In a town accustomed to ruffles and flourishes, blue-sky promises and statistical con games, you can say this for the Washington Redskins: they're for real. And they're evidently the right bunch for these adverse times. They've been bloodied in this oddest of all NFL seasons, but they're still unbowed. The Redskins may look like pro football's soup line, but they keep winning and winning, their latest triumph being a 13-9 beating of the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in dark and dank RFK Stadium.
This fourth straight Redskin victory—going into its Monday night game at Tampa Bay, Miami was the only other undefeated NFL team—and their seventh straight over two seasons, was typical of what has been going on this year. Rain was falling. The Washington coaches, having run out of ideas, were holding their heads in their hands. And the 1-2 Eagles, superhungry for a win, were second-and-six on the 'Skins 23 with two minutes left in the game and Washington leading by a scant four points. But on the next play, Dave Butz, all 6'7" and 295 pounds of him, sacked Philly Quarterback Ron Jaworski. Then, on third down, with Washington Cornerback Joe Lavender having slipped and lying helpless on the ground, the Polish Rifle unaccountably missed 6'8" Harold Carmichael. And finally, on fourth-and-12, Jaworski threw into double coverage, the 'Skins' Tony Peters intercepted, and once again everyone wearing burgundy and gold looked like a genius.
From the start Sunday, the rhythm of the game seemed wrong, even though Washington Quarterback Joe Theismann, the NFL's leading passer going into the game, established his gunning game early, moving the 'Skins up and down the field as if they were so many chalk figures on Coach Joe Gibbs's strategy board. On its first six plays, Washington rolled up four first downs. But after 20 minutes of play, the Redskins had only 10 points—not a very convincing total considering Theismann's fast start.
From then on the game was the stuff of which rainy day struggles are made: interceptions, fumbles, slips and botched passes. Washington would wind up trying to keep the door closed while Philadelphia pounded away on the other side, trying to make up its 10-point deficit. In fact the Eagles finished with more total offense (319 yards) than the Redskins (295) and outgained them by almost 4 to 1 in the second half. "I don't feel undefeated, I feel relieved," Gibbs said afterward. "It was tough."
Peters' interception on the nine-yard line undeniably relieved his coach, but it also was immensely satisfying to Peters. In 1979 he picked off a Jaworski pass and then taunted him. "Quarterbacks have a long memory," Jaworski yelled back. Throughout Sunday's game Peters and Jaworski talked about old and present times, and with everyone looking for Philly to go to Carmichael, its ace receiver, on the critical fourth-down play, Jaworski surprised most observers by sending Wide Receiver Mike Quick into Peters' area and throwing there. "Maybe he was trying to burn me, I don't know," said Peters.
Earlier, with 9:20 remaining, Mark Murphy, Washington's gap-toothed free safety, had chipped in with similar heroics that prevented Philadelphia from taking the lead when he stepped in front of Carmichael at the goal line and made an interception.
For Murphy, the game was a pleasant interlude in a season of taking it on the chin for his teammates. Twice he has needed stitches to close cuts inflicted on his chin at Tampa Bay and New York. He also has been getting a lot of flak because he's a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee. Asked by a writer if someone had clipped him on the jaw, Murphy smiled back and said, "Jack Donlan," referring to the owners' chief negotiator.
Gibbs likes to call the Redskins a "happy" team, and of course winning does breed smiles. But not so long ago Washington was way down. When he took over last season he was greeted with five straight losses and a flood of advice. "When you're losing," he says, "anything anybody says sounds intelligent."
The Redskins righted themselves over the last half of 1981 and finished at 8-8. Of their last 15 games they have won 12. No team has done better.
For his part, Coach Dick Vermeil and the Eagles have started wondering what has happened. Two seasons ago they were in the Super Bowl. Now they're 1-3 with little hope of making the playoffs. Last year they won their first six, lost six of the next 10 and were beaten by the Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Of its last 15 regular-season games Philadelphia has won just six. "We have to go back to square one," Vermeil said Sunday. "We're not talking about the playoffs. We're talking about trying to win one game."