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Flashback Friday—Mel Gray

Flashback Friday—Mel Gray


Normally this space is given to recount great Redskins victories of the past. This one is about a gut-wrenching defeat. If you want to draw a scowl from any Redskins fan of my generation, there are two names that will do the trick. One is Clint Longley. The other is Mel Gray.

To say that the 1975 Washington Redskins were in a state of change would be like saying that the post-Watergate air in DC was a bit unsettled. Both the federal government and the Redskins were undergoing radical transformations.

Legendary quarterback Sonny Jurgensen had been pushed into retirement by coach George Allen. Running back Larry Brown, just three years removed from an MVP season had been pushed to the bench by second-year back Mike Thomas. Charley Taylor was still the team's leading receiver in terms of catches, but Frank Grant would wind up leading the Redskins in receiving yards. And Ford's pardon of Nixon had, well, you can read about that elsewhere.

Going into a November game at Busch Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was all there for the Redskins. The two teams were tied atop the NFC East with 6-2 records and, having beaten the Cards earlier in the year, Washington could gain a stranglehold on the division. The Skins led most of the way and appeared to have come up with a key goal line stand to save the game. But then the pass went to . . .Mel Gray.

Billy Kilmer had been injured the week before, and with Joe Theismann not yet ready to play, the starting quarterback was journeyman Randy Johnson. The ex-Giant filled in more than adequately, completing 14 of 27 for 252 yards and two touchdowns. The first of those two touchdown strikes came midway through the second quarter as Johnson found Taylor from 36 yards to erase a 3-0 Cardinal lead. For the next 18 minutes, the Cardinals continually drove down the field only to shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. St. Louis racked up 427 yards of offense for the game, including 230 with an effective thunder and lightning ground attack. Terry Metcalf provided the quickness, gaining 79 yards, while Jim Otis was the power back, grinding for 109 on 23 carries.

The Redskins were having their problems with turnovers as well, giving it away five times on the day. Still, midway through the third quarter, Johnson threw his second touchdown pass, this one to Thomas, giving the Redskins a 14-3 lead. St. Louis responded as a 47-yard pass interference call aided a drive that ended with Jim Hart throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end J. V. Cain with 13:35 left in the game.

Mark Moseley kicked a 42-yard field goal with 6:18 left to put the Redskins up by seven. The Cardinals had to punt back to the Redskins. St. Louis burned all of its time outs, and one more first down would have allowed Johnson to kneel down on the ball and seal the win. Washington, though, came up short and punted. Metcalf returned it 19 yards to the Redskins 39 with 1:43 left.

Hart quickly completed two passes to move the Cardinals down to the six. After three incompletions, it was fourth and goal with less than thirty seconds left. Hart dropped back and fired over the middle to Gray a couple of yards deep into the end zone. The ball went into Gray's arms and, almost immediately, was knocked out by Pat Fisher. Was it a catch?

"It was not a catch," said Fischer. "The rule says he has to have possession and he didn't."

Gray, naturally, disagreed saying, "It was a good catch. It was a touchdown."

Immediately after the play, it seemed that the officials concurred with Fischer. The Redskins' defense began to celebrate and the offense headed onto the field.

But wait. The referees were huddling. They conferred and debated and discussed. And then they talked some more.

And eventually, some of them persuaded referee Fred Silva that Gray did have possession with two feet down. So, after what seemed like an eternity but was in reality only about three minutes, the huddle broke and Silva signed a touchdown.

"I've never seen them take so long to make a decision," said George Allen after the game, "That's like having a World Series and three minutes after the game ruling that the runner is safe at the plate." Jim Bakken's extra point tied the game at 17 and the contest went into overtime.

The dispirited Redskins lost the toss and offered little resistance as Otis powered a drive to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt by Bakken seven minutes into the extra period. It split the uprights, and the Cards won 20-17.

The loss sent Washington into a tailspin, the first of four losses in their final six games. They finished third in the division and were out of the playoffs for the first time since Allen became coach in 1971.

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Redskins vs Cardinals Preview: 5 things to know with Jordan Reed out

Redskins vs Cardinals Preview: 5 things to know with Jordan Reed out

The Redskins moved the ball well against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but continued red zone woes again sent Washington home with a loss. While the late November schedule proved brutal for the 'Skins, playing two games in five days, now the Redskins come to Arizona for an early December game with fresh legs and ample rest. Played indoors at University of Phoenix Stadium, weather will not be a factor for the 4 p.m. EST kick, but all the action starts on CSN with Redskins Kickoff at 3 p.m. Here are five storylines to watch:

