Although even Gibbs’ second term was saddled with a pair of 6-10 years and the magic of RG3 was quickly squandered when he tore up his knee in a first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But this past offseason was just more raised hopes followed by bad decisions and I fear that yesterday in the 2014 NFL draft was more of the same.
The Redskins were making their first selection at the 34-spot, with no first-round selection due to the trade to get in position to draft RG3 in 2012. Players I liked ranged from Florida State corner Lamarcus Joyner to Wisconsin middle linebacker Chris Borland. Both players filled positions of need. I liked the notion of grabbing Joyner at 34, and then taking Borland with the second selection of the third round.
Even when Washington decided to trade down with the Dallas Cowboys, I was happy. The ‘Skins would still get the 47th pick, and they added the 78th pick. It was a great opportunity to still get Borland at 47 and have an extra pick. Borland was an ideal fit for the Redskins—he could step into a position that was being vacated by retiring London Fletcher. Borland was also known for his sure tackling, his heart and his mental toughness while in college. All three of those virtues are badly needed on the Washington defense.
Instead, Washington drafted an offensive lineman from Virginia (Morgan Moses), an outside linebacker from Stanford (Trent Murphy) and another offensive lineman from Nebraska (Spencer Long). The only area of the defense the ‘Skins addressed was the OLB spot—and with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in those spots, it happens to be the one area the defense actually looks pretty good. Borland ended up with the San Francisco 49ers, taken with the #77 pick.
There are any number of defenses that can be made of the Washington Redskins’ decision-making. Here are a few I’m trying to hang my hat on this morning (by “hang my hat on”, I mean, not run screaming from the house in a suicidal rampage). Here they are…
*Offensive line is a significant area of need. In fact, if a recording could be made of me each Sunday last fall, I would have been found repeatedly griping about the line play, from the inability to get Alfred Morris holes consistently, to RG3 seeing the interior of the pocket collapse almost immediately upon the snap.
*Murphy was an excellent player at Stanford, and this program has become one of my favorites in recent years, for their blue-collar toughness. Furthermore, I’ve been a believer over the years in getting the best player available, even if it doesn’t meet an immediate need. You never know what’s going to happen, from injuries to trades. And if this were another organization, you could hope for some strategic creativity to get three outside linebackers on the field if Murphy really proves he can play.
*Since I live in Wisconsin and follow the Badgers, it’s well possible that some hometown bias is inflating my opinion of Borland.
All of these things are possible, and I’m hoping that those are what prove to be true. If the front office had built any credibility over the years, I’d even given those thoughts the benefit of the doubt. But one quote from Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, who had final say on this selections sent me over the edge.
Allen said the Redskins had a roster “with no holes.”
Are you bleepin’ kidding me!!!!!!
The Washington Redskins just went 3-13 and over the past six years (since Gibbs’ last season of 2007) have shown that the only way they can win is if a healthy Robert Griffin III can basically lift the entire team and carry them, with some help from Morris. If RG3 is slowed even somewhat with a brace, the team loses 13 games. The only way this qualifies as a roster with no holes is if Allen is taking the literal interpretation of those words and is assuring the fan base he has enough players to field a team this fall.
Washington had a chance to hire a quality head coach—either someone with a track record that knew defense like Lovie Smith, or one of the well-established young coordinators with an established resume, like Greg Romans with San Francisco. Instead, they opted for Jay Gruden, who was the second-best coordinator on his own staff in Cincinnati (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the new Viking boss being the best).
Now they had a chance to get a talented corner and a solid middle linebacker in the draft and screwed that up. I really hope I’m wrong, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But the fact we have a general manager who thinks his 3-13 team has a stacked roster at every spot doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the people making the decisions.
The 1983 Washington Redskins were a defending Super Bowl champion that came into the season lacking in respect. The ‘Skins didn’t repeat as champions, but they produced an MVP, a high-powered offense, a ballhawking defense and NFC title and earned plenty of respect along the way.
Joe Theismann had the best year of his career at age 34. The quarterback threw for over 3,700 yards and posted a 29/11 TD-INT ratio, excellent in that era. Theismann won the MVP award and had plenty of support on offense. John Riggins, also 34-years-old, ran for over 1,300 yards. Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm manned the left side of the line and joined Theismann and Riggins as 1st-team All-Pro.
Other Pro Bowlers included wide receiver Charlie Brown, a shifty little target that accumulated 1,225 yards, along with center Joe Bostic. With head coach Joe Gibbs orchestrating the attack, the Redskins averaged 34 ppg, the best in the NFL.
