the field, the Redskins predicted the Steelers would play their usual soft zone and at least stop the deep stuff.

They were wrong. The Steelers weren’t going to be beaten by Earnest Byner and the running game. They held Redskins rushers to 97 yards with Ricky Ervins getting 84 of them on 23 carries. That part of the Steelers’ strategy worked. What didn’t work was everything else. On their first seven possessions, the Redskins got three touchdowns, two field goals and two missed field goals.

Gibbs, prepared for something else, took what he got. “The last two games the defenses have put a premium on stopping the run, and they’ve brought a lot of guys closer to the line,” he said. “That has opened some things up in the secondary. It was a surprise today because we thought the Steelers would play a little more softly, which is what they usually do. They didn’t and it gave us more shots downfield. Right now, Rip is hot and he’s hitting every opportunity.”

Every opportunity. On the third play of the day, Gibbs called a run, but when Rypien saw nine men at the line, he switched to a pass. Clark went deep down the left sideline and Monk went to the middle.

”You look at the safety,” Rypien said. “If he goes with Gary, you’ve got Art. If he goes with Art, you’ve got Gary.”

Safety Thomas Everett chose Clark and that left Monk, who was pulled down at the 1. Gerald Riggs followed with his eighth rushing touchdown, and 2:36 into the game the Redskins led, 7-0.

The Steelers ran three plays and punted, and the Redskins drove to the Pittsburgh 15, where a bad snap cost Chip Lohmiller a 32-yard field goal. Again, the Steelers ran three plays and punted.

The Redskins held the ball for 4:52, and with the drive stalled at the 19, settled for Lohmiller’s 36-yard field goal with 12:20 left in the second quarter to make it 10-0.

If the Steelers were on the edge then, they were pushed a little closer when O’Donnell, against a heavy rush, threw into double coverage. Mayhew intercepted at the Washington 45, and the Redskins made it 17-0 with a 55-yard drive. Rypien hit three straight third-down passes, to Monk for seven, to Byner for nine and to Sanders for eight.

On second and nine at the Pittsburgh 11, Rypien looked for Clark in the flat. He wasn’t there, but Monk was in the back of the end zone and made a leaping, spectacular grab, not only holding on to the ball, but somehow landing with both feet inbounds.

That made it 17-0, and the Redskins had a chance for more when Geathers popped the ball from O’Donnell with 53 seconds left. But Lohmiller missed a 36-yarder.

When the Steelers couldn’t move on their first two possessions of the second half, the Redskins away put the game. Lohmiller ended the first drive with a 41-yard field goal and the second concluded with another one-yard Riggs touchdown run.

The Redskins drove the 60 yards for the touchdown quickly. Ervins, subbing for Byner in the second half, picked up 20 yards on four carries, and Clark got 37 more on a spectacular one-handed catch down the right sideline.

The Steelers did drive for touchdowns on their next two possessions, but Rypien and Clark hooked up for a 49-yard score with 4:42 left. Rutledge came in and got a final one.

The Redskins once more celebrated with no celebration. They shook hands and patted each other on the back and said all the right things. They said that, having accomplished one goal, that winning the division and getting home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs were next.

”I’m not thinking about” 16-0, Gibbs said. “I’ve tried to tell our players that. We’ve got five games to go. We want to win our division and get home-field advantage. We want to go to the Super Bowl, and those are the things we need to do. A perfect season is not the focus.”

”This isn’t when you start bragging,” tackle Jim Lachey said. “Maybe when all is said and done, we can look back if we get everything accomplished. It’s still the middle of the war, and you don’t start celebrating at this point.”





11-0.....Washington 1991..... --



11-0.....San Diego..1961.....12-2-0

11-0.....L.A. Rams..1969.....11-3-0

11-0.....Miami......1984 ....14-2-0

*Won league championship

Player No. Yards

Steve Largent 819 13,089

Art Monk 781 10,726

Charlie Joiner 750 12,146

Monk has now caught at least one pass in 127 consecutive regular season games, which ties the third-best streak in history.


177...........Steve Largent ..........1977-89

150...........Ozzie Newsome ..........1979-89

127...........Art Monk ...............1983-91

127...........Harold Carmichael ......1972-80

121...........Mel Gray ...............1973-82