The Washington Redskins scaled the heights of the NFL with their Super Bowl championship of 1991, a team that was one the great champions in modern league history. The attempt at a sequel in 1992 didn’t work out. The season was marred by problems from the moment training camp started. And even though the Redskins made the playoffs again, the end of the season was marred by the surprise departure of the cast’s star member.
Mark Rypien had enjoyed a great year in ’91, and was looking to cash in. It led to a contract holdout that caused him to miss much of training camp. The same went for left tackle Jim Lachey, and first-round draft choice Desmond Howard.
It’s no surprise that when the Redskins opened the season on a Monday Night in Dallas, they looked unprepared. The Cowboys blocked a punt for a safety, returned another punt for a touchdown, had Rypien flustered most of the night and ran for 175 yards. It was the first clear sign that this year wasn’t going to roll along as smoothly as the previous one had in Washington D.C.
Before the year was over, injuries would take a toll. Jeff Bostic, the center and one of the mainstays of the “Hogs” offensive line over the years, only played four games. His injury required guard Raleigh McKenzie to move to center, and tackle Joe Jacoby to shift to guard.
The instability on the offensive front was a reason the Redskins slipped into the middle of the league in points scored, ranking 14th. There were no Pro Bowlers on offense. Even though Rypien threw for over 3,200 yards, his TD-INT ratio was 13/17. There were no 1,000-yard receivers and the dropoff in production for future Hall of Famer Art Monk was most glaring. Earnest Byner rushed for 998 yards, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the decline.
On defense, Washington got only eight games out of corner Darrell Green, another future Hall of Famer, and linebacker Wilbur Marshall was the only player to make the Pro Bowl. Marshall did have an excellent season, making 1st-team All-Pro and the defense overall still finished eighth in the NFL in points allowed.
After the debacle in Dallas, Washington would host the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions, the two teams the Redskins had beaten in the NFC playoffs the prior year. The Falcons and Lions would fall off the cliff this season and Washington won both games.
They beat Atlanta 24-17 when Howard broke a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. The running game was dominant, with Byner and Ricky Ervins combining for 162 yards and the ‘Skins controlled the ball nearly forty minutes. The 13-10 win over Detroit was keyed by great rush defense on the great Barry Sanders, held to just 34 yards on 14 carries.
A bye week followed and it followed that perhaps the time off would give Washington the time they needed to really get everyone on the same page after the training camp instability. Instead, they dumped a game at the awful Phoenix Cardinals on their return and it fell on Rypien. With a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter, the quarterback threw two Pick-6s to the same corner, Robert Massey. The game ended in a bad 27-24 loss.
The Denver Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game in 1991, but John Elway’s team joined the list of those that would suffer a decline. They arrived in D.C. for a Monday Night game and the Redskins played their best game of the young season. Marshall picked off Elway and took it 20 yards to the house. Rypien threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark and the game was a 34-3 rout.
It looked like the game would be a turning point. Washington won a tough 16-12 game over the playoff-bound Philadelphia Eagles at home. Rypien made big plays, going 14/24 and turning that into 240 yards passing. The defense sacked athletic Eagles QB Randall Cunningham five times. Another tough win against a future playoff team followed at Minnesota. The ‘Skins didn’t find the end zone, but Chip Lohmiller bailed them out with five field goals–three from 45 yards or longer. Washington won 15-13.
With a three-game win streak and a 5-2 record, Washington was in the mix for the NFC East title along with Dallas and Philadelphia. A Sunday Night game against the New York Giants didn’t seem to present much of a problem–the Giants had declined drastically since Bill Parcells retired following the 1990 season and they would finish 6-10.
But it was the Redskins who looked like the losing team in front of a prime-time audience and home crowd. After Brian Mitchell returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead, the ‘Skins did nothing the rest of the night. They gave up 241 yards rushing and were beaten 24-7.
An uninspiring win at the horrible Seattle Seahawks at least put Washington back in the win column. It was a 16-3 game not put away until Rypien threw a touchdown pass to tight end Terry Orr in the fourth quarter.