The defense wasn’t as dominant, but they were still pretty good and the absolutely excelled at taking the ball away. Free safety Mark Murphy made the Pro Bowl with nine interceptions. The secondary also benefitted from the addition of a rookie named Darrell Green, who would one day make the Hall of Fame.
Up front, the Redskins got a career year from 33-year-old defensive tackle Dave Butz, who recorded 11.5 sacks. With Butz coming up the middle, opposing offensive lines couldn’t key on the edge, where Dexter Manley came for 11 more sacks.
The defense finished 11th in the NFL in points allowed, but more important, they set an NFL record with a stunning (+43) turnover margin.
When the season began the Redskins were still seen as mostly a fluke team that had come out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl in the strike-shortened year of 1982. They were actually a home underdog in the first game of the season, on Monday Night against the Dallas Cowboys.
Washington spent the first half looking ready to prove everyone wrong. They built a 23-3 lead and Theismann, who would throw for 325 yards, was rolling. Then it all came apart in the second half–the biggest flaw of the defense over the season would be giving up the deep ball, and they allowed two long touchdown passes from Cowboy quarterback Danny White. Dallas scored four successive touchdowns and won 31-30.
The highlight of the night from the Redskins’ perspective was an electric moment when Green showcased his speed by coming from across the field to chase down Dallas’ fast running back Tony Dorsett, a play that lives on in Redskins lore today. But Washington was still searching for respect.
Oddsmakers made the defending champs a pick’em in Week 2 at the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that had not made the playoffs the prior year and would finish 5-11. The game was tied 10-10 after three quarters before a 14-yard touchdown run by Riggins broke the tie. He finished with 100 yards, while the defense held Philly to 35 yards rushing. Washington won 23-13.
Another sluggish start against a bad team followed at home against Kansas City. The Redskins played poorly in the first half by repeated red zone stops kept the halftime score at 12-0. In the second half, Theismann got going and found his tight ends, Clint Didier and Don Warren, for touchdown passes and Washington pulled away 27-12.
The ‘Skins played their best game of the season at Seattle, holding a good running back in Curt Warner to 34 yards rushing and Washington was in control throughout in a 27-17 win. The Seahawks would make the AFC Championship Game by season’s end. The other future participant in the AFC title game was the Los Angeles Raiders, and the more heralded opponent was coming to D.C. on October 2.
An offensive shootout was on tap. Theismann threw for 417 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He repeatedly connected with Brown, who caught 11 balls for 180 yards and with running back Joe Washington, who caught five passes for 99 yards.
One of the passes to the shifty Washington was a swing pass that went a long way. Its success would later come back to haunt the Redskins.
For today, all was good. While Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett threw four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder, the Redskins also got four interceptions and preserved a 37-35 win. They followed it up by going to a decent St. Louis Cardinals’ team and winning 38-14 behind 115 yards from Riggins.
The Monday Night stage awaited again, this time at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers had made the playoffs for the first time in a decade the prior year and were hungry to get back. They had a high-powered passing attack of their own and on this night, Theismann and counterpart Lynn Dickey put on a amazing display.
Theismann threw for 398 yards, spreading the ball among all his receivers. Dickey threw for 387. An early defensive touchdown scored by the Packers proved to be huge, and they eventually won the game 48-47 on a late 20-yard field goal.
The Redskins were 5-2, with both losses by one point. But from a standpoint of getting respect, they had come on their only forays to prime-time. What’s more, Dallas was 7-0. But the ‘Skins were about to really take off.
WATCH THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S VIDEO DISCUSSION OF THE JOE GIBBS ERA WITH THE REDSKINS
Even with Riggins missing the following week’s home game with Detroit, the ‘Skins got 147 rush yards from Joe Washington, shut down the Lion running game and won 38-17. A Monday Night visit to San Diego–Gibbs’ first return to the place he built his reputation as an offensive coordinator–produced a 27-24 win, as the Redskins picked off backup quarterback Ed Luther six times.
The defense kept making plays at home against the Cardinals, with Vernon Dean and Mel Kaufmann each scoring defensive touchdowns, the team forcing five turnovers and winning 45-7. The following week on the road against the New York Giants, the ‘Skins held the Giants to 25 rush yards, led as much as 33-3 and won 33-17. Another blowout followed on November 20 at the Los Angeles Rams. This time it was interceptions–the ‘Skins picked four, two of them by linebacker Rich Milot in a 42-20 win where the lead had been as high as 42-6.
Washington finally got a tougher game when Philadelphia came to RFK Stadium. Theismann and counterpart Ron Jaworski each played well, but Theismann had a running game–Riggins went for 99 yards and the Redskins escaped 28-24. They got back into blowout mode in a home game with the Atlanta Falcons, with defensive back Anthony Washington picking off two passes, the team getting four picks and rolling to a 37-7 lead. The defense gave up its usual garbage-time points and the final score was 37-21.
