Posted: Monday December 27, 1999 01:40 AM
SAN FRANCISCO (Ticker) -- What do you get a guy who has everything? How about an NFC East championship.
The Washington Redskins clinched their first division title in eight years with a 26-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers as Brad Johnson threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to fullback Larry Centers two minutes into overtime.
Johnson capped a record-breaking 471-yard passing night with a short toss to Centers, who raced untouched down the right sidelines for the score. New Redskins owner Daniel Snyder exchanged high-fives in the press box while exclaiming, "We did it, we did it."
"This is probably the biggest play of my career," said Centers, a 10-year veteran. "I'm so happy for this organization. We fought so hard. I'm just happy that I was given the opportunity to help us win the ballgame."
The postseason spot was the Redskins' first under coach Norv Turner, whose future with the team has been in question as Washington split its eight games following a 5-2 start.
"It feels incredible," Turner said. "This is why you do everything you do. This team has grown a lot. They have grown through adversity. ... The whole key is our guys have been through ups and downs this entire season but never backed off. We didn't back down at halftime and made big plays when we needed to."
Assured of a playoff berth before taking the field, Washington (9-6) appeared headed for a loss as the 49ers (4-11) drove deep into Redskins territory late in the fourth quarter. But little-used running Terry Jackson was stripped by linebacker Shawn Barber and defensive end Anthony Cook recovered at the Washington 21-yard line with 1:33 remaining.
"He wasn't holding the ball out or anything like that," Barber said. "What happened was it was an isolation play and I was chasing from the backside, and I stripped it out from behind. I'm good at stripping the ball."
Jackson was playing for Charlie Garner, who rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown before leaving with a rib injury.
"It's unfortunate that it had to happen like that," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "Terry had to step in, and he did a great job at filling in. It's just one of those things."
The Redskins took the overtime kickoff and moved 78 yards in only four plays. Johnson threw passes of 25 and eight yards to Skip Hicks before Centers scampered 12 yards to set up his winning score.
Hicks filled in for back Stephen Davis, the NFC's leading rusher who was out with a sprained left ankle.
Johnson shattered a team record for passing yards and equaled the mark for completions, going 32-of-47 with two touchdowns and an interception. He broke the record of 446 yards set by Sammy Baugh on October 31, 1948.
"I didn't know I threw for that much yardage. I was just out there having fun," Johnson said. "Things just started going our way and we were able to battle back.
"Late in the game, we got in a passing frenzy. It was like playing on the playgrounds."
Playing what might be his final home game as a 49er, Jerry Rice caught five passes for 44 yards. San Francisco might be forced to part with Rice next season due to salary cap considerations.
"I'm not going to say that it's completely out of my hands. I feel like I deserve a legitimate chance to come back next year and help turn this team around," he said. "I'm still staying positive, but it's up to the organization. Whatever they choose to do, I'll go with, but hopefully I'll be back."
The 49ers have lost three straight and 10 of their last 11 games.
"Nobody likes to lose, ever. But within a loss you find something positive," San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said.
"It was an outstanding effort. As a coach, in a season like this, you are concerned about the level of intensity, concentration and focus -- those intangible things that don't have to do with size and speed but have something to do with attitude."
Wade Richey kicked field goals of 29 and 25 yards in the second quarter to give the 49ers a 13-7 halftime lead.
Brett Conway answered with a 47-yarder just over six minutes into the third quarter, but Garcia threw a five-yard TD toss to J.J. Stokes to stretch San Francisco's advantage to 20-10.
Conway connected again from 34 yards at 2:54 of the fourth quarter and Johnson rallied Washington into a 20-20 tie with 3 1/2 minutes remaining. He threw passes of 25 yards to Albert Connell and 20 yards to Irving Fryar before running it in from the 1.
"This is a great feeling," Johnson said. "I haven't been here the last six years. I've been a part of winning in Minnesota. I was intrigued by coming here and being a part of helping a team move to the next level, get to the playoffs and win the division."
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