October 15, 2013

1978: Eagles Defeat Redskins in NFC East Showdown

The Philadelphia Eagles were at 3-3 and facing a key test as they hosted the Washington Redskins on October 15, 1978. In their third season under intense Head Coach Dick Vermeil, the perennially-losing Eagles were showing signs of improvement. In particular, second-year HB Wilbert Montgomery (pictured above) had broken out and already produced three hundred-yard rushing games. QB Ron Jaworski was now in his second season with the club and developing steadily. The defense, anchored by ILB Bill Bergey, contained several rising young stars. After losing their first two games – the second at Washington – Philadelphia won three straight before falling to the Patriots.

The Redskins, coached for the first year by Jack Pardee, were undefeated at 6-0. QB Joe Theismann was performing well and FB John Riggins was steady in leading the ground game. However, there were cracks in the fa├žade – the wide receivers were nothing special and the defense was aging, which would become more of an issue as the season wore on.   

There were 65,722 fans in attendance at Veterans Stadium on a pleasant Fall afternoon. Following HB Tony Green’s 30-yard kickoff return, the Redskins moved quickly into Eagles territory when Theismann passed to Riggins for a 33-yard gain. But the drive stalled at the Philadelphia 24 and Mark Moseley’s 41-yard field goal attempt into the wind was wide to the left.

The Eagles kept the ball on the ground, with Wilbert Montgomery carrying most of the load and FB Mike Hogan contributing a 13-yard carry on a third-and-four draw play. They eventually had to punt but, on Washington’s next play from scrimmage, FS John “Deac” Sanders intercepted Theismann’s pass and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. Nick Mike-Mayer added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Redskins again advanced into Philadelphia territory and once more Moseley missed a field goal try, this time from 49 yards. The Eagles responded by driving from their 32 to the Washington 34, but Mike-Mayer was short on a 51-yard field goal attempt. The first quarter ended with the home team continuing to hold a one-touchdown advantage.

The Redskins started off the second quarter by getting a 34-yard gain on a pass from Theismann to Green on their second play. This time they didn’t come up empty when Moseley, now kicking with the wind at his back, put them on the board with a 49-yard field goal.

Washington got a break when, following a short series by the Eagles, punter Mike Michel, who was playing in his first game for the Eagles, fumbled the snap and, while he got off the kick, it was for only nine yards. The Redskins had excellent field position at the Philadelphia 28 but backed themselves up with holding penalties and they ultimately had to punt the ball back.

The Eagles, pinned back at their nine, went three-and-out and Michel’s ensuing punt went only 26 yards to again give the Redskins a big field position advantage as they started at the Philadelphia 37. Riggins converted a fourth-and-one play with a three-yard carry but the Eagles continued to stymie Washington’s passing game. Once again having to settle for a field goal try, the Redskins went with a fake but Theismann’s pass fell incomplete.

Philadelphia again failed to generate offense and had to punt. This time the unfortunate Michel fumbled as he tried to get the punt away and LB Don Hover recovered for the Redskins at the Philadelphia 21. However, three plays later Theismann lost the ball when hit by DE Dennis Harrison while back to pass and Bill Bergey recovered for the Eagles.

With just under two minutes remaining in the half, the Eagles got a first down on two running plays and a defensive personal foul penalty moved them to the Washington 45. Ron Jaworski threw to WR Ken Payne for 17 yards and, after being flagged on the next play for intentional grounding, he hit TE Keith Krepfle for 26 yards to the 12 yard line. The half ended with Mike-Mayer kicking a 29-yard field goal and, despite the Redskins spending most of the first two quarters on Philadelphia’s side of the field, the Eagles were in front by 10-3.

On the second play from scrimmage of the third quarter, Jaworski was picked off by CB Lemar Parrish near midfield. With Riggins running the ball effectively, and even Theismann running for 11 yards on a third-and-two play, the Redskins drove to the Philadelphia two. But passing up a short field goal to try and score on fourth-and-goal, Theismann rolled out, was sacked by Harrison, and fumbled. LB Reggie Wilkes recovered at the nine.