When December 11 rolled around, the Redskins were 12-2. The Cowboys had lost a couple games by now and the NFC East race was tied. Washington was going to Dallas for the regular season’s penultimate game. The division title and the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs hung in the balance.
The Redskins and Cowboys traded momentum in the first half and Washington led 14-10. The big play came in the third quarter when Theismann threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Monk. The avalanche started and Washington pulled away to a 31-10 win.
Butz got 2 1/2 sacks. Defensive back Greg Williams intercepted two passes. Theismann was both efficient and explosive, completing 11/17 passes and getting 203 yards out of them. And most of all, the running game dominated, with the ‘Skins holding a 166-33 edge.
Washington still wasn’t out of the woods. They would lose a tiebreaker, so they needed to win the next Saturday at home against the Giants. The Redskins looked like they were still in celebration mode for three quarters, trailing a three-win team 19-7. They finally got it together in the fourth quarter and took a 24-22 lead when Theismann threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Didier. The final was 31-22. For the second straight year, the Washington Redskins were the NFC’s top playoff seed.
They looked every bit the part on New Year’s Day against the Rams, who had upset the Cowboys in the wild-card game. The Redskins had a 24-0 lead by the second quarter. Theismann hit Monk for a 40-yard touchdown pass. Washington scored on their first five possessions, and another Theismann to Monk scoring play made it 31-7.
Theismann finished 18/23 for 302 yards. Brown and Riggins had 100-yard days receiving and rushing respectively. And Green put the finishing touches on the 51-7 rout when he took an interception 72 yards to the house.
The San Francisco 49ers of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana were the last hurdle to returning to the Super Bowl. After a scoreless first quarter, Riggins ran for two touchdowns, part of a 123-yard performance. When Theismann connected with Brown for another touchdown and the Redskins took a 21-0 lead into the fourth quarter, it looked over.
Montana threw one touchdown pass, but Theismann led the Redskins back into field goal range, reaching the San Francisco 24. But Mark Moseley missed what would have been an insurance field goal. One play later, Montana threw a 76-yard touchdown pass and suddenly we had a game.
The 49ers got a third touchdown pass from Montana to tie it. The Redskins drove to the 49er 45-yard line. Theismann threw a pass to Monk that went over his head. A flag was thrown for interference. The 49ers went crazy, believing the ball to be uncatchable and they had a gripe. Another interference call, with the same dispute happened again during the drive, though not nearly as consequential. Moseley got another opportunity and he made it count, booting the field goal that sent the Redskins to the Super Bowl with a 24-21 win.
The controversy surrounding the end of the NFC Championship Game gave way to the anticipation of the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Raiders. The Raiders were the clear best team in the AFC, just as the Redskins had been all year in the NFC. A reprise of their great early October meeting was anticipated.
What happened was a complete disaster for the Redskins. They allowed an early blocked punt and fell behind 7-0. They trailed 14-3 and had the ball deep in their own end in the closing moments of the first half.
The swing pass to Joe Washington, that had worked so well in October, now blew up in their face. Theismann didn’t see Raider linebacker Jack Squirek who swiped the ball and walked the few yards into the end zone. The game ended 38-9.
The ugliness of the ending couldn’t overshadow the majesty of the season though. The 1983 Washington Redskins were one of the most explosive offenses of all time. And in spite of their disastrous game in Tampa Bay to end the year, they were most certainly respected as a perennial contender by the time it was over.
The NFL season of 1982 was overshadowed by labor difficulties and after two games, the season was temporarily shut down with a players’ strike. Play would not resume until November 21 with plans for a truncated nine-game schedule and divisional distinctions abandoned for playoff purposes. Nothing—not the strike, not broken momentum, not anyone in the NFL could stop the 1982 Washington Redskins, as they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
The Redskins had finished 1981 strong, winning eight of their last 11 after an 0-5 start. Head coach Joe Gibbs was now in his second year and there was a lot of young talent to move forward with, particularly up front.
The offensive line that would become known as “The Hogs” was in its infancy. Joe Bostic, Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby and Mark May were all 24 or younger. The old man of the group was right tackle George Starke, at 34.
On the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, another 24-year-old was Dexter Manley, who recorded 6 1/2 sacks. Another up-and-coming talent, away from the trenches was rookie wide receiver Charlie Brown, who made the Pro Bowl.
Gibbs also had good veterans. Joe Theismann had a Pro Bowl season at quarterback, throwing for over 2,000 yards in a nine-game schedule. John Riggins keyed the running game. Dave Butz held the middle of the defensive front.
