December 23, 1991: Redskins Have Irregular End To Regular Season: Eagles Score 17 In 4th Quarter, 24-22

PHILADELPHIA, DEC. 22 -- In the end, Joe Gibbs didn’t have the stomach for it. Not this day, not in the face of a relentless pass rush and the NFL’s best defense playing at the top of its game. Gibbs said he decided before game time to pull his starters early because he’d never forgive himself if an injury in a meaningless game cost his Washington Redskins a Super Bowl trip.

Roger Ruzek’s 38-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining won it for the Eagles, who trailed 19-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Their comeback was engineered by quarterback Jeff Kemp, the former Churchill High star, who overcame a miserable start (two of 12) to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, a two-yarder to tight end Keith Jackson and a six-yarder to tight end Maurice Johnson.

The Eagles also got a big day from backup cornerback Otis Smith, who had a hand in two touchdowns, intercepting Mark Rypien’s pass and returning it 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and blocking Kelly Goodburn’s fourth-quarter punt in the end zone to set up another.

But it wasn’t a typical game. The Redskins finished 14-2, instead of 15-1, in part because Rypien left after one series in the second half, and defensive end Charles Mann, running back Earnest Byner, offensive linemen Jim Lachey, Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby and others played about that long.

Gibbs may thank himself if the Redskins play in Super Bowl XXVI, but he didn’t win many friends in his locker room, where more than a few players weren’t happy about leaving.

”It’s not my decision,” Rypien snapped. “I don’t second-guess a coach’s decision. Maybe he just pulled me because I wasn’t playing well. I don’t know. I wasn’t asked.”

Rypien completed only 10 of 27 for 130 yards and appeared to be bothered by the middle finger he injured last week. He also had two passes dropped in the end zone, one by guard Mark Adickes, who had lined up as a tight end, and the other by wide receiver Gary Clark. He refused to alibi, but admitted to having trouble gripping the ball. That problem showed several times, especially when he completed one of his first seven and six of his first 18 passes.

”I didn’t feel comfortable throwing the ball,” Rypien said. “I couldn’t get much on the ball. I couldn’t grip it like I’d like. It wasn’t that the finger was hurting. It felt more like an arthritis-type discomfort. I’m not making any excuses, but that’s a fact. I had no rhythm, and I never got any. We just didn’t match their intensity.”

Ruzek’s field goal was the final punctuation mark on an afternoon when the Redskins failed to become the NFL’s third 15-1 team in history. Their offense allowed three sacks, and with nine for the season, missed the NFL record of seven set by the Miami Dolphins in 1988. They entered the game No. 1 in fewest points allowed and left it No. 2, behind New Orleans.

Still, they got out of the City of Brotherly Love with no one on a stretcher, and considering the torrid pass rush and fierce hitting the Eagles brought, that might have been the victory wrapped inside the loss. Backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge found out all about that rush, and once after being driven into the ground by linebacker Seth Joyner, got up to see the world through a twisted facemask.

The Redskins now have a light week of work before returning to full practices next week in preparation for their playoff game Jan. 4 or 5 at RFK Stadium. Their opponent will be determined by next weekend’s opening playoff games, and it boils down to this: If the Atlanta Falcons win next weekend, they’ll be at RFK, probably at 4 p.m. on Jan. 5. If the Falcons lose, the Redskins will play the winner of the Dallas Cowboys-Chicago Bears or Detroit Lions game.

Gibbs said all week he was leaning toward using his starters the entire way and playing to win from start to finish. He also told reporters he reserved the right to change his mind, and said that on the bus ride to the game, he did just that.

”I made my mind up when I got to the stadium that I was going to take him {Rypien} out at the first opportunity,” Gibbs said. “If something had happened in the fourth quarter, I’d have felt bad. You go against this team, you know there’s a chance of getting hit.”

Others were in and out of the game. Lachey had a twisted knee but could have played. Jacoby broke his pinky finger, but also could have played. Mann spent much of the afternoon on the sideline. Not all his players agreed with the moves, but some did.

”People were throwing helmets because they hate losing,” defensive tackle Eric Williams said. “But in terms of the big picture, it’s about like a preseason game.”

