The regular-season finale between the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins had no bearing on the playoffs. But to the Redskins, it was hardly a meaningless game. Not with the Eagles awaiting Washington's arrival in Philadelphia for next week's NFC wild-card playoff matchup.
And the Redskins defense went about securing momentum heading into that clash by controlling a Bills offense that finished the season with a club-record 428 points. Buffalo's starting backfield was given the second half off, but before that rest, the Bills hadn't produced a point and gained only 115 total yards. It was Washington's defensive front seven that dominated in the Redskins' 29-14 victory.
Washington's shocking last-minute defeat last week at Indianapolis not only enabled the Eagles to capture the crucial home-field advantage, it sent the Redskins reeling into this game against the AFC's best team. But linebacker Wilber Marshall set the tone early and looked much more like the dominant player he was with the Bears before he came to the Redskins as a free agent.
Buffalo's first three possessions were ruined by Marshall, helping Washington gain field position and the early lead. Marshall ended the first Bills possession with a 10-yard sack of quarterback Frank Reich and on the next two series forced fumbles, recovering one himself.
"We had to get back to the winning ways and feel good about ourselves going into next week," Marshall said. "We lost last week when we shouldn't have, and we made some stupid plays on defense. We didn't want that again."
Washington shuffled its front four. Tim Johnson and Fred Stokes started at the ends and Jumpy Geathers joined regular Darryl Grant at tackle. And rookie Tracy Rocker, just off the injured list, had two of the three Redskin sacks.
"They (the coaches) said if they called, be ready," Rocker said. "They called early and I was ready."
"We were telling Tracy he was the one with fresh legs," said Stokes. "He has had seven weeks off and he was a step ahead of everybody."
"Tracy really used that time (injured) the right way," said coach Joe Gibbs. "He worked hard and made himself a better football player."
Washington led, 15-7, early in the final quarter when safety Alvin Walton sealed the Bills' fate. He stepped in front of tight end Pete Metzelaars, intercepted Gale Gilbert's pass and returned it 60 yards to Buffalo's 6. Two plays later, Gerald Riggs scored for a 22-7 advantage.
"I had man-to-man coverage the whole way," said Walton. "As soon as the end released outside, I just stepped up. I don't think he (Gilbert) ever saw me."
The Redskins feel they gained momentum for next week's playoff game. Eight weeks ago in Philadelphia, Washington was beaten and battered by the Eagles, who talk as aggressively as they play. The Redskins say they'll be ready this time.
"We aren't just playing for pride next week, we're playing for the Super Bowl," Mann said.
But Walton best sums up Washington's determination.
"Last time was disgraceful." he said. "We can't let that happen again."