The 1993 Washington Redskins marked the beginning of a new era in franchise history. Legendary head coach Joe Gibbs had retired after the 1992 season. Richie Petitbon, the defensive coordinator through the franchise’s glory years under Gibbs was promoted.
Gibbs wasn’t the only departure. Veterans Gary Clark (WR) and Wilber Marshall (LB) also left via free agency. The “Hogs” offensive line was long in the tooth, with center Jeff Bostic now 35, along with Raleigh MacKenzie and Ed Simmons also turning 30. Charles Mann, a great pass rusher, turned 32, and recorded only one sack in 1993.
The Redskins signed away a former rival, Carl Banks who played for Bill Parcells with the New York Giants. But Banks, at 31, was unproductive at the end of the line himself.
Meanwhile, Washington also had four rookies in the starting lineup. The best of the group was running back Reggie Brooks out of Notre Dame, who ran for over 1,000 yards. Brooks’ Irish teammate, Tom Carter, started at corner. Sterling Palmer at defensive end and Frank Wycheck was the new tight end.
Wycheck was the only one of the rookies that ever made a name for himself, and it came in Tennessee, based on one play. Wycheck made the most famous lateral in NFL history with the 1999 Tennessee Titans, when they won the “Music City Miracle” playoff game on a dramatic kickoff return.
The result was the Redskins struggled on both sides of the ball. They finished 25th in points scored, 23rd in points allowed and for the only time in franchise history, failed to put anyone in the Pro Bowl.
When the season opened, Washington was still the team just two years removed from a dominating Super Bowl run and who had made the playoffs three straight seasons. They were on the season-opening Monday Night game against the Dallas Cowboys, at home in RFK Stadium.
Dallas was in turmoil over the contract holdout of running back Emmitt Smith and there were no signs of any trouble in Washington. They did give up an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, but soon took the game over. Quarterback Mark Rypien found Ricky Sanders on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Rypien was an efficient 22/34 for 161 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on the night.
The Redskins also ran the ball just as they always had under Gibbs. This time it was Brian Mitchell going for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Washington moved out to a 21-13 lead, when a Rypien touchdown pass to Art Monk all but sealed the game that ended 35-16.
Washington then hosted the mediocre Phoenix Cardinals, and things started to go wrong. Rypien injured his knee and Cary Conklin came in. Conklin didn’t play badly, 16/29 for 169 yards and one interception but the running game disappeared, and so did the rush defense. The Cardinals were quarterbacked by Steve Beurlein, who had come into RFK with Dallas two years earlier and beaten the then-unbeaten Redskins in Week 13. This year, Beurlein led a 17-10 upset.
Conklin played well at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3, throwing a pair of second quarter touchdown passes, one each to Sanders and Tim McGee. With the game tied 24-24, Brooks ripped off an 85-yard touchdown run. But the defense failed at the end, giving up 360 yards passing to Randall Cunningham and the Eagles scored the final ten points to win 34-31.
1993 was a year the NFL experimented with two bye weeks for each team, and the ‘Skins got their first break in Week 4. They had two weeks to prepare for another Monday Night date, this one at the Miami Dolphins. Washington fell behind 14-0 and only rushed for 84 yards. Conklin came out and Rich Gannon came in, but no one could move the ball in a 17-10 loss.
The record was 1-3, but all three losses were close to teams that were at least adequate. Rypien was coming back and the Redskins had two NFC East games ahead of them, at home with the Giants and a trip to Phoenix. It was an ideal opportunity to turn the season around.
Except this is where the season–and given how the last two decades of Redskins history has gone–maybe even the franchise itself–came undone.
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Washington’s rush defense was pounded for 199 yards by the Giants, who were en route to an 11-5 season and a playoff berth. Rypien did his best, going 21/35 for 220 yards, but there was no running game and the secondary was carved up by Phil Simms. The result was a 41-7 loss.
It managed to get worse in Phoenix. Rypien was sacked five times, unable to find team to get the ball downfield. Beurlein had no such problems, turning 12 completions into 250 passing yards and a 36-6 rout. The ‘Skins were 1-5 and the playoffs were now a pipe dream.
The second bye came, but it didn’t help. A third Monday Night game, this one at the three-time defending AFC champion (soon to be four-time) Buffalo Bills resulted in a four-interception night from Rypien and a 24-10 loss.
On November 7, Washington got a merciful visit from the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, who would finish 4-12, were bad enough that the Redskins were actually a 6 1/2 point favorite on Sunday Night. The great Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green returned a fumble 79 yards for a touchdown to stake Washington to a 7-0 lead. They won the turnover battle 3-zip, the rushing game 109-49 and built up a 30-10 lead, before hanging on to win 30-24.
A visit to the Meadowlands to face the Giants brought the losing back. Washington outgained New York 325-262, but couldn’t convert at key times and failed to reach the end zone in a 20-6 loss. The ‘Skins again failed to reach the end zone at a bad Los Angeles Rams team.
Washington still led that game 6-0 in the fourth quarter until T.J. Rubley came off the bench and managed to do a reincarnation of Clint Longley, the Dallas backup in 1974 who had torched Washington on Thanksgiving Day. Rubley went 5/6 for 112 yards and stole a 10-6 win.
The touchdown-less streak reached 11 quarters, as the Redskins trailed the Eagles 10-0 at home after three quarters. Gannon was now in at quarterback and finally threw a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes. But for the second time, Washington lost late to their NFC East rival. This time it was backup Bubby Brister who led the winning drive to beat the ‘Skins, 17-14.
Tampa Bay was next, and Redskins linebacker Kurt Gouveia made the big play of the game, a 59-yard interception return and Washington was able to beat a fellow bad team, 23-17. The next game would be at home against the New York Jets, and regrettably it was on a Saturday, thereby exposed to a national audience.
It was one of the most embarrassing offensive displays the Redskins have ever put on. They did nothing well and ran only 39 plays from scrimmage. They lost the football game 3-0. I still remember watching this game and as a partisan ‘Skins fan, the three-point deficit seemed like three touchdowns for how bad the offense was.
The Atlanta Falcons came into RFK next and the defense–especially linebacker Monte Coleman–took matters into their own hands. After falling behind 7-0, Coleman got a safety. Later on, corner A.J. Johnson had a Pick-6. Coleman then recovered a fumble and took it to the house. The defense directly scored 16 points and the ‘Skins won the football game 30-17.
Washington went to Dallas for a late Sunday afternoon kick in the season’s penultimate game. The Cowboys were fighting the Giants for the NFC East title and the ‘Skins could inflict major damage on their biggest rival. But Emmitt Smith was back and rolling for Dallas–he would ultimately win the MVP award–and Smith ran for 153 yards in a 38-3 rout.
The season finale was at home against the Minnesota Vikings, who needed a win to make the playoffs. The year ended appropriately for Washington–in spite of driving to the red zone three times, they failed to score a touchdown. Rypien went 24/36 and didn’t make any mistakes, but couldn’t get the ball downfield. The result was a 14-9 loss.
Petitbon was fired after the season was over, but the longtime Gibbs loyalist deserves some defense. The Redskins were in a bad spot personnel-wise, and it would have been very tough for anyone to succeed. It’s hard to imagine Gibbs going 4-12, but then again, Gibbs was arguably the greatest coach in NFL history. It’s no shame for Petitbon not to be in that class, and I’m sure a lot of otherwise decent coaches would have struggled in this situation.
Everyone knew the Redskins had work to do in rebuilding, but surely no one would have guessed the franchise would enter a dark era of its existence, one in which the cloud has still not been lifted.