Two more uninspired performances against playoff-bound teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints had predictable results–the Redskins dug themselves a 28-0 hole, as the secondary was carved up by KC quarterback Dave Krieg in a 35-16 loss. And Rypien was sacked four times on Monday Night in New Orleans, while the running game did nothing and Washington lost 20-3.
The record was 6-5, there was still time to recover and head coach Joe Gibbs always got his teams to play their best football down the stretch. Washington was able to take advantage of a visit by Phoenix (who was in the NFC East prior to 2002). Free safety Brad Edwards picked off three passes, including one he took to the house to give Washington an early 14-3 lead. The final was 41-3. Another revenge win followed at the Giants. Byner ran for 100 yards and a pair of early touchdowns, while Rypien completed 15/18 for 216 yards and no mistakes in a 28-10 win.
It set the stage for the Cowboys to come to RFK Stadium. Dallas was in firm control of the NFC East and would ultimately win the first Super Bowl of the Jimmy Johnson era. The Redskins realistically needed either this game or the following week’s game at Philadelphia to make the playoffs and neither would be easy.
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Kickoff was late Sunday afternoon for the national TV audience. Washington looked outclassed much of the game. They only ran the ball for 68 yards. Rypien was 13/30 for 185 yards. But they somehow hung in and trailed only 17-10. Then the defense started getting the turnovers.
An interception in the end zone prevented the Cowboys from basically icing the game. Another turnover came and the Redskins would cut the lead to 17-13. Finally, safety Danny Copeland chased down a fumble by Dallas running back Emmitt Smith in the end zone for the winning touchdown. An improbable 20-17 win put Washington in good control of its playoff destiny.
The winner of the Redskins-Eagles game would lock up a postseason berth. Washington led this one 13-7, but was shut down in the second half of a 17-13 loss. The ‘Skins still needed only to win a home game with the mediocre Los Angeles Raiders to qualify.
A frustrating season looked ready to have a miserable ending on late Saturday afternoon in RFK. There was no running game. Rypien was on and off throughout the day. The defense couldn’t contain 37-year-old journeyman quarterback Vince Evans, who beat them 21-20 with a late touchdown pass. Washington had lost control of its fate. They needed to hope the Green Bay Packers lost in Minnesota the following day.
This Packer team was the first with Brett Favre at quarterback and had won six in a row to get in contention. But they weren’t quite ready for the playoff stage, and lost decisively. It wasn’t the most inspiring way to make the playoffs, but the ‘Skins had backed in at 9-7. They had the Vikings to thank, and ironically, would begin the postseason at Minnesota.
What went down in the Metrodome was one of the great postseason performances of Gibbs’ career, especially if you adjust for the fact that this wasn’t a great team. Washington trailed early, 7-3, but then just took the game over and manhandled the Vikes in the trenches.
Byner and Mitchell each ran for second-quarter touchdowns. The Redskins outgained the Vikings 196-73. Mitchell, who had only 24 career rushes prior to this game, gained 109 yards. Washington controlled the clock for nearly 43 minutes of possession time.
“This is surgery without the anesthetic” is how ABC analyst Dan Dierdorf described what they were doing to the Vikings. Rypien tacked on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Clark and the ‘Skins moved their postseason record to 16-4 under Gibbs with the 24-7 win.
The divisional round was in San Francisco. It was a sloppy game on a sloppy day. Each team turned it over four times and this time it was the ‘Skins who were outrushed, 187-73. They hung in to the end, but Ricky Sanders dropped a key 3rd-and-17 pass from Rypien and the season ended with a 20-13 loss.
Whatever problems had taken place during the season were nothing to what awaited afterward. In a move completely taking the entire NFL world off guard, Gibbs announced his retirement. He would come back for a second term in 2004-07 and make the playoffs a couple more times. But the franchise has never been the same since.
The ‘Skins have only made the postseason twice in the ensuing years without the great head coach (1999 & 2012). There’s been no shortage of candidates who have tried, from unknown former assistants (Jim Zorn and Jay Gruden) to past Super Bowl winning coaches (Mike Shanahan) to college hotshots (Steve Spurrier). And more. The great fan base of Redskins Nation–including this writer–is still looking for hope that our beloved franchise can win without Gibbs. 1992 was the end of an era.