On balance though, the roster was not seen as loaded with talent. The only player to make the Pro Bowl besides Theismann and Brown was strong safety Tony Peters. Respect was hard to come by for the ‘Skins .
Washington opened the season at Philadelphia. The Eagles were two years removed from reaching the Super Bowl and had gone to the playoffs in 1981. The ‘Skins quickly fell behind 10-0 and trailed 27-14 going into the fourth quarter. Then Theismann hit Brown with a 78-yard touchdown pass and the magic of 1982 was underway.
It was a passing display on both sides. Theismann went 28/39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Philly’s Ron Jaworski was 27/38 for 371 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. The two QBs that would each become ESPN commentators with a high regard for themselves staged a big-time duel.
Theismann won it with help from his great kicker, Mark Moseley, who booted a 48-yard field goal to tie the game 34-34 and then won it with a 26-yarder in overtime. The following week in Tampa, it was the running game that delivered. Riggins ran for 136 yards in a 21-13 win over the Buccaneers, who had made the playoffs in ’81 and would do so again in 1982.
Then the strike hit. Play would not resume until November 21, and when it did, the playoff format was completely altered. Divisional distinctions were abolished. Teams would just play out the remainder of the schedules, seven more games, and then each conference would be seeded 1 thru 8, what remains the largest postseason bracket in NFL history.
Washington visited the mediocre New York Giants on their first game back and picked up where they left off. Theismann threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Brown, the ‘Skins opened up a 21-0 lead and ultimately won 27-17.
On November 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it was time for the home opener at RFK Stadium. The Eagles were making the return visit and this time the pass defenses were ready and conditions were wet. Cornerback Jeris White intercepted two passes, and the team as a whole picked off Jaworski five times. Washington won it 13-9 and were rewarded by being on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a “Hey, Look Who’s 4-0” headline on the magazine article.
The tone of the headline showed how much the Redskins had to prove if they were going to get respect and the best way to do it was to beat the Dallas Cowboys, who came into RFK for a late Sunday afternoon national TV appearance. But Washington was unable to run the ball, Theismann threw three interceptions and they lost 24-10. It appeared there was still a gap between them and the league’s elite.
WATCH THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S VIDEO DISCUSSION OF THE JOE GIBBS ERA WITH THE REDSKINS
But the team quickly got back on track and with a lot of help from Moseley, won their final four games. In a road game at the St. Louis Cardinals, the Redskins offense got inside the red zone four times, never found the end zone, but four Moseley field goals and great defense produced a 12-7 win.
The kicker came up even bigger the following week at home against the Giants. On a day when Theismann played poorly, with four interceptions, the defense kept the team in the game, trailing 14-9. Moseley drilled two fourth-quarter field goals, the last one a 42-yarder with nine seconds left to win 15-14.
In a decision that underscored Moseley’s clutch performances, his record 21 consecutive field goals made and the strange nature of the 1982 NFL season, the kicker was voted the MVP award. Suffice it to say, no kicker since has been so honored.
Washington went to New Orleans for the season’s penultimate game, tied with Dallas atop the conference standings, but losing the tiebreaker battle. Theismann threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Brown to get the ball rolling against the Saints. It was part of a 14/23 for 264 yards performance for Theismann, and Brown caught three more passes, ultimately getting to 156 receiving yards.
The 27-10 win combined with more good news from Big D–the Cowboys had lost at home to the Eagles and the Redskins controlled their fate for the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They took care of business with an efficient 28-0 home win over St. Louis (who was a division rival prior to the realignment of 2002), scoring a touchdown in each quarter.
Postseason football was in D.C. for the first time since 1976. The Redskins opened up with the #8 seed Detroit Lions. White put the ‘Skins on top early by intercepting an Eric Hipple pass and taking it 77 yards to the house.
It was a vivid example of the role defense would play for the Redskins in this postseason. While Theismann engineered an efficient passing game, and the receivers–starting with Brown and Alvin Garrett–were being called “The Fun Bunch”, for their choreographed end zone celebrations, and Riggins and the newly nicknamed Hogs were getting attention, the defense continually shut down top running backs and made big plays. The early interception was one of two White picks in this game, Lion running back Billy Sims was held to 19 yards and the final score was 31-7.
Minnesota was next up and the ‘Skins offense struck quickly. A short TD pass from Theismann to tight end Don Warren along with a short run by Riggins made it 14-0. After the teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter, the scoring was done. Riggins rolled up 185 yards, while the Vikings had no ground game to speak of.
The Cowboys won two games on the other half of the bracket and came to RFK Stadium for the NFC Championship Game, hungry to show who was still boss in this rivalry.
