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There was a story floating around the Washington Redskins' locker room Sunday that the real reason the New York Giants ran the Skins out of the NFC Championship 17-0 had little to do with the arm of Phil Simms or the legs of Joe Morris or the defense that squashed everything Washington tried. It was the wind, a blustery blast from the west that gusted up to 30 mph and carried Jay Schroeder's passes into the ground or the stratosphere, pushed Steve Cox's punts earthward, even messed up the snap on the Skins' only field goal try.
If you're a Washington fan and you believe that, then read no further. Pray to the god Aeolus to give you better winds next year, and watch the Giants and Broncos go at it on Jan. 25 in Super Bowl XXI. If you believe in the big-wind theory, then you must also go along with Redskin coach Joe Gibbs, who says that the key to the game was the coin toss.
Russ Grimm called tails for the Skins. It came up heads. The Giants took the wind, not an unusual strategy when playing at Giants Stadium. The Denver Broncos did the same thing when they played the Giants in New Jersey in November. Offenses are often a bit unsettled at the start of a game, while the defense is cranked up.
Anyway, the Skins ran three downs and punted, a measly 23-yarder that gave New York instant field position on Washington's 47. Result: field goal. Next Washington series—three and out. The Giants take over on the Skins' 38 after a 27-yard punt. Result: touchdown drive, 10-0. Game over. Everybody go home.
O.K., the wind was a factor. "The worst wind I ever played in," Schroeder said, a sentiment echoed by Simms and Cox, and lots of other people. But listen to Curtis Jordan, Washington's free safety and a 10-year veteran: "We got the ball for 30 minutes with the wind and 30 minutes against it, the same as them. We scored zero both ways. They turn the ball over on their 37 [on a fumble by Morris] at the end of the first half, and we have the wind. What do we get out of it? Zero."
Now, we don't want to beat this wind angle to death, but look at the second quarter. Working into those same gusts, the Giants got off their longest drive of the day (49 yards) for the TD that made it 17-0 and iced the game. In the same period, Sean Landeta got off his two best punts—a 46-yarder (hang time 4.51 seconds) that was downed on the Skins' four, and a 39-yarder (hang time a remarkable 4.77)—into the same wind that had sent Cox's boots nosing and diving.
"Cox is usually a super punter into the wind," Landeta said, "but today he told me he couldn't buy one. I think the wind was moving his drop a little. You have to shorten your drop on a day like this, as I well know."
Yes, the wind was cruel, but you still have to operate. It's tough when it blows into Cleveland Stadium from Lake Erie, too. but just before the Giants kicked off, Denver's John Elway moved his team 98 yards into the wind for the tying touchdown in regulation time in the AFC Championship game. Elway and Schroeder have the two strongest arms in the NFL. The theory used to be that high-wind conditions favor the quarterback with the stronger arm, and Schroeder has a little more zip on his passes than Simms does. The difference on Sunday was that when they had to throw, Simms got the time and Schroeder didn't.
On the Giants' first touchdown, an 11-yard Simms-to-Lionel Manuel pass, the quarterback had time to step up into the pocket and read Manuel coming all the way across the back of the end zone. On the pass that set up the Giants' final TD, a 30-yarder to tight end Mark Bavaro, Simms had plenty of time to read his receiver on a crossing pattern in which Bavaro shed middle linebacker Neil Olkewicz. Both plays were made in long-yardage situations, third-and-10 for the Manuel pass, second-and-15 for the Bavaro play.
Both teams basically rushed four people, the Redskins four down linemen, the Giants their front three, plus an outside linebacker (Lawrence Taylor or Carl Banks), but while Simms could stand and deliver, poor Schroeder had to backpedal into oblivion. He was taking a 10-yard drop that would turn into 15 or 20. Two of his four sacks were for 19 yards apiece. The beleaguered Redskins quarterback had to throw 25-yard completions to get a five-yard net gain.