October 2, 2010

1983: Redskins Overcome Raiders in 37-35 Thriller

The Washington Redskins, defending NFL champions, were off to a 3-1 start in 1983 as they hosted the undefeated Los Angeles Raiders on October 2 at RFK Stadium. Washington, under third-year Head Coach Joe Gibbs, had an outstanding offense built around power-running RB John Riggins operating behind an excellent line and the passing of QB Joe Theismann (pictured at right) to wide receivers Charlie Brown, Art Monk, and Alvin Garrett.

The Raiders, in Head Coach Tom Flores’ fifth season and the second year in LA, were led by 36-year-old QB Jim Plunkett, second-year RB Marcus Allen, and a tough veteran defense that included a colorful band of characters such as DE Lyle Alzado, linebackers Ted Hendricks and Matt Millen, and CB Lester Hayes. Combined with rising young stars like DE Howie Long and FS Vann McElroy, the Raiders defense had given up no more than 14 points in any of the first four games.

Sloppy play on the part of the Raiders offense, which was handicapped by not having Allen available due to a hip pointer, highlighted the first quarter. Plunkett tossed an interception in LA’s first offensive series that the Redskins capitalized on as Riggins ran for a two-yard touchdown. The turnovers continued as the veteran quarterback was picked off a second time and RB Kenny King fumbled the ball away, but the score stood at 7-0 after the opening period as the normally-reliable Mark Moseley missed on a 36-yard field goal attempt for Washington.

Moseley was successful on his next field goal attempt, from 28 yards out early in the second quarter. The teams traded punts, and it appeared that the Redskins had the Raiders offense boxed in after a Jeff Hayes kick was downed on the one yard line. But Plunkett immediately went long to WR Cliff Branch, who gathered in the pass at his 44 yard line and proceeded to tie the league record with a 99-yard touchdown.

Despite all of the errors, the Raiders were down only 10-7, but Washington came back with an 80-yard, seven-play drive that ended with Theismann throwing a five-yard TD pass to RB Joe Washington. The first half ended with the Redskins ahead, 17-7.

The second half didn’t start off any better for LA as the offense went three-and-out and Washington padded its lead with a 29-yard field goal by Moseley. But two possessions later, the passing game came alive as Plunkett connected with TE Todd Christensen for a 41-yard gain and, two plays later, tossed to WR Calvin Muhammad for a 35-yard touchdown.

After the Redskins were forced to punt, the Raiders drove to another score with Plunkett again throwing a TD pass to Muhammad, this time covering 22 yards. With the successful extra point, Los Angeles was now ahead by 21-20.

Riggins fumbled the ball away on the second play of Washington’s ensuing possession, and ten plays later, now in the fourth quarter, Plunkett hit Christensen for a three-yard touchdown and 28-20 lead.

Theismann and the Redskins came out passing, with consecutive completions to Charlie Brown that covered 25 yards. However, the drive stalled at the Washington 43 and Jeff Hayes punted it away. His 54-yard kick was fielded by RB Greg Pruitt at his own three yard line, and he proceeded to return it 97 yards for a touchdown; the Raiders were up by 35-20.

Just as it seemed that the momentum had shifted overwhelmingly to LA, the Redskins fought back with a Theismann pass to Joe Washington that covered 67 yards and set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brown three plays later.

With 6:15 left to play and the Redskins down by two scores, the Raiders were watching for an onside kick. What they got was a low and hard kick by Hayes that made it through the front line, hit a player’s foot, and spun wildly away. WR Dokie Williams initially fell on the ball for the Raiders but couldn’t hold on and safety Greg Williams finally recovered it for Washington at the LA 32. Moseley kicked a 34-yard field goal five plays later to narrow the Raiders’ lead to five points.

Hayes kicked deep for the Redskins with 4:28 remaining on the clock. Los Angeles went three-and-out and was forced to punt after a third-and-11 pass from Plunkett to Christensen gained nine yards. Starting at his own 31 and with just under two minutes to play in the game, Theismann completed three consecutive passes to Brown that covered a total of 63 yards. From the LA six yard line, Theismann found Washington in the end zone for a diving touchdown catch, and the Redskins ended up with a wild 37-35 win.

The statistics reflected the wildly shifting momentum of the game. Both teams accumulated over 400 yards, with the Redskins slightly ahead (as with the score) by 459 yards to 431. Washington also led in first downs (25 to 19) while the Raiders led in rushing yards (105 to 98) and sacks (six to five). However, LA also suffered six turnovers, to just one for the Redskins.

Joe Theismann passed for 417 yards as he completed 23 of 39 passes with three TDs and none intercepted. Charlie Brown caught 11 of those passes for 180 yards and a touchdown while Joe Washington (pictured above), seeing a great deal of action in the second half as the preferred running back in passing situations, grabbed 5 passes for 99 yards and the two TDs. John Riggins gained 91 yards rushing on 26 attempts with a score.

For the Raiders, after the shaky start Jim Plunkett ended up completing 16 of 29 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Calvin Muhammad caught 5 passes for 112 yards and two TDs while Todd Christensen added 70 more yards on his 5 catches. Cliff Branch gained 99 yards on his one long reception of the day. In place of Marcus Allen, RB Frank Hawkins led the team on the ground with 64 yards on 15 carries.

Afterward, Washington guard Mark May said “I wouldn’t be surprised if we met them again in January.” He proved to be a good prophet. The Redskins lost just one more game the rest of the way as they finished atop the NFC East with a 14-2 record. While they were at it, they set a new league team scoring record with 541 points (since broken). The Raiders topped the AFC West with a 12-4 tally. Both clubs won their respective conference championships and met in Super Bowl XVIII where the Raiders got the last laugh with a stunning 38-9 upset victory (Marcus Allen’s presence was very much in evidence, as he gained 191 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns).

Joe Theismann ranked second in the NFL in passing (97.0 rating) and touchdown passes (29, tied with Danny White of the Cowboys) while throwing for 3714 yards. He received All-Pro honors and was selected to the Pro Bowl, along with Charlie Brown (pictured at left), who caught 78 passes for 1225 yards and 8 TDs.

John Riggins set a new record for touchdowns (24) while rushing for 1347 yards on 375 carries. Mark Moseley scored 161 points (at the time, the record for scoring by placekicking alone) while hitting on 33 of 47 field goal attempts.

Todd Christensen led the NFL in pass receptions with 92 while accumulating 1247 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jim Plunkett, in an up-and-down season, lost his starting job to Marc Wilson, regained it, and finished with 2935 yards, 20 TDs, and 18 interceptions; he was also sacked 42 times and was second in the league in yards lost due to sacks (363), but in the end was a championship quarterback for the second time.


  1. In Two of the Raiders three Superbowl Victories they played a team they lost a Close Regular Season Contest and then went on to Crush that same team when it Counted Most in the Superbowl.
    I found in many cases teams that had played each other in the Regular Season and then again in the Superbowl. The Team that lost the first time, won a higher percentage of the games the 2nd time around.

    1. Good observation. The Raiders would study the games they lost, look for weaknesses, learn from their mistakes, make adjustments as necessary, and be much better prepared. The screen pass to Joe Washington that got them 67 yards in this game backfired badly in the Super Bowl when they tried it, for Raiders defensive coach Charlie Sumner recognized their setup, made a defensive substitution, and told the player (Jack Squirek) to specifically look out for that play. The result was a pick-six that got Squirek's face on the cover of Sports Illustrated (virtually the only play he made in his NFL career), and the biggest nail in the Redskin's coffin in Super Bowl XVIII. And it wasn't even halftime yet.