Dallas got an early field goal, but Theismann quickly countered with a touchdown pass to little Charlie Brown, Riggins plunged over from a yard out and it was 14-3 at half. Not only that, but Washington had knocked Dallas starting quarterback Danny White out of the game and the visitors would turn to Gary Hogeboom for a rally.
Hogeboom came closer than many might have thought. He threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter, but they were sandwiched around another scoring run by Riggins, so the ‘Skins still led 21-17. A field goal stretched the lead to seven. Dallas got the ball back deep in its own territory in the fourth quarter with a chance to go the distance and tie it up.
Defensive end Dexter Manley and defensive tackle Daryl Grant bore down on Hogeboom, whose pass was tipped up in the air. It landed in the hands of Grant who took a few short steps to the end zone. His dramatic spike got the team another Sports Illustrated cover, this one saying “Wham! Bam! It’s the Redskins!”
The game was all but over and it ended 31-17. Washington had their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1972 when they had the misfortune to run into the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
Ironically the Dolphins were waiting again this time, although they weren’t quite as fearsome. The running game was suspect and David Woodley didn’t scare at anyone at quarterback. The Fish did play defense though and veteran coach Don Shula was still at the controls, as he’d been back in ’72.
When Woodley threw an out pattern to Jimmy Cefalo who turned it into a 76-yard touchdown pass Miami had the early lead. After the teams swapped field goals and Theismann found another one of his diminutive wide receivers, Alvin Garrett for a tying touchdown, Miami’s Fulton Walker returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
If you’re going to give up special teams touchdowns and let simple short passes turn into long scores and still win a football game, you better find ways to dominate everywhere else and that’s what Washington did. The defense, having shut down Sims and Dallas’ Tony Dorsett, was overwhelming a mediocre Miami running game. Woodley would complete only four passes for the entire game.
In the meantime, Riggins and the Hogs were controlling the game up front. Miami still clung to a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when the play for which this game is remembered finally swung the tide.
Washington faced 4th-and-1 on the Miami 43-yard line. Gibbs decided to go for it. Everyone knew the ball was going to Riggins. He powered off left tackle, aqua and orange jerseys hanging all over him. Riggins broke through the pile and pulled away, outrunning the rest of the Miami defense to the end zone.
With the ‘Skins defense in lockdown mode a 20-17 lead seemed insurmountable, but when the Washington offense got the ball back, Theismann led them down the field and on third and goal hit Brown in the corner of the end zone for the score that sealed the deal. The 1982 Washington Redskins had given their crazed fan base its first Super Bowl title.
It was easy in the moment for outside observers to think the 1982 title run was a fluke, a byproduct of an entire season that was off-kilter. Gibbs and his team proved everyone wrong. It turned out, the winning was just getting started.
The 1976 Washington Redskins were a team of proud veterans struggling to hang on in a tough division at a time when playoff berths were at a premium. They made it to the postseason for the fifth time in six years thanks to a memorable stretch drive led by 37-year-old quarterback Billy Kilmer.
Washington was coming off an 8-6 year (it was not until 1978 that the NFL began playing 16 regular season games). Head coach George Allen had led the team to the playoffs in his first four years in charge (1971-74) and the Super Bowl following the 1972 season. But the age of the defense, the non-playoff year and tough NFC East rivals in the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Cardinals—at a time when only one wild-card berth per conference was available—didn’t augur well for ’76.
The Redskins won four of their first six games, but there were reasons to be concerned. The schedule was soft, with five of the games against teams that would be sub-.500 and another against the soon-to-be 7-7 Chicago Bears. What’s more, the wins against the woeful New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles were by the hair of the ‘Skins teeth. At a time when parity in the NFL was nowhere close to what it is today, a team couldn’t use the “just win and go home” mantra quite as easily as today.
Monday Night, October 25, saw a downpour hit Washington D.C. as the Cardinals came to town for a big game for an ABC audience. St. Louis was 5-1. Dallas had won the previous day to get to 6-1. If the ‘Skins lost this game at home tonight, you might as well put another non-playoff year in the books.
Washington trailed 10-6 in the third quarter, but St. Louis was having a little trouble hanging on to the football—like eight lost fumbles worth of trouble. Plus two more interceptions. I’m going to take a cautious guess that the historical track record of teams that lose the turnover battle 10-3 is not very good.
The Redskins got the lead 13-10 on a touchdown run by Mike Thomas, on his way to an 1100-yard season and Pro Bowl trip. Then Eddie Brown electrified the crowd at old RFK Stadium with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown that sealed a 20-10 win and kept the season alive.
