November 25, 1991: The Sting Is Fairly Earned

IF you meet a Washington Redskin on the street this week, don’t bother saying “Nice try” or “Tough luck.” You might not like the response.

It’s getting beaten -- the word most Redskins used with emphasis -- that bugs ‘em bad. Who dreamed the Redskins would be shoved all over their own field for the first 48 minutes -- outgained 355 yards to 107 and outscored 21-7 at that juncture? “You don’t expect this to happen,” said Gibbs, meaning the manner of the beating, not the loss.

No real pro likes to take an old-fashioned licking, especially at the hands of a hated rival such as the improving Cowboys who, under Coach Jimmy Johnson, continue to give the Redskins fits.

”Being outplayed, not losing the perfect season, is what gets you,” said quarterback Mark Rypien, who rallied the Redskins for no-huddle touchdown drives of 92 and 63 yards in the closing minutes to make the score respectable. “We got beat by a team that does not feel intimidated by playing us at all -- even here. They come in here, play us well {three years in a row}, beat us {twice}. That’s what stings.”

”This should be a wake-up call for us, mentally, physically and every way there is,” said center Jeff Bostic.

From those highlight wrapups, it’s going to look as if the Redskins’ pursuit of the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ record of 17 wins in a row ended because Dallas pulled off a pure-luck, 34-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with four seconds left in the first half. And it’s going to look as if Dallas’s final fourth-quarter field goal -- which barely made it inside the post -- was a decisive piece of good fortune. Why, even Michael Irvin’s 23-yard touchdown reception in the last period, to make the score 21-7, was on the lucky side because he bobbled the ball.

If the Redskins have one big thing in their corner, it’s that they’re smart enough to know better and admit it. In fact, the Cowboys really got the bad breaks yesterday, not the good ones.

Dallas won without its superb tight end Jay Novacek. It won on a day that the Redskins’ Martin Mayhew, normally the defensive backfield’s least imposing member, returned an interception 31 yards for the game’s first score. And Dallas, most impressively, won despite losing its exceptional quarterback Troy Aikman with a knee injury on the first series of the second half.

Even the Hail Mary touchdown couldn’t really be called a break since wide receiver Alvin Harper was -- in Gibbs’s sardonic word -- “uncontested” on what proved to be an easy catch. “Looked like he was the only guy who jumped for the ball,” said Gibbs. Curious but true.

When the Redskins got a break, they couldn’t capitalize. “We hadn’t studied much film of {Steve} Beuerlein,” said defensive tackle Eric Williams of the quarterback who was almost as effective as Aikman.

”As soon as Beuerlein came in, I was worried,” said ex-Raider Matt Millen. “I tried to tell the guys how good he was. The Raiders made a mistake letting him go. He’s smart, tough, confident and has a good arm.”

If a dream has to end, you’d at least like to wake up to a beautiful sunrise. You don’t want to rub the sleep out of your eyes and discover it snowed two feet during the night.

Unfortunately, the 11-1 Redskins have some shoveling to do. At kickoff time, the Redskins had outscored the league 361-139, while the Cowboys had been outscored and outgained by 11 opponents who had a combined losing record. No wonder Washington was a two-touchdown favorite. Now, Gibbs’s protestations that the sky is always falling and that defeat is constantly imminent don’t sound so much like paranoia.

Just as 41-14 victories give every player an aura of glamour, so do losses highlight flaws. Earnest Byner, whose knee was sprained two weeks ago, doesn’t have his crazy legs back (22 yards in eight carries); rookie Ricky Ervins had to be summoned to provide what spark the running game showed. Had Ervins arrived sooner, would the first 2 1/2 quarters have been such a washout? And is Byner being too tough and unselfish for the team’s good?

All season, the Redskins defense’s first predicate has been Darrell Green’s ability -- perhaps unique in the modern NFL -- to cover the opponent’s best receiver man-to-man and hold his own. As Irvin said, “Darrell Green is the best cornerback in the league.”

That’s easy for Irvin to say. He caught nine passes for 130 yards and ate Green alive. The bigger the situation, the more Dallas went to Irvin; Green never won a crucial play. Was a minor leg injury from the Pittsburgh game still nagging Green? He was too classy to say.

”I’ve been concerned all year about people throwing high to tall receivers,” said Green, who’s half-a-foot shorter than Irvin. “This was his day today. There will be other days. . . . I don’t think the Redskins are going to cut me. Maybe not even next year.”

At the moment, the book on the Redskins is written in stone -- although few teams are capable of executing it. Play soft zone defense, depending on your defensive line for pressure, with a few all-out blitzes thrown in for spice. “They played a cat-and-mouse game with us,” said Rypien. “Like the Giants.” And the Giants’ defense has consistently annoyed the Redskins more than anybody.

Great running backs who can bounce plays to the outside, such as Emmitt Smith, bother the Redskins. (But how many backs are there like that in the Redskins future -- except perhaps the Bills’ Thurman Thomas in January?)

The Redskins and their fans have had a magical, lucky, gifted ride for 2 1/2 months. But now everybody better buckle their chin straps in a league where almost anybody, even the Patriots, can beat almost anybody (ask the Bills). To get the home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Redskins will have a battle. An injury has forced the Giants to move Phil Simms (who always gives the Redskins trouble) to quarterback for Jeff Hostetler. The Eagles’ Jim McMahon is in a groove.

”There’s no sense of relief in this. There’s a sense we got beat. We were outplayed and outcoached,” said Gibbs. “I’m upset that we lost. Now we have to try to learn from it. . . . I expect I’ll be mad after I look at the films. And I’ll have to get after the people who need it.

”There’s a feeling in here {over losing} that we don’t like. . . . I hope we’ll bounce back and come out roaring.”

For the Redskins, that would be wise advice. As for Redskins fans, the lights on the wobbling bandwagon should not be extinguished, or even dimmed. And it’s fine to make those room reservations for Minneapolis in January.

As for the round-trip air fares, just make sure they’re refundable.