- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fifteen years. Can it really be that long? Yes, it can really be that long. It’s been 15 years since the Redskins ended up on the right side of a one-point game. The last time — before Monday night’s 14-13 Houdini job in Dallas — was in 1990 against the Bears. Six coaches ago. Two owners ago. One stadium ago. An eternity.

I’m a little fuzzy on the details of that 10-9 victory. It’s the one-point losses that tend to be seared into your memory. But I do recall the Redskins booting a late field goal to win it, after Mark Rypien had played with uncharacteristic wretchedness. Pulling out games like that, piecing together a drive in the closing minutes with a malfunctioning offense, was what put Joe Gibbs in Canton.

But after that … the deluge, an utterly luckless stretch for the Redskins. Football coaches don’t like to talk about luck; it diminishes the grandeur of their accomplishments. But sometimes it’s the biggest factor in a game, even a season. And when Coach Joe walked out the door in the winter of ‘93 — to race cars and smell the roses — it was if he took the Redskins’ good fortune with him.

In fact, the worm might have begun to turn in his last game at RFK Stadium. Remember that one? The Redskins lost 21-20 to the Raiders when a win would have put them in the playoffs. (They just couldn’t stop Vince Evans, of all quarterbacks, in the fourth quarter.) The next day, though, the Vikings did them a huge favor by not mailing in their season finale, despite having already clinched the NFC Central title. The Vikes pounded the Packers, knocked Green Bay out of the postseason mix and opened the door for the Redskins. It was the last Big Break the Redskins got for a long while.

I’m not sure Gibbs quite understood this when he reassumed command of the Redskins in early ‘04. He knew the club had been pretty bad, for the most part, in the intervening 11 years, but he didn’t know its luck had been almost as bad. He didn’t know, certainly, that the Redskins were 0-5 in one-point games while he was away, that they were 2-8 in two-point games. Think about it: 2-13 in games decided by one or two points. That’s almost impossible.

There was the 27-26 loss at Arizona in ‘96, the gut-wrencher that killed their playoff hopes after a 7-1 start. (I can still see Romeo Bandison sticking out an arm to apprehend Kent Graham on a third-and-long in the late going, only to unintentionally hook the quarterback’s facemask and keep the Cardinals’ winning drive alive.)

There was the 14-13 loss at Pittsburgh in ‘97. (Gus Frerotte: three picks.) There was the 14-13 postseason loss at Tampa Bay after the ‘99 season. (Warrick Dunn: 13-yard run with a fumble for a key first down). There was the 16-15 loss at Arizona in ‘00 (Aeneas Williams: 104-yard fumble return). There was the 24-23 loss at Miami in ‘03 (Norv Turner’s revenge).

And the two-point losses. Don’t get me started on them. (Though the 19-17 loss at Giants Stadium in ‘02, the beginning of the end for kicker James Tuthill, was particularly painful.)

So much bad stuff has happened to the Redskins in the last decade or so — freaky stuff, you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it-stuff. Rod Smith, then a total unknown, catching a game-winning “Hail Mary” over Darrell Green in Denver in ‘95. A holding penalty nullifying an overtime field goal against the Cards in ‘96. Leg cramps contributing to an opening day loss to Dallas in ‘99. Trent Green being lost to free agency because of, among other things, ownership uncertainty. Rich Gannon slipping through the cracks because of, among other things, a coaching change. One kicker after another pulling up lame.

But suddenly, the sun is shining on the Redskins. Granted, their kicker, John Hall, is hobbled again, but have you noticed what’s happened in the first two weeks? They won a two-point game against the Bears, and then they won a one-point game against the Cowboys. That’s almost beyond luck. That’s closing in on divine intervention.

Especially the late-game turnaround in Dallas. I’ve sat in the press box for roughly 500 NFL games, and I’ve never seen anything approaching Monday night’s madness. With 4:48 left, I’ll just point out, the Redskins were behind 13-0 and had advanced the ball a grand total of 131 yards in 53 plays (subtracting 45 yards in offensive penalties from their net of 176). Heck, they hadn’t even gotten close enough to attempt a field goal. But then Brunell scrambled 25 yards on a third-and-27 and everything changed — the Redskins’ luck, first and foremost.

When you go from not being able to make a first down to wriggling out of third-and-27 and fourth-and-15 holes — the latter on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss — well, we’re talking about a Seismic Event here. And when you throw another virtual “Hail Mary,” a 70-yarder to Moss, to win the game … I mean, can this really be the Redskins?

For a night it was. But it was so unexpected, after years of eviscerating near misses, that it almost doesn’t seem real.

Sooooo, let’s see you do it again, guys, just to make sure we’re not dreaming.

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