December 2, 1991: Reaching Into Back of Tricks

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- Since not much in the Redskins’ 27-6 victory over the sorry, no-account Los Angeles Rams is worth recounting, let’s go straight to the third quarter with just less than seven minutes left. Redskins have the ball at their 38, leading 14-6. Joe Gibbs feels the offense -- with the running game sluggish -- needs a kick start.

There are at least a dozen good reasons for the Redskins to use the no-huddle whenever Gibbs pleases. Mark Rypien ticked off half that many. You can line up, find out where the defense is vulnerable and hammer away at the soft spot without fear of the defense finding a solution through substitution.

“It limits what a defense can do,” Rip said. “Blitzes are usually called from the sideline, which is something they don’t have time to send in when an offense is running without a huddle. Also, we can utilize all three receivers. And our biggest running plays came when we were in our three wide receiver set.”

The Redskins went without a huddle only in that series, and the result was a quick-strike touchdown drive that put away the game. As previously stated, there are any number of reasons to use the no-huddle. There is only one reason not to use it: teams that do ultimately lose.

You know which teams use the no-huddle, the run-and-shoot? Losers, that’s who. Mostly wimpy AFC teams. The Buffalo Bills have, plain and simply, the most talented offense in football. But they insist on goofing around with a gimmick instead of lining up and knocking the snot out of people. The same was true of Cincinnati in 1988 and 1989. Resorting to silly ploys isn’t the only reason no AFC team has won a Super Bowl since the Raiders beat the Redskins in 1984, but it’s one of them.

You’ve got to figure no self-respecting NFC team, certainly not the one with the best record in football, would sink so low unless it was two scores down in the fourth quarter.

Asked how he, as a defender, feels when a team goes no-huddle against him, linebacker Wilber Marshall smiled and said: “I think of it as ‘pick time’ when I see that. I think it’s fun. I love to play against it.”

So the question was put to Rip: What’s a tough team like the Redskins doing messing around with the no-huddle?

”Last week was the birth of it,” Rip said. “It’s a fail-safe if our game plan falls through, if we’re not executing what the coaches have put out there for us. We don’t want to have to go to this. It’s a gear-switch, something to get us out of a rut. If we never use it again, that’s fine with us. We want to line up, knock people in the face and go about our business. That’s our philosophy. That’s the way the Redskins like to play.”

Whew! Now there’s a relief. That’s how the quarterback of a Super Bowl-bound NFC team is supposed to sound. Rip was wearing a bandage on his chin, having tried to block Kevin Greene, which is how an NFC quarterback should look after a game.

Gibbs left no room for doubt that the no-huddle will remain a pick-me-up for a sluggish afternoon. “Rip’s awful good at it,” Gibbs said. “I wouldn’t think we’d be big on it, but it’s something we might go to from time to time if we’re not going well.”

The Redskins talked about regaining momentum, about gaining home-field advantage in both playoff games. They took a long step here toward accomplishing those goals. By the time they get through with Phoenix next week, momentum will again be on their side. And the only way the Redskins won’t have home-field advantage is if they lose all three remaining games while the Saints win all theirs, including dates at Dallas and at home against the Raiders. So let’s forget all this speculation about home field; it’s a done deal.

Besides, this team is too experienced, too smart, too well-grounded, and too well-coached to let an insignificant loss (yes, I do mean insignificant) to the Cowboys ruin the big picture.

Sunday’s was a classic matchup between champ and chump. The Rams quit. They left the field, losers, with all three timeouts unused. They ran draw plays up the middle on third and long. Once on third down, when it looked as if a Rams receiver might have been interfered with, you’d think there would have been hollering and screaming from the sideline and on the field. You’d think there would have been somebody yanking off a headset or slamming a clipboard into the ground. Nope. Nothing. The Rams walked obediently off the field. “Today’s probably a synopsis of their whole year,” Matt Millen said. “They had chances but they got beat. And you can’t understand why.”

The Rams need a new coach, among other things (Hey, John Shaw, how about the all-too-often passed-over Richie Petitbon), and John Robinson needs a new team. It was a pitiful day for the franchise, what with 30 percent of the 55,000 rooting vociferously for the Redskins, then staying long after to serenade Gibbs and the team as they ducked into the locker room. “I was amazed,” Gibbs said later.

With three games left, this is a team adamantly pursuing another streak, preparing for any surprise they might encounter, even if it means using the no-huddle. Even if it means Gibbs going out of character and kicking a chair in the locker room at halftime.

”We let some things happen last week,” Wilber Marshall said, “and everybody was a little down. We wanted to get some momentum back and get home-field advantage. We’re getting anxious to get to that point. Let’s get those two home games and let’s go. It’s time to play ourselves into another streak.”