  1. Keep it moving - Kirk Cousins showed he likes to get hot in the second half of the season during 2015. The quarterback's play late last year won the 'Skins the NFC East, and while a division title is out of reach with the Cowboys already at 11 wins, Cousins again looks to be on a heater. In three games since the bye, Cousins has thrown for more than 1,000 yards to go with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. The No. 1 story for the 'Skins is Cousins, and if he keeps his hot streak going, Washington should find itself in position to win in Arizona.
  2. Missing in action - This will be the final game of a four-game suspension for left tackle Trent Williams, and the Washington offensive line has performed admirably in his absence. Arguably more important this week will be the absence of tight end Jordan Reed, who suffered a serious shoulder injury in Dallas. What's wild about Reed - he came back to play in the second half against the Cowboys - and score two touchdowns - while playing with a separated shoulder. Reed did not practice this week, and Jay Gruden said his range of motion in the shoulder is just too limited to go against the Cardinals. 
  3. Consider the source - The Redskins offense might be the most potent group in this game, but Washington would be foolish to sleep on the Cardinals. Arizona was widely considered a Super Bowl contender coming into the season, and though they are in the midst of a disappointing year at 4-6-1, a win against the Skins could get the Cards back on the playoff track. Arizona running back David Johnson is the 3rd leading rusher in the NFL with 921 yards on the ground, not to mention an additional 613 yards receiving. Gruden on Johnson, "He is probably the best all-around back there is in the National Football League right now as far as being able to move outside, be a great route runner but also run between the tackles and run outside with his speed. So it’s going to be a matchup problem." Defensively, the Redskins ranks 25th in the NFL at stopping the run. Watch out for David Johnson.
  4. Problems don't just go away - Look at just about any metric on the Redskins offense, and the results are impressive: No. 2 in yards-per-game, No. 2 in yards-per-play, No. 2 in pass yards-per-game. But for all the yards, the 'Skins don't score at a corresponding clip as they rank 9th in the NFL in points. The culprit? Red zone troubles. "There are so many good things we’re doing on offense to put a damper on what they’re doing offensively with the red zone. It’s hard to do, but it’s something that is a glaring weakness of this football team right now," Gruden said of his team. The best road to wins for the Redskins is by scoring, ideally at least 30 points, and that will require some success inside the 20s.
  5. The harder they fall - If the Arizona offense has an Achilles heel, it's their offensive line. Carson Palmer has been sacked 16 times in the Cards last four games, and the 'Skins need to focus on bringing Palmer down. Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy - who will be playing in his hometown - have been the leaders at getting sacks for Joe Barry's defense, and Preston Smith could be in line for another big game. Getting to Carson Palmer should be among the defense's top priorities, as that can slow Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards pass game.

Numbers & Notes:

  • DeSean Jackson's 67-yard reception in Dallas was a season long and his longest since a 77-yard touchdown vs. Buffalo in Week 15 of the 2015 season.
  • Kirk Cousins' 3,540 passing yards in 2016 now rank 10th-most in a single season in team history, and he still has five games left to play.
  • The Redskins offense ranks first in the NFL in percentage of fewest 3-and-out drives at 9.5 percent.
  • If Pierre Garçon can gain 137 receiving yards on Sunday, he will pass Michael Westbrook for 10th-most career receiving yards in team history.
  • With nine sacks, Ryan Kerrigan is one sack away from becoming the fifth member of the Redskins (Dexter Manley, 4; Charles Mann, 4; Andre Carter, 2; Brian Orakpo, 2) to post multiple 10-sack seasons since the NFL adopted sacks as an official statistic in 1982.

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

Enemy Intel: Sunday games have playoff implications galore for Redskins

As the Cowboys take their long week off after consecutive Thursday games the Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and other wild card contenders are in action. Here is Tandler’s weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL.

—The Giants are on a six-game winning streak and while that’s not easy to do against any level of competition it needs to be pointed out that their slate was squishy-soft with the last five wins coming against teams that currently have losing records. Now things get real with a trip to play the Steelers and a home date against the Cowboys. I’m not really sure how good the Giants are but if they split these two games I’ll be more impressed with them than I am now.

—The 5-6 Eagles travel to play the Bengals, who are just about out of contention for a sixth straight playoff appearance at 3-7-1. In fact, the Eagles might be just about out of it, too. Their big problem is 3-6 conference record, which puts them behind several other wild card contenders in this tiebreaker. It’s important because that is the second tiebreaker behind head to head. It’s better for the Redskins if the Bengals win but it probably won’t matter much. The consensus in Philadelphia seems to be that the Eagles are a rebuilding team that got off to a hot start, kindling some unrealistic hopes and expectations for the rest of 2016.

—The team is the hottest pursuit of the Redskins is the Buccaneers, who travel to San Diego to play a game that starts at the same time as Washington-Arizona. The Chargers are 5-6 but they are buried in last in the tough AFC West. This game is a coin flip. Redskins fans should root for the Chargers. If the Bucs lose, the Redskins would still hold the second wild card at the end of the day even if they should lose to the Cardinals.

—The 5-6 Saints are on the fringes of the wild card picture. They host the Lions, who are leading the NFC North by a game and a half over the Vikings and two games over the Packers. It’s probably best if the Lions win, which would just about eliminate the Saints. Still, there is a scenario where the Lions go into a minor tailspin, lose the division to either the Packers or Vikings but have a good enough record to take the second wild card. So like with most games within the NFC until the dust settles some more, there is some upside and some downside no matter which team wins.

—That scenario where the Lions fade from the division lead become a whole lot less likely if the Texans can go to Green Bay and beat the Packers. This is an interconference game so it’s an easy call to pull for Houston.

—Seattle, with a three-game lead in the NFC West, hosts the Panthers, who are on the outer fringe of the wild card race at 4-7. Another loss likely would ensure that Carolina won’t be able to defend its NFC title. This isn’t a pivotal game but probably better if the Seahawks win to end it for the wounded but potentially dangerous Panthers.

—My one loss last week was the Seahawks giving 5.5 on the road to the Bucs. I won with the Saints over the Rams and the Falcons over the Cardinals. This week I’m giving the Seahawks another go, giving 7 to the Panthers, and I’m taking the Patriots -13.5 against the Rams (the loss of Gronk doesn’t do much to equalize these teams) and the Saints giving 6 to the Lions.

MORE REDSKINS: Betting on the Redskins' playoff chances