Vermeil had good feelings about his team before Sunday's game. He had driven himself harder than his players. He hadn't gone home the first three days of the week; he'd caught a few hours sleep on a couch in his office. On Wednesday, practice almost turned into a full-scale scrimmage, and Vermeil had to tone the intensity down a little. In the earlier victory over Washington. Philadelphia had played a near-perfect game on offense. No turnovers, no sacks, no penalties. Now the Eagles were getting charged up again. They would be ready.
So, Pardee's "holding" statements caught Vermeil, whose strongest expletive is "criminy sakes," exactly the wrong way. "I thought he had more class than that," Vermeil said. "We don't hold and we don't coach it. We blocked their butts off last time, and if we beat them again, it won't be because of holding."
"When I read what Pardee said, I went around the locker room and asked our guys how many times they had been called for holding this year," said Walters. "I counted only three holdings called on us all season, that's all."
The Redskin veterans who'd been through the George Allen era viewed this controversy with twinkling eyes. The tactic Pardee was employing is well known to poker and gin rummy players the world over—break the other guy's concentration. "There used to be something like that every week under George," said Hermeling. "But I wasn't really wild about it going into this game. Sometimes it backfires, and the officials start looking at us extra close instead."
It turned out to be a non-issue. The Eagle offense wasn't penalized once: it was just stopped. "No. 31, stop No. 31 and you beat the Eagles," Washington Defensive Tackle Diron Talbert had said. "He's the key to their whole game."
No. 31, Wilbert Montgomery. Program height: 5'10". But he's really an inch or two shorter than that. No. 31, a darting, slashing runner who's on you—and by you—before you know it. "I honestly believe that he's so short, people can't see him," says Walters. "They lose track of him. I'm not kidding."
Montgomery is the Eagles' first-down runner. In their earlier game against the Redskins, he picked up 80 of his 127 yards on first-down plays. Last Sunday he got the call on seven of Philadelphia's first 12 first-down opportunities—until the Eagles had to play catch-up and throw—and gained a net of 17 yards.
And when Montgomery can't go on first down, the whole equation breaks down for Philadelphia. The Redskins turned Vermeil's ball-control offense into a desperate third-and-long attack, against which the Redskins were able to play a nickel defense and turn their pass rush loose. Washington is very vicious on third-and-long. The Redskins came into the game with 14 sacks for the season, and they had seven more against Philadelphia's Ron Jaworski on Sunday. And Jaworski, who had only six interceptions in the Eagles' first seven games, threw two against Washington.
"We ran all sorts of different formations, and variations off of those," Jaworski said. "We changed our blocking techniques. But all of that doesn't amount to a damn thing if you can't move them off the ball."
"The last time we played the Eagles, they never got in a situation where we could use our nickel defense," Pardee said. "We played it only about four times all day. Today we must have used it 24 times."