The coach shut off his projector, packed up his notes, got up from his chair and announced, "The Raiders will beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl. They'll beat them because Washington caves in in the fourth quarter. They slow to a walk. If L.A. can stay close for three quarters, if Jim Plunkett has a reasonably good day, they'll beat them."
He'd been watching films of the Redskins' 24-21 playoff victory over San Francisco, in which the 49ers came storming back with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He thinks the Redskins have trouble going the distance. And who is this coach?
"Sorry," he said. "Can't use my name. I have to play them next year. But I'll say this. When a team puts a lot of people away early, it gets out of the habit of hanging in tough in the fourth quarter. Not the offense. Washington's offense has been productive all the way through. I'm talking about the defense. They've run out of steam in the fourth quarter all season long. The Raiders are very well aware of that. They looked at the same films I did."
"I don't think it's a conditioning problem," Washington free safety Mark Murphy says. "We're in very good shape. I know we've been outscored in the fourth quarter, but a lot of the time we had big leads going in, and teams picked up free stuff. Why don't you check it out?"
We did. The opposition outscored the Skins 152-142 in the fourth quarter this season, counting the playoffs. In eight games the issue wasn't decided until late, and the Redskins were outscored in the final period of those 89-81. Their fourth quarter won-lost record for those games was 3-4-1, with one of the wins coming against the Raiders in October.
Washington didn't have any problems in three of the eight—two against the Eagles and one against the Giants. The Redskins' defense shut down those clubs in the fourth quarter. And we're not counting their big late-season win over the Cowboys—they led 21-10 going into the fourth quarter in that one. But look what happened in the other close games. They had a 23-17 lead against Dallas in the Monday-night opener going into the fourth quarter. The Cowboys put together one long drive (80 yards) and one tiny one (four yards) and beat them 31-30. Washington might have put the game away, but Mark Moseley missed a 31-yard field goal.
The Raider game in the season's fifth week was a wild affair, with L.A. holding a 21-20 lead after three periods. That was the game in which the Raiders scored 28 unanswered points to go up 35-20 with 7:31 left, and then the Skins put up 17 of their own to win it 37-35. Fourth-quarter points: 17-14 Skins.
Washington's 48-47 loss to the Packers two weeks later on Monday night was another shootout. The fourth quarter showed 31 points scored, total, 17 of them by Green Bay. The Redskins couldn't stop them, but they couldn't be stopped, either. Green Bay ran up 170 yards in that final period, but the Skins would have won if Moseley hadn't missed a 39-yarder at the gun.
Two weeks after that the Skins went out to San Diego, and the same thing happened, only this time Washington won 27-24. The Chargers were docile all night, but then in the fourth quarter they erupted for 17 points and 193 yards, including a 99-yard drive, and this wasn't with Dan Fouts running the Air Coryell show, either. Ed Luther was the quarterback. But Joe Theismann ("Give me 50 seconds and two time-outs, and I'll put points on the board") was equally brilliant, and he moved the Skins downfield for the winning field goal at the end. This time Moseley didn't miss.
And, finally, the San Francisco game. It was 21-0 after three periods, then Washington's defense collapsed. The 49ers scored the first three times they had the ball in the fourth quarter, and might have scored again at the end if they had had 30 seconds more. They gained 169 of their 425 yards in the last period, but the Redskins' offense, aided by two questionable penalties, came through at the end, with Moseley kicking the 25-yard gamer.