A week later, the Redskins seemed on their way to another surprise victory when they were driving for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. But Rypien dropped a muddy ball as he attempted to hand off to Mitchell. The 49ers recovered and went on to a 20-13 victory.
The Redskins were exhausted, physically and mentally. While they had not won the game, they had proved their mettle to Gibbs and to others with their determined, week-to-week effort despite all of their problems. Left tackle Jim Lachey had attempted to play the San Francisco game despite a torn rib cartilage. He had taken five pain-killing injections. Finally, when he requested a sixth, doctors ordered him to the sidelines. Three weeks later, Lachey was still unable to sleep through the night because of his sore ribs.
With the season over, Gibbs felt both disappointed and elated. He believed his team still capable of getting back to the Super Bowl. "I felt great about that team," he said. "I liked our quarterback. I thought we had a tough, smart group."
What few people knew was how
Gibbs himself had suffered through the season.
Gibbs believed that he simply was exhausted and that a couple of weeks of vacation would do the trick. Two days after the San Francisco loss, he told a reporter, "I'm definitely coming back next season."
That same day, he met with Jack Kent Cooke, executive vice president John Kent Cooke and Casserly to discuss the 1993 season. All three urged Gibbs to cut Rypien. Gibbs refused, saying Rypien would be his starter until he found someone better.
Gibbs and Casserly told Cooke that they wanted to make a run at free agent-to-be defensive end Reggie White. "Mr. Cooke agreed with us," Casserly said. "He was so adamant about getting it done that when he left I looked at Joe and said, `We're signing Reggie White.' "
That moment should have been frozen in time. The Redskins had the NFL's best coach, an accomplished general manager and an owner who put the right decisions above profits.