Subsequent events made it look like Washington had only gotten a stay of execution rather than really saving their season. Kilmer had thrown for fewer than 100 yards in the St. Louis game. The weather might have provided a valid excuse in that game, but there was none when he turned in a similar clunker on November 14 against the Giants. The ‘Skins lost 12-9, fell two games back in the playoff race with four to play and young Joe Theisman was starting to get snaps at quarterback.
November 21 was the chance to make a last stand. Washington traveled to St. Louis where the wind was blowing at 17 mph. Allen, notorious for relying on veterans, chose Kilmer to make the start. The game didn’t begin well, with Jim Hart tossing a 48-yard touchdown pass to explosive running back Terry Metcalf, but the ‘Skins fought back.
This was a team with a lot of proud veterans on defense—Linebacker Chris Hanburger and strong safety Ken Houston would make the Pro Bowl at ages 35 and 32 respectively. Pat Fischer, 36-years-old, was still fighting the good fight at corner. Diron Talbert was 32 and still anchoring a defensive tackle spot. Allen even brought in an old enemy—free safety Jake Scott had been Super Bowl MVP for the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972 when they beat the Redskins. 1976 saw Scott come over to the burgundy and gold.
It was a defense that had built its reputation under Allen as “The Over-The-Hill Gang.” This writer’s father loved them. I wore a Hanburger sweatshirt and Redskins helmet to go trick-or-treating every year and have stayed a Redskins fan to this day. And this defense wasn’t going to go quietly into the good night.
The Over-The-Hill Gang kept St. Louis out of the end zone the rest of the game. Kilmer relied on his running game, with Thomas and 27-year-old John Riggins leading the way for an attack that piled up 247 yards. The Redskins won 16-10. They were still a game back of St. Louis and needed help with three weeks to go, but Washington still had life.
Kilmer still had life too. Washington took care of two easy games, but unlike the start of the year, they looked like a real playoff-caliber team. Kilmer threw six touchdown passes in the two games, the offense put 51 points on the board and when Dallas knocked off St. Louis, the Redskins got control of their playoff destiny when they entered the season finale at 9-4.
What the Cowboys giveth the Cowboys could taketh away though. Washington would have to win in Dallas in Week 14, and while their archrival had clinched the NFC East, the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs was still up for grabs.
Washington trailed 14-10, but with Kilmer providing some real air support for the offense, the runners eventually found room to move. Thomas would rush for 66 yards and catch seven passes. Riggins ran for 95 yards, and the ground game took it over down the stretch. The Redskins won 27-14 and had made the playoffs.
It was an unlikely run for Kilmer and a most deserving one for a quarterback that always had to fight for everything, first against franchise legend Sonny Jurgensen and then the up-and-coming Theisman. It all came to crashing an end six days later in Minnesota. The Vikings dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides, built a 35-6 lead and won 35-20. Kilmer threw for 298 yards, but just didn’t have the help on this day.
What the wily veteran quarterback had done though, was author one last great memory in a fine career, as the improbable four-game win streak and playoff berth is an underappreciated moment in Washington Redskins history.
Russell Wilson became the second African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl when he led the Seattle Seahawks past the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The first one to do it was Doug Williams—oddly enough it was also against the Broncos, back in 1987 when Williams quarterbacked the Washington Redskins.
But Williams had a more interesting path—he spent the bulk of the year as the backup and didn’t become the starter until the playoffs. It was an interesting path in an interesting year—to put mildly—in the NFL. Let’s look back on the 1987 Washington Redskins.
Another NFC East title followed in 1984 before losing to the Chicago Bears. Theisman’s career ended in 1985 after a nasty leg break on Monday Night Football.
Gibbs turned to 25-year-old Jay Schroeder for the 1986 seasonand the strong-armed Schroeder led the team to the NFC Championship Game. The Redskins looked back on track for 1987, even as the entire NFL looked ready to go off the rails.
There were still problems to contend with. Center Jeff Bostic, a key part of the “Hogs” offensive line, only played five games. His injury required guard Russ Grimm to move to center, which in turn had a ripple effect across the rest of the line. The only offensive player to make the Pro Bowl was wide receiver Gary Clark. But even with all that, Washington finished fourth in the NFL in points scored.
Washington was also an elite team on defense, ranking sixth, and it started with great corners and great defensive ends. Charles Mann and Dexter Manley combined for 18 sacks and Mann made the Pro Bowl. Darrell Green, the future Hall of Famer, had a Pro Bowl year at corner. And for one year, the corner on the opposite side was even better. Barry Wilburn made 1st-team All-Pro.
