September 16, 1991: Redskins Beat Cardinals From First, 34-0: Head NFC East at 3-0 On Dominating Effort

The Washington Redskins responded to the challenge of a short work week and an emotional Monday night victory by dominating the Phoenix Cardinals from beginning to end and winning, 34-0, yesterday before 54,662 at RFK Stadium.

When it was over, the Cardinals had seen the best of the Redskins. They’d seen linebacker Wilber Marshall intercept the 14th and 15th passes of his career. One stopped the Cardinals’ deepest drive of the day and the other he returned 54 yards for his second career touchdown.

They’d seen Byner celebrate his 29th birthday by rushing for 109 yards and catching four passes for 51 more. They’d seen Mark Rypien complete 15 of 23 passes for 181 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown to Gary Clark. They’d seen the Redskins get their second shutout in their first three games -- the first time since 1939 they’ve accomplished that. They’ve won their two home games by a combined 79-0.

And the Cardinals had seen the first-place team in the NFC East.

The Redskins (3-0) haven’t been alone atop their division since the Super Bowl season of 1987. It’s still early -- Coach Joe Gibbs said that about six dozen times -- and the Redskins haven’t seen the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles yet, but after three weeks they lead the Eagles (2-1) and Cardinals (2-1) by a game and the Giants (1-2) and Dallas Cowboys (1-2) by two.

”That’s about as good as we can play,” Gibbs said. “It’s only three games and that won’t get you anything. But it’s a thrill to be in first place. We haven’t been there in a while. Now, we’ll see how we handle prosperity.”

The Redskins had worries about the Cardinals, who came in as one of only six unbeaten NFL teams. They didn’t bring overwhelming statistics, but they’d forced 13 turnovers and held opponents to 88.5 yards rushing per game. They’d hurt ballcarriers and knocked down quarterbacks and the Redskins had been warned to be ready for contact.

The Redskins were. They rolled up 350 yards of offense and held the Cardinals to 165. They intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble, but lost two fumbles themselves. They drove 79 and 63 yards for touchdowns the first two times they had the ball and the outcome was seldom in doubt after that.

”We did the things we wanted to do,” Redskins center Jeff Bostic said. “We started right off and ran the ball. When you can do that, it opens up everything else for you.”

Then there was the defense. Remember that defense that was whipped so badly by the Browns and Jets at the end of preseason? It has now shut out the Lions, allowed the Cowboys 31 points and shut out Phoenix. The Cardinals were held without a first down on seven of their 12 drives and got into Redskins territory only once the second half. Safety Brad Edwards also intercepted a pass, and Charles Mann had two of the Redskins’ four sacks, forcing a fumble on one.

Cardinals quarterback Tom Tupa completed 13 of 24 passes but for only 120 yards. He left after being decked by Mann in the fourth quarter and backup Craig Kupp finished.

”We had a lot of respect for Phoenix and we played that way,” Gibbs said. “I’m really proud of our guys. Our guys are smart. They know what this means.”

Cardinals Coach Joe Bugel also knew what it meant. “For us to match up with the Skins, we had to play an error-free game, and we didn’t,” he said. “We felt good about ourselves coming into the game. We won’t dwell on this one. We’ll move on.”

The Cardinals brought one unexpected wrinkle, opening in a no-huddle offense designed to keep defensive boss Richie Petitbon from making his situational substitutions. It seemed to catch the Redskins off balance. The Cardinals drove to the Washington 36, but Greg Davis missed a 54-yard field goal.

After that, it was no factor, and the Cardinals shifted in and out of the no-huddle the rest of the afternoon.

”We were still able to play what we wanted to play,” Edwards said. “All it took was a little while to find out what they were doing. They were trying to get something quick, and after you get settled down, you just play defense.”

If the Redskins had dreamed of a hundred different ways to open the game, it wouldn’t have been any better than the way they started, by grinding out a long drive against a fired-up young team. Byner carried seven times for 37 yards and caught a nine-yard pass. Rypien hit Clark for 30. Byner followed Raleigh McKenzie and Jim Lachey for the two-yard score.

After Davis missed the field goal, the Redskins ground out 63 yards in nine plays consuming 5:22. It was again Byner, getting gains of five, two, six and nine on the first four plays. At that point, the Redskins had run 15 plays and 12 involved Byner.

”I don’t even think about how much I’m being used,” he said. “I’m enjoying it right now and the guys are blocking great. It was a hot day and {running backs} coach {Don} Breaux told me if I needed a break to signal. I did a few times.”

The Redskins believed Phoenix’s outside linebackers, Freddie Joe Nunn and Ken Harvey, were so aggressive they could be caught moving the wrong way. That’s what happened on the touchdown play when Rypien handed to Byner, who went right and handed back to wideout Ricky Sanders, who went left and 10 yards to score for a 14-0 lead 57 seconds into the second quarter.

It stayed 14-0 the rest of the half thanks to a couple of big defensive plays by the Redskins. The first came at the Washington 15 as Mann smothered Tupa, whose pass fluttered to Edwards at the 8.

Next possession, the Cardinals drove to the 9, but on third and five Fred Stokes smacked Tupa, and Marshall stepped in front of running back Ron Wolfley to intercept.

The Redskins opened the second half by making it 21-0. Byner and Gerald Riggs had again run the ball inside, and on first down at the 28, Rypien pump-faked to Clark. Cornerback Robert Massey took the fake, and Clark got way behind him to catch the lob in the end zone with 9:52 left in the third.

Then it was Marshall’s turn. On third and 13 at the Phoenix 44, he stepped in front of receiver Randal Hill, intercepted at the Washington 46 and started down the right sideline. He faked a lateral to Alvoid Mays at the 31. He spun inside and broke a tackle at the 25. He wound into the end zone, and handed the ball to a young fan. With 7:06 left in the third, it was 28-0.

”I was just going as far as I could,” Marshall said. “I was tired and tried to kick it in there a little. They {his coaches} had the confidence to think I could play that side, and I’ve tried to do the best I could. I didn’t think there’d be as many big plays, but I’ve been able to read a couple of things right.”

Gibbs said he almost fainted when he saw Marshall begin making like a wishbone quarterback.

”I’m going, ‘Just don’t fumble!’ “ Gibbs said. “He was wagging that ball around. That’s how conservative I am. . . . Wilber made some great plays. This is what everyone expected from him. We’ve put him in the roles we felt we had to have him in, and he hasn’t always liked. But he has lost himself in the game. He has done everything we’ve asked. He has a great attitude. He’s one of our leaders.”

After three games, Gibbs’s team is two games ahead of the Giants and averaging 37 points and 358 yards per game. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 at RFK.

”Sometimes you just have a day like this,” he said. “It feels great, and we’ve got to approach it the right way and build on it.”