Reporting David Elfin
Redskins fans can write thank you notes today to Jerome Boger and to Darrel Young for helping keep their team in the NFC Least race. And maybe Darrell Green summoned some of the magic from his play on Darrin Nelson at the goal line 26 years earlier that allowed Doug Williams — who like Green was on hand yesterday in Landover — to become a hero two weeks later in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego.
A year ago when the Redskins brought back their fabled alumni to be saluted by the FedEx faithful, the latter-day guys in burgundy and gold delivered a third straight defeat, dropping their record to 3-6 and all but certainly a fifth straight year out of the playoffs. Of course, Robert Griffin and Co. rallied from that low point to win their final seven games and Washington’s first NFC East title since 1999.
A day shy of a year later, the Redskins seemed intent on following the embarrassing former script with Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell, Ken Houston, Charley Taylor, Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgensen and Green in the house for a game against so-so San Diego.
Griffin masterfully drove Washington 92 yards in 15 plays on its first series only to have formerly reliable kicker Kai Forbath have a 25-yard chip shot blocked on the 16th snap. On the first play of the Redskins’ next possession, Griffin’s pass from the end zone was deflected into the arms of Chargers defensive end Sean Lissemore for a touchdown.
However, when Forbath redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal with just 6:59 left, Washington led 24-14. Dallas was in a struggle with lowly Minnesota and the Redskins were on the verge of moving within half a game of the division-leading Cowboys.
Of course, the Redskins being the Redskins of the 22 seasons since their last Super Bowl, that’s when coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense decided to follow in the ugly tradition of the units of such predecessors as Ron Lynn and Mike Nolan by letting the opponent back in the game. San Diego needed just 2:49 to march 77 yards to move within 24-21 and then drove 86 yards to the Washington 6-yard line in only 1:49.
Even when referee Boger took forever watching replays before finally reversing the touchdown call on Philip Rivers’ pass to Danny Woodhead, the Chargers still had three shots from the 1 to win the game in the final 21 seconds.
However, that’s when the Redskins suddenly became as stout as they were during Ken Houston’s era. The defense forced the Chargers to settle for a field goal by ex-Redskin Nick Novak which forced overtime.
A second past six minutes into the extra period, Young etched his name into franchise history with