The Redskins opened the season at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps it was an omen that Schoreder injured his shoulder and Williams came on. He completed 17/27 passes for 272 yards, no interceptions and threw a big 39-yard touchdown pass to Art Monk that broke a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter. Washington won 34-24. But a week later, Schroeder was still out and Williams was outplayed by Atlanta’s Scott Campbell in a 21-20 road loss. And then the strike hit.
This players’ strike wouldn’t last nearly as long as the 1982 work stoppage, which wiped out seven games. And the owners were ready this time. After skipping Week 3, the league used replacement players for three weeks in October. Washington’s replacements would have success and win three consecutive NFC East games, eventually becoming the inspiration for the movie The Replacements, with Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves.
As much as the established players resented the replacements, the Redskins’ season was given a big boost by the play of quarterback Ed Ruppert who threw for 334 yards in a win over the Cardinals (then in St. Louis and in the NFC East). Or running back Lionel Vital who went over 100 yards in consecutive wins against the Giants and Cowboys, on the road no less. Wide receiver Anthony Allen had a 255-yard receiving game and defensive tackle Steve Martin had two sacks in leading a strong pass rush in Dallas.
The replacement players went 3-0 against what would have been a difficult portion of the schedule and put the regulars in strong position when they returned.
It was a sloppy first game back against a subpar New York Jets team. Schroeder was healthy, but also erratic, completing just 15/38 passes and the ‘Skins trailed 16-7 after three quarters. But Schroeder always could make big plays and those completions went for 275 yards. Eventually it was enough to pull out a 17-16 win.
Schroeder was sharper at the Buffalo Bills, throwing two touchdown passes to versatile running back Kelvin Bryant. George Rogers led a running game that pounded Buffalo for 299 yards and the result was an easy 27-7 win. But Schroeder and the rest of the team regressed at Philadelphia–the quarterback attempted 46 passes and threw thirty incompletions. Each team turned the ball over four times and the Redskins coughed up a 21-0 lead, losing 31-27.
The corners put their talents on full display the following week at home against the Detroit Lions. Green picked off three passes, Wilburn added another and the ‘Skins won 20-13. Williams was back in the lineup for the following Monday Night game at the Los Angeles Rams. He didn’t play badly–24/46 for 308 yards with one interception was as good, if not better than what Schroeder had produced. But the ‘Skins gave up a defensive touchdown, 138 yards rushing and lost 30-26. Gibbs would go back to Schroeder.
Washington was 7-3, and the coming three games against NFC East teams would swing their season. The stretch started badly, as they fell behind the Giants—the defending Super Bowl champs were having a rough go of it in 1987–trailing 19-3. Schroeder threw for 331 yards and three second-half touchdowns to overcome the lack of a running game and win 23-19.
The victory was the lynchpin the ‘Skins needed to wrap up the division. Schroeder went to the St. Louis Cardinals (an NFC East team until 2002) and opened with an 84-yard touchdown pass to Clark and a big-play oriented 13/25 for 235 yard performance. Rogers pummeled the Cards on the ground with 133 yards in the 34-17 win. Schroeder delivered a similar performance at home against Dallas–13/26 for 250 yards, with most of it to Clark–in a 24-20 victory that all but put the NFC East to bed.
WATCH THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S VIDEO DISCUSSION OF THE JOE GIBBS ERA WITH THE REDSKINS
There were still problems though, even at 10-3. Schroeder’s completion percentage would end the season at an erratic 48 percent and for all his big-play ability, he lacked consistency. Williams was the man who had the heart of the clubhouse and the players wanted him as the starter. Another erratic Schroeder performance in a 23-21 loss at Miami didn’t solve that problem.
The defeat also dropped the Redskins to the #3 seed. Prior to 1990, all division winners were seeded into the second round so this wasn’t as devastating as it would be today, but it did mean Washington would open the playoffs on the road.
The regular season finale in Minnesota was the last straw. The Redskins were tied 7-7 at half, but the only touchdown had been scored by the defense. Gibbs inserted Williams in the second half and the quarterback found speedy wideout Ricky Sanders on two long touchdown passes. Washington won in overtime, Williams finally had the job and the connection between him and Sanders on the deep ball would be heard from again.
Washington went into the playoffs with high hopes, even as the 3-seed. They still had the “Hogs” offensive line, including Joe Jacoby and Mark May (the current ESPN college football analyst) at the tackles and Russ Grimm at guard. On the defensive side, Charles Mann and Dexter Manley were a potent pass-rushing combo at the ends of the four-man front. Darrell Green was a lockdown corner, a future Hall of Famer, and big threat on special teams.
The playoff game in Chicago didn’t start well, as Williams lost an early fumble, the ‘Skins were stopped on a fourth down and Bears’ quarterback Jim McMahon got his team out to a 14-0 lead. But Williams threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clint Didier and it was tied up 14-14 at half.