Now the Eagles put together a solid drive of their own as Montgomery ran well and Jaworski connected on back-to-back passes to Krepfle for 15 yards and WR Harold Carmichael for 28. But facing third-and-12 at the Washington 25, Jaworski was hit by DE Coy Bacon while trying to pass and fumbled, DT Diron Talbert recovering for the visitors.

This time the Redskins struck fast and didn’t come away empty, going 65 yards in three plays. Theismann threw to WR Ricky Thompson for 49 yards and Riggins followed up with runs of 13 and then three yards for a touchdown. Moseley’s extra point tied the score at 10-10.

Now it was Philadelphia’s turn to strike quickly. FB James Betterson returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to the Washington 47 and, on the last play of the third quarter, Montgomery took off on a 24-yard run. Montgomery and Hogan added 11 more yards before Montgomery, going to the outside, ran 12 yards for a TD. Mike-Mayer added the point after and the Eagles were back in front by seven.

There was still plenty of time for the Redskins. On their first play following the kickoff, Theismann connected with WR John McDaniel for 21 yards, but three plays later CB Herman Edwards intercepted a pass at his own 13 and returned it 25 yards.

Montgomery fumbled the ball back to the Redskins at midfield and Riggins ran four straight times, gaining 23 yards, and Theismann threw to TE Jean Fugett for eight yards. But after reaching the Philadelphia 11, in a pivotal play Green fumbled after gaining five yards and Wilkes recovered at the three to end the threat.

There were just over five minutes left on the clock and the Eagles kept the ball on the ground, with Montgomery and Hogan again running the ball with some success. Once more they had to punt, something that had often gone badly earlier in the game, but this time it was the Redskins who suffered misfortune. Michel’s 32-yard kick was fielded by Green, who fumbled when hit by WR Vince Papale. HB Billy Campfield recovered for the Eagles and that effectively sealed the win for Philadelphia. The Eagles were able to run out the clock and won by a final score of 17-10.

The Redskins had more total yards than Philadelphia (273 to 262) but the Eagles led in first downs (17 to 14). While they only gained 99 passing yards, the Eagles were effective on the ground as they gained 180 yards to Washington’s 135. The Redskins turned the ball over six times, to four suffered by the home team.  The Redskins only punted once, while the punting game was a headache for the Eagles as Mike Michel averaged just 25 yards on his four kicks and suffered various miscues. Ultimately, Washington’s inability to capitalize on opportunities – especially in the first half – proved fatal.

Wilbert Montgomery was the star on offense for the Eagles as he rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries and scored a touchdown. Mike Hogan added 39 yards on 11 attempts. Ron Jaworski completed just 7 of 14 passes for 99 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Keith Krepfle topped the receivers with two catches for 41 yards. On defense, Dennis Harrison (pictured below) accounted for two sacks (as yet an unofficial statistic), knocked away a pass, and forced a fumble.

For the Redskins, John Riggins gained 97 yards on 21 rushing attempts that included a TD and had another 43 yards on three pass receptions. Joe Theismann was successful on only 8 of 21 throws for 163 yards with no TDs and two intercepted. Ricky Thompson, with 49 yards on his lone catch, topped the club in receiving yards.

The win by the Eagles foreshadowed a change of fortunes for both teams. While the Eagles lost their next two games, they then reeled off four straight victories on their way to a 9-7 finish that put them second in the NFC East and in the postseason for the first time since 1960 as a Wild Card. They lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Washington faded badly, winning only twice more the rest of the way to end up third in the division at 8-8.

Wilbert Montgomery continued to perform well for the Eagles, setting a then-franchise record with 1220 rushing yards on 259 carries (4.7 avg.) and nine touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Mike Michel, who had such difficulties punting against the Redskins in his Philadelphia debut, did not find the going any easier. When Nick Mike-Mayer was injured, he took over the placekicking in addition to punting and missed three of his 12 extra point attempts. In the playoff loss to the Falcons, he failed on another extra point and attempted a 34-yard field goal in the final seconds with the game on the line that missed badly. It marked the end of his two-season NFL career.