How good are the Washington Redskins? Hailed by 55,363 zealots in Hog Heaven, also known as RFK Stadium, the Redskins pounded the Los Angeles Rams 51-7 Sunday and sent tremors all the way to San Francisco, where the 49ers needed only about 37 seconds of television watching to learn the identity of their opponent in this Sunday's NFC championship game. Washington set a record for most points in the first half of an NFL playoff game while running up a 38-7 lead, and the final score could have been worse—really—but Redskin coach Joe Gibbs, full of holiday spirit, emptied the bench and helped the Rams run out the clock.
It was a big day for John Riggins, who rumbled through the Rams for 119 yards and three touchdowns. Diesel horns groaned in the background each time he scored. It was Riggins' fifth straight 100-yard playoff game. "He said if we wanted to give him the ball again this year, he'd do it for us," said Gibbs, "and everything John's ever told me, he's done." These Redskins are so good, though, that if Riggins had stayed home in bed, they still would have crushed the Rams by, say, 30-7.
Quarterback Joe Theismann, who sat down with eight minutes still to play, completed 18 for 23 for 302 yards and averaged 23.1 yards on the 10 passes he threw to wide receivers Charlie Brown and Art Monk. Monk went down with a stress fracture in his right foot in the final game of the 1982 regular season, but the Redskins won the Super Bowl without him because Riggins was Riggins. Monk scored twice Sunday, on passes of 40 and 21 yards. "He's why we're now a better team," Theismann said of Monk. "Last year Art missed the fun. He felt like an outsider. And in some instances he was treated like an outsider by the organization, which was wrong. But we have all our guns now. We're all on the same page."
"They were that good," said a stunned John Robinson, the Rams' coach, about an hour after the last Redskin had gone thataway. "What was so...so shocking was that we couldn't match them. Too much mass. Too much. They were just too good." Shocking indeed. The Rams' 3-4 had shut down Dallas' Tony Dorsett in the NFC wild-card game, and their secondary was playing well. The Rams were better than Dallas, and the Redskins' reputation had been built, in large measure, at the expense of the Cowboys, America's Straight Men. Why, a few days before the slaughter Gibbs had said, "The Rams really make me nervous.
Maybe they did, but Gibbs was breathing easy early Sunday afternoon. The Rams held Riggins to five yards on the Skins' first two plays of the game, but the Redskins aren't just Riggins. In Monk and Brown, they have other ways to move the football. On third down Monk went in motion left toward Brown, who was already to the left of the Redskins' one-back formation. The overload led to single coverage on Brown, who beat corner-back LeRoy Irvin inside and took Theismann's throw for 29 yards to the Ram 31. Brown caught six balls for 171 yards in much this same way, before sitting out most of the second half with a tender hamstring.
Gibbs insisted that all the multiple sets, resets, motion and countermotion the Redskins employ are merely misdirection to break down defensive recognition of their "simple" plays. Ram safety Nolan Cromwell agreed. "They don't do a lot," he said, "but they do it super."
"Any defense in the secondary is dictated by Monk," said Bobby Mitchell, the Skins' assistant general manager. Mitchell, of course, was once a game-busting wideout for the Redskins, playing opposite that mechanic of pass catchers, Charley Taylor, now the Redskins' receivers coach. "Charlie Brown has the same advantages I had," says Mitchell. "Charley Taylor was a big guy and a great receiver—like Art—and Charley would always get the double coverage. I had some big days because people said Charley Taylor wasn't going to beat them."
The 6'3", 209-pound Monk, who did no running at all from December to May—"I didn't want to risk it," he says—gives the Redskins the capability to strike from anywhere. As a result, defenses must play the Skins honestly, and this allows Theismann to pick them apart. "Joe's hot," says Gibbs. "Really hot. He exploded today. Art gives him that great, big receiver."
With the Redskins leading 7-0, Brown, wide left, ran a streak along the icy sideline in front of Washington's bench. Irvin, man-to-man, barely flicked away Theismann's throw. The very next play Monk ran the same pattern from the same spot, and this time Irvin slipped. Theismann put it in Monk's pocket for 40 yards and a 14-0 lead.
The Rams needed Eric Dickerson to keep the ball away from Theismann, but the Skins took care of the rookie All-Pro. Dickerson had gained only 37 yards when L.A. lost to Washington 42-20 in Anaheim on Nov. 20, and he produced only 16 yards in 10 carries Sunday. The Redskins massed on the line of scrimmage; on some defensive sets, nine or 10 Skins were within five yards of the line. They came in waves. "He's a tremendous cutback runner," Gibbs said of Dickerson. "We had to sell our team the idea of sliding down the line, taking away the lanes."
"I can't run through five guys. I'm not Superman," said Dickerson, who found the sanded-down turf treacherous. He had suffered a hyperextended right arch against Dallas the week before, and that may have affected him as well. Dickerson wasn't Dickerson. "They didn't give any holes," he said. "I don't see how they lost the two games they lost. They humiliated us."
"They're as good as any team I've played," said Cromwell. The Rams' touchdown came on a 32-yard pass from Vince Ferragamo to Preston Dennard, on a down-out-and-up against Redskin cornerback Anthony Washington in the second quarter. The great tease for Redskin opponents is Washington's inexperienced secondary, but the Rams learned it is wise to avoid Darrell Green, the Skins' rookie cornerback. Green won three open-field duels with Dickerson. Twice in the first half Dickerson caught short outside passes and turned upfield only to have Green tackle him before he could cut. The third time, with the Redskins cruising at 44-7 and 14:15 left in the game, a Ferragamo pass scuffed Dickerson's hands and landed in Green's. The rookie went 72 yards to score. For the game Green had seven tackles and knocked away six passes. His sprinter's speed allows him to cover man-to-man, and he hits big. "Speed is the one thing I have," he says. "If you're going to get there, get there quick. That's a good law when you weigh 110." Actually, the 5'8" Green goes 175.
As the Rams left for home, their defensive end, Jack Youngblood, had these words of advice for Washington's next opponent: "The 49ers better eat their Wheaties."