Green made the play of the game in the third quarter, returning a punt for a touchdown and injuring a rib as he hurtled a defender. The Redskins hung on for a 21-17 win and already knew they had gotten a big break in the other NFC playoff game—wild-card Minnesota upset top-seeded San Francisco, meaning the Redskins were the improbable host of the NFC Championship Game (not until the 2006 Indianapolis Colts would a team seeded as low as 3rd host a championship game).
“Ugly” is the only word that describes the 1987 NFC Championship Game. Williams threw an early 42-yard touchdown pass, but went 9/26 on the day for 119 yards and the Redskins’ lead was only 10-7 early in the fourth quarter. The defense delivered with two big goal-line stops. Minnesota had 1st-and-goal on the 3-yard line, but had to settle for a tying field goal.
Williams then connected with Clark on a 43-yard pass to get his team moving, and with Clark again on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Minnesota made one last drive, reached the 6-yard line and faced a 4th-and-4. Green made one more big play, breaking up a pass at the goal line and Williams was the first African-American quarterback going to the Super Bowl.
The media hype on this subject was intense and Williams handled it all with grace as he prepared to face the Broncos, led by John Elway. Denver struck first, as Elway threw a 56-yard touchdown pass and it was 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Williams hit Sanders on an 80-yard touchdown strike that cut the lead to 10-7. Then the avalanche began.
Before the second quarter was over, Williams would throw a touchdown pass to Clark, and another one to Sanders, this one from 50 yards. The Redskins scored 35 points, a record for one quarter. The game, after looking to ready to get away from Washington early, ended up being all but over by halftime, when they led 35-10. Everyone just played out the string in the second half and it ended 42-10.
Williams set a record for passing yardage (340), running back Timmy Smith did so for rushing (204) and Sanders for receiving (193). Smith’s record stands to this day. Williams was game MVP and his place in NFL lore was forever secured.
It was a crazy path that Doug Williams walked to history, but he and the 1987 Washington Redskins ended up with a championship.
The Washington Redskins returned to prominence in the 2012 NFL season, with the electrifying arrival of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. For those of us long-suffering ‘Skins fans, RG3 was the oasis in the desert, lifting a moribund franchise to a 10-6 record and the NFC East title. Now, after an offseason of recovery from a torn ACL, we ask if the ‘Skins can do it all over again and this time add a playoff run.
In spite of RG3’s presence, Washington did not throw the ball a lot last year. They were near the bottom of the league in pass attempts, but what they lacked in volume, they made up for in efficiency. Griffin, showed an amazing ability to generate good yardage down the field, complete a high percentage of throws and avoid mistakes, all the while staying constantly on the move.
There is no clear go-to-receiver on this team—Pierre Garcon has that status, but none of the receivers really piled up big numbers. Griffin did what great quarterback do, and that’s make his receivers, rather than waiting for them to make him.
The running game has been the calling card of head coach Mike Shanahan in his own past, and it’s been the trademark of the Redskins’ best teams in the Joe Gibbs era. It’s therefore appropriate that power football returned to D.C. in 2012 behind another great rookie in Alfred Morris. The kid ran for over 1,600 yards, more than anyone not named Adrian Peterson and almost singlehandedly lifted the team past the Dallas Cowboys in the winner-take-all NFC East season finale when RG3’s knee was clearly limiting him.
It adds up to an offense that finished fourth in the NFL in total points last year. Defensively, is where the Redskins must improve. The only thing they do really well is get interceptions—while that’s not insignificant, it does come at the price of blown coverages and big plays. In that regard, high-risk, high-reward corner DeAngelo Hall is the poster child for this team.
The Redskins have to hope that a healthy Brian Orakpo—the outside linebacker and Geico commercial star missed all but two games last year—will result in a better pass rush, which in turn means better defense. The D doesn’t have to be great, but they have to get themselves from 22nd in the NFL in points allowed to around the middle of the league.
TheSportsNotebook’s preseason NFL analysis has focused on measuring teams against their Over/Under win prop in Las Vegas. Washington’s is 8.5 I often bail on making predictions on my favorite teams, as I’ve usually either drank too much Kool-Aid or go pessimistic to guard my emotions. But I think picking the Over meets any standard of objectivity here.
It’s not that I can’t imagine Washington failing—I’m nervous about the start of the season. But if you offer me a bet where a team could go 9-7, miss the playoffs, be universally regarded as a disappointment, and I can still cash an Over…well, then that bet makes sense to me. The ‘Skins have the look of a team that would go anywhere from 8-8 to 11-5, and that means more room is with the Over.