It may have been more than that to the Eagles, who missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. And they finished 10-6 despite losing their top two quarterbacks, Randall Cunningham and Jim McMahon, to injury.

No matter. After getting 26 total yards in the first half, Kemp did a good imitation of his dad, Jack Kemp, in the second half as he completed 17 of 28, and the last drive was one he’ll remember.

Chip Lohmiller’s fifth field goal, a 35-yarder, had given the Redskins a 22-21 lead with 2:34 remaining, but Kemp smoothly moved the Eagles into position. The drive started at the Philadelphia 21 and the Eagles had one timeout left.

Kemp hit wide receiver Fred Barnett for 12 on first down. He threw an incompletion at the two-minute warning. He passed to Barnett for two yards, and to wide receiver Calvin Williams for 19 yards to the Washington 44. He passed to running back Keith Byars for four yards and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 58 seconds left. He then hit Barnett for 10 more and Byars for nine.

The Eagles had the ball at the Redskins 21, took their final timeout and, with 13 seconds left, Ruzek’s field goal won it. Bottom line: Kemp completed 19 of 40 on the day, but was six for eight on the final drive. The Eagles had just 207 yards on the day, but 58 on the final drive.

”It was a great win by great people,” Eagles Coach Rich Kotite said. “The Redskins are an outstanding football team, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a great way to end a very interesting year. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be home for Christmas. I’ve never seen a game as thrilling as this one, especially considering the scenario we had going into the 16th game.”

The Redskins were credited with only two sacks, but Kemp was knocked down at least a half-dozen other times.

”I don’t know about the number,” Kemp said, smiling. “I was just wearing them down with my body.”

The Redskins also finished with some ugly numbers. Rypien had his worst day of the season. Rutledge subbed and hit six of 16 for 100 yards. Neither team did anything rushing. The Eagles had just 50 yards; the Redskins had 87 on 36 carries (a 2.4-yard average).

Rookie Ricky Ervins was the bright spot, getting 60 yards on the ground and 41 receiving. Defensive tackle Tim Johnson had his first career interception and linebacker Wilber Marshall forced a pair of fumbles and had a sack.

The Redskins led 13-7 at the half, but it was Smith’s 74-yard interception return that opened the scoring. Marshall had just stripped James Joseph of the ball, and on second and seven at the Philaelphia 30, Rypien threw for Ricky Sanders in the right flat.

The pass was low and late, and Smith stepped in, caught the ball off his shoe tops and had a clear sprint to the end zone.

Rypien looked first for Art Monk over the middle, then saw Sanders. “I threw it late in the flat,” Rypien said. “I could have hit Ricky if I’d thrown it earlier. You throw it late in the flat like that, and that’s something you don’t usually get away with. I didn’t.”

Ervins came in and sparked the Redskins to a touchdown and two field goals. He rushed 23 times for 60 yards; he got 34 on one run -- the longest against the Eagles this season. He also caught two passes for 41 yards.

Rypien left early in the third quarter, but Marshall forced a turnover and Johnson intercepted a pass. The Redskins got two field field goals out of the plays, but only after their offense had drives of minus-10 and minus-12 yards.

It was 19-7 as the fourth quarter began, and Kemp brought the Eagles back. Kemp completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Keith Jackson on the seventh play of the fourth quarter to make it 19-14.

The Redskins went one, two, three, punt, punt. The second punt was made necessary when A.J. Johnson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the first, moving the ball back to the 11. Smith bulled past Andre Collins to block that try after a high snap by John Brandes. Monte Coleman ran it out of the end zone, but the Eagles took over at the Washington 7. Kemp hit Maurice Johnson for six yards and a touchdown for a 21-19 lead with 9:14 left.

The Redskins got the lead back after Rutledge completed a 36-yard pass to Clark. But with a first down at the Philadelphia 9, they couldn’t get into the end zone and settled for Lohmiller’s 35-yard field goal for the 22-21 lead, which didn’t hold up.

”Don’t talk about learning things or getting something positive out of it,” Rypien said. “What comes from a game like this? Not a damn thing. You take a loss. I don’t care what the circumstances were, you want to play well. You don’t take anything away from a loss. I’m not going to make excuses. We as a team stunk offensively.”