October 7, 1991: A Familiar Feeling

CHICAGO -- When the camera lights are on and the notebooks open, players talk about taking it one week at a time, not attaching too much significance to any one victory and so on and so on. But at some point during the course of a special season, private thoughts are radically different. Teams know. They just do. When you beat the Bears, flawed as they are, when you stuff the Monsters in the wind and the cold of Soldier Field, when you win against a perennial playoff team on the road in the absence of both a running game and a great passing performance, you’ve got more than a hint.

Monk is talking about a team feeling that it can stop the opponent’s best rusher, shut out its pass rush, force the opponent to abandon what it does best. That’s what the Redskins are doing. It was nice to beat the Lions, Cardinals, Cowboys and Bengals. But these last two wins, over the Eagles and the Bears, this is where determination turns to steely will.

“We’re determined that we’re not going to let anything stop us,” Monk said, without the slightest trace of arrogance. “We come in with a game plan and if it doesn’t work, we keep changing it and changing it until something works. There’s a feeling you get that no one can stop you. It’s not to say you can’t be stopped, but the feeling is you can’t be. You feel like, ‘Hey, we’re going to win no matter what. If we’re down three on the last possession of the game, we’re coming back.’ “

The Redskins surely didn’t have to worry about that Sunday, largely because Monk made at least two remarkable plays, caught both touchdown passes and reminded one of the league’s best secondaries that even at 33 he can kill you. “I obviously don’t perform, at least I don’t think so, the way I used to,” he said.

Tell that to the Bears.

On the Redskins’ first touchdown drive, it was third and eight and looked like another field goal opportunity, when Monk improvised a route to get open for a 26-yard touchdown pass that led to a 10-0 lead.

At 10-7, on fourth and four, Monk took two jarring hits but held on to a 12-yard pass that kept alive the drive that resulted in his second touchdown reception, and a 17-7 lead. Of course if helped that the Bears were preoccupied with Ricky Sanders on the first touchdown, and with Gary Clark on the second. Clark still is the most underrated player -- not receiver, player -- in the league. But ask yourself this: If you’ve got one tick of the clock left and you’ve got to have a touchdown pass, whom do you want to throw to?

1. Jerry Rice.

2. Art Monk.

Great teams win on days they don’t play great, because there’s a Hall of Fame player or two to pull them through. That’s what Monk did Sunday.

The rushing attack, which had been high octane this season, produced just 75 yards. The Bears decided to commit heavily to stopping the run. The new book on the Redskins seems to be stop Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs, make Mark Rypien beat you. Rip had some more shaky moments, but he delivered when necessary. This criticism of the Redskins quarterback might be getting a little out of hand.

He’s not Montana, he’s not ever going to be Montana. He’s going to throw some interceptions. He’s going to struggle and at times make Redskins fans throw up their hands and holler. He’s a sixth-round draft choice. It’s unfair to expect him to play like a first-rounder. Sunday’s tally of one interception, two touchdowns was more than adequate.

Mike Ditka drew some laughs when discussing the performance of his quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, who talked a tough game during the week and played like the quarterback from the University of Michigan that he is. “I don’t think {Harbaugh} played any worse than their guy,” Ditka said.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, however, said, “Mark is 6-0, that’s all I care about.”

Rypien doesn’t have to carry the team, as we saw again Sunday. That’s what Monk, Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Monte Coleman and Jeff Bostic, among others, are there for.

”We’ve got seven or eight guys,” Gibbs said, “who’ve been in there for the full 11 years and I think some of them think that this may be their last shot to get to the Super Bowl and that helped motivate us.”

The Bears used to turn in motivated performances, almost routinely, especially at home, which is why some of us saw the Redskins’ undefeated season becoming blemished here. But the old Bears, if not completely dead, are on life support.

Guess how many times Dent, Fridge, McMichael Co. sacked Rip? Try none. Not once. They barely touched him. Linebacker John Roper got in Rip’s face once and made him throw a little wider than he wanted, but there was little other pressure. “Yeah, I’d say that was pretty much the only time they hurried me,” Rip said.

So the offensive line, with starting right tackle Ed Simmons on injured reserve and future Hall of Famer Russ Grimm playing the utility role, is looking like the original Hogs. It’s playing like it has the feeling. So is the defense. And the special teams.

It’s a feeling that lets a team soar just high enough, without reaching arrogance. “Arrogance? No, we don’t take it that far,” Monk said. “We’ll stay on our P’s and Q’s. It can be tough only if you let it.”