November 4, 2012

1990: Rutledge Rallies Redskins to Overtime Win Over Lions

The Washington Redskins had a 4-3 record as they took on the Detroit Lions on November 4, 1990. In their tenth season under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins were looking to return to the playoffs after missing out in 1988 and ’89 following their last trip to the Super Bowl. The running game was sound, led by veterans Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs, and the defense was much improved. But QB Stan Humphries was proving to be too inconsistent.

The Lions, under Head Coach Wayne Fontes, were 3-4 and featured an explosive run-and-shoot passing attack directed by assistants Darrel “Mouse” Davis and June Jones. Detroit could run the ball effectively, to be sure, with All-Pro RB Barry Sanders in the backfield. But the defense could give up points as readily as the offense could score them, and the quick-striking offense only tended to keep the defense on the field far too long.

There were 69,326 fans in attendance at the Pontiac Silverdome. Following an interception of a Stan Humphries pass on Washington’s opening possession, the Lions quickly capitalized as QB Rodney Peete threw to WR Robert Clark for a 33-yard touchdown.

The teams traded punts before the Redskins put together a 10-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Humphries threw to WR Gary Clark for 21 yards on a third-down play and, in all, was successful on five of six throws. Gerald Riggs completed the series by breaking three tackles and running for an eight-yard TD. Chip Lohmiller’s extra point tied the score at 7-7.

Peete started off the second quarter by scrambling away from trouble and running for 37 yards to the Washington 33. Barry Sanders gained 20 yards on two carries and Peete finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run after faking a pitch to Sanders.

No sooner did the Redskins get the ball back then Humphries was picked off by CB William White, who returned it 34 yards for a TD. Down by 21-7, Washington fought back on the next possession highlighted by Humphries scrambling for 17 yards and completing a pass to Gary Clark for 31 yards. The tenth play of the 83-yard drive was a four-yard touchdown pass from Humphries to TE Jimmie Johnson, who was all alone in the corner of the end zone.

The teams again traded punts. With just over three minutes to go in the first half, the Lions regained possession at their five yard line. Peete threw to WR Richard Johnson for 25 yards to get out of the hole, then hit WR Jason Phillips for 27 yards to the Washington 43. Another pass to Johnson and a run by Sanders gained another 19 yards and Peete completed a 24-yard scoring pass to WR Aubrey Matthews that made it 28-14 in favor of the Lions going into halftime.

Things got even better for Detroit early in the third quarter. On Washington’s first possession of the second half, safety Bennie Blades intercepted a Humphries pass and returned it 21 yards to the Redskins’ 45. Two plays later, Barry Sanders broke away on a draw play for a 45-yard TD. With the successful PAT, the Lions were now up comfortably by 35-14.

On Washington’s next series, QB Jeff Rutledge (pictured at top) came into the game. An 11th-year career backup out of Alabama, Rutledge had been with the Rams and, during the previous seven seasons, the Giants before joining the Redskins. He had started a total of nine games during that span as he did not have the arm or size to be a first-string quarterback, but he brought intelligence and good leadership qualities to the position.

Rutledge started off by completing all three of his passes, including a third-and-two throw to WR Ricky Sanders for 33 yards, and the Redskins scored a touchdown on a three-yard carry by Riggs. Following a punt by the Lions, two runs by Riggs and a pass by Rutledge gained 24 yards but Riggs fumbled after catching a pass and the Lions recovered at their own 46.

Peete having pulled a hamstring during the last possession, Detroit now had a new quarterback in the game as well in backup Bob Gagliano. Gagliano completed passes of 19 and 24 yards to Richard Johnson and, after reaching the Washington eight yard line, Rich Karlis kicked a 26-yard field goal. Heading into the final quarter, the Lions were leading by a seemingly-commanding 38-21.

The Redskins started off the final period by driving 58 yards in nine plays, but after reaching the Detroit 21 Rutledge tossed three incomplete passes and Washington settled for a 38-yard field goal by Chip Lohmiller.

On Detroit’s next play from scrimmage, Gagliano threw to Matthews who fumbled and DE Fred Stokes recovered for Washington. However, after driving this time to the Detroit 22, the Redskins attempted to convert a fourth-and-seven play but Rutledge’s pass fell incomplete.

The Lions went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and Rutledge completed five of six passes, including one to Ricky Sanders that gained 28 yards and another to Gary Clark for a 34-yard touchdown. The Detroit lead was down to 38-31 with 5:48 still on the clock in regulation.

Once again the Lions had to punt after three plays and once more it was Rutledge passing the Redskins down the field. Washington went 85 yards in 15 plays with Rutledge completing eight passes and finishing the series off with a 12-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw. Lohmiller’s extra point was good and, with less than 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the contest was tied at 38-38.

In the overtime period, each team had a possession and punted before the Redskins, starting at their 10 yard line, advanced 73 yards in 12 plays. Along the way, Rutledge converted a third-and-15 situation with a completion to WR Art Monk for 40 yards. With Rutledge tossing short passes and Riggs and RB Earnest Byner gaining yards on the ground, Washington reached the Detroit 17 and, at 9:10 into overtime, Lohmiller ended the game with a 34-yard field goal. The Redskins came away with a thrilling 41-38 win.

Washington had big advantages in total yards (676 to 351), first downs (39 to 12), and time of possession (49:52 to 19:18). However, the Lions recorded six sacks, to two by the Redskins, and Washington also turned the ball over four times while Detroit suffered one.

Jeff Rutledge put up big numbers once he came into the contest, completing 30 of 42 passes for 363 yards with a touchdown and none intercepted. By contrast, Stan Humphries was successful on 13 of 21 throws for 159 yards with a TD and three interceptions. Art Monk had 13 catches for 168 yards and was one of three Washington receivers to reach a hundred yards, with Ricky Sanders gaining 132 yards on his 11 receptions and Gary Clark adding 132 on 8 catches with a TD. Gerald Riggs led the club in rushing with 91 yards on 22 carries that included two scores and Earnest Byner gained 53 yards on 11 attempts.

For Detroit, Rodney Peete went 8 of 17 passing for 135 yards and two TDs with none intercepted and Bob Gagliano completed 5 of 11 throws for 68 yards with no scores or pickoffs. Barry Sanders (pictured below) ran for 104 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Richard Johnson caught 7 passes for 98 yards.

“In Jeff’s case, I just think he is a producer,” said Joe Gibbs of Rutledge. “He has always been that way and he’s a great guy. He is a class individual.”

Rutledge got a chance to start the next game at Philadelphia, but performed poorly and was knocked out of the game by injury (as was Humphries also) - he returned to the bench. The Redskins recovered to win five of their last seven games and placed third in the NFC East at 10-6. They defeated the Eagles in the Wild Card playoff game but lost at San Francisco in the Divisional round.

Detroit finished up at 6-10 for third place in the NFC Central. The result convinced Coach Fontes to back away from the pure run-and-shoot offense, thus causing Mouse Davis and June Jones to depart.

Jeff Rutledge threw a total of 68 passes for the Redskins in 1990 and completed 40 of them for 455 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The big relief performance against the Lions remained his most significant single-game effort by far. He played two more years in Washington with limited action as a backup.