January 8, 2010

1984: Redskins Survive Comeback by 49ers to Win NFC Championship

The NFC Championship game on January 8, 1984 at Washington’s RFK Stadium matched the teams that had won the previous two conference titles. The host Redskins were the defending league champions, having won the Super Bowl following the 1982 season, and had been even more impressive in defending their title in ’83. They set what was then an NFL record by rolling up 541 points in going 14-2 and winning the NFC East. The San Francisco 49ers, under the guidance of Head Coach Bill Walsh, had won the Super Bowl after the 1981 season and, after dipping to 3-6 in the strike-shortened ’82 season, bounced back to finish first in the NFC West in 1983 with a 10-6 tally.

Washington, under the guidance of Head Coach Joe Gibbs, boasted an explosive passing game led by QB Joe Theismann throwing to wide receivers Charlie Brown, the NFC co-leader in pass receptions (78), plus Art Monk and Alvin Garrett (known as “the Fun Bunch” for their end zone celebrations). They could also run the ball behind RB John Riggins (pictured above), who gained 1347 yards rushing and set a new NFL record with 24 touchdowns. All-purpose RB Joe Washington could run (772 yards) and catch (47 receptions for 454 yards) with equal effectiveness. The superb offensive line, known as “the Hogs”, provided a solid foundation. Mark Moseley set a record for a points scored purely by kicking with 161.

San Francisco’s offense was led by QB Joe Montana (pictured at left), who passed for 3910 yards and 26 touchdowns, with solid possession WR Dwight Clark leading the team with 70 receptions. Rookie RB Roger Craig ran for 725 yards and caught 48 passes, teaming with veteran RB Wendell Tyler, who had been obtained in a trade with the Rams and ran for 856 yards.

The Redskins thrashed the Rams, their Divisional playoff opponent, by a 51-7 score while the 49ers had to come from behind to beat Detroit 24-23 to set up the conference championship showdown.

The first quarter was scoreless, but the Redskins put points on the board when they drove 64 yards in five plays capped by a four-yard run by Riggins in the second quarter. Washington seemed to take command of the game in the third quarter as Riggins scored again, from a yard out, and after the 49ers were forced to punt on the following possession, Theismann passed to Brown for a 70-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

San Francisco began to move in the fourth quarter, with Montana capping a nine-play, 79-yard drive with a five-yard scoring pass to WR Mike Wilson. After the Redskins missed a field goal attempt on their ensuing possession, the Niners struck quickly as Montana connected with WR Freddie Solomon for a 76-yard touchdown with just under ten minutes left in the game. Then after Washington went four-and-out, it was Montana once more hitting Wilson for the tying score on a 12-yard pass play. After being stymied for three quarters, the 49ers scored three touchdowns in a matter of seven-and-a-half minutes – a stunning comeback.

The Redskins got the ball back with 6:52 left on the clock at their own 14 yard line. Now it was Theismann and the high-powered Washington offense’s turn to move downfield. Aided by two penalties on the 49ers – a pass interference call on CB Eric Wright and defensive holding on CB Ronnie Lott – Washington drove to the San Francisco 8 yard line in 13 plays, covering over six minutes. Moseley, who missed four three-point attempts during the game, booted the game-winning 25-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining and the final score was 24-21 in favor of the Redskins.

John Riggins carried the ball 36 times for Washington, accumulating 123 yards and two touchdowns; it was his sixth consecutive 100-yard playoff performance. Joe Theismann (pictured at right) completed 14 of 26 passes for 229 yards with a TD and an interception. Charlie Brown was the leading receiver with 5 catches for 137 yards and a score.

Joe Montana, in staging the big comeback, threw the ball 48 times, completing 27 of them, for 347 yards with three touchdowns and one picked off. Freddie Solomon had the most receiving yards for the 49ers with 106 on his four catches with the one long TD. Mike Wilson, who had two scores, caught the most passes (8) and added 57 yards. The Niners ran just 16 times, for 87 yards, with Wendell Tyler leading the way with 44 yards on 8 rushes; Montana was a close second with 40 yards on 5 carries.

Washington was upset in the Super Bowl by the Los Angeles Raiders, losing by a stunning 38-9 score and putting a damper on what had been one of the greatest seasons in the franchise’s history. San Francisco was back in the NFC Championship game following the 1984 season, this time winning with ease on their way to a Super Bowl championship. While Joe Montana had already shown a great deal in his young career, the greatest heroics were still to come.