WASHINGTON — The Washington Redskins knew this kind of game awaited them at some point. A day of stumbles and bumbles and injuries, a day when they seemed emotionally drained and finally overcome by the odds of a 16-game season. A week after overcoming the New York Giants, they ran up a laundry list of mistakes--including four turnovers and eight penalties--and were pushed to the edge.
How close to the edge? With four seconds left and the game tied in the fourth quarter, Houston's Ian Howfield lined up to kick a game-winning 33-yard field goal.
His kick sailed to the left, and in a season when the Redskins have done almost everything right, they added a dash of luck. Cornerback Darrell Green intercepted Warren Moon's first pass in overtime, and 4:01 into the extra session, Chip Lohmiller's 41-yard field goal beat the Oilers, 16-13, before 55,096 at RFK Stadium.
Are the Redskins starting to feel a bit of magic? They are only the 12th NFL team since World War II and the 18th team ever to go 9-0. They tied one team record with a 10th consecutive victory at home and tied another with nine victories in a row in a season. The result also preserved their three-game division lead in the NFC East and their one-game edge over New Orleans (8-1) in the race for home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
"These two teams are awfully close," Coach Joe Gibbs said of his Redskins and the Oilers. "I'm drained after last week and now this. We overcame a lot of adversity out there, losing our two tackles and all. It was a wild day."
It was a bitter day for Oiler Coach Jack Pardee, the former Redskin linebacker and coach who was returning to RFK for the first time since his 1981 firing.
"We're very disappointed," Pardee said. "I'm real proud of this team. We had a great performance. We showed poise and maturity. We had chances. We just didn't end up on top. I thought our kicking game had been superior all day. It's unfortunate that the game often comes down to kicking."
It was a day when the Redskins clearly needed a break to remain unbeaten. But in many ways they were impressive enough. They handed the Oilers (7-2) their second loss even after losing both starting offensive tackles, Jim Lachey and Joe Jacoby, to injuries. They dominated the clock. They ran up 349 yards on the AFC's top-ranked defense, with Earnest Byner's 112 rushing yards and with Mark Rypien completing 21 of 34 passes for 195.
They also did a marvelous job on Moon and the run-and-shoot offense. The Oilers became the first team to score a touchdown against the Redskins' defensive unit at home, but for the afternoon, they got just the one touchdown and 267 total yards--120 below their season average.
Redskin rookie Ricky Ervins picked up 43 yards in nine carries, but with Russ Grimm and Mark Adickes filling in nicely at tackle, it was Byner who was back in the spotlight, a consistent gainer on his 21 carries, including a nifty 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Redskins rushed for 154 yards in all, and it was Adickes' block inside that helped spring Byner for the touchdown.
That put the Redskins ahead, 13-6, until Lorenzo White scored on a one-yard dive with 1:42 remaining in the game. Howfield's conversion--barely inside the right upright--tied it, and when Brian Mitchell fumbled the kickoff, Houston safety Mike Dumas fell on it at the Washington 23 with 1:33 left.
The Oilers ran three plays and got to the 16-yard line with four seconds remaining. They called time and got Howfield lined up for the winning kick.
The Redskins' unbeaten stand was just about over, but they had been reminded all week that Howfield has bounced around the NFL and missed four extra points this season, three just a week ago. He began this season tending bar and must again be wondering about his future.
Holder Greg Montgomery never got the laces turned correctly, but the kicker refused to alibi.
"The coach expects me to make those, and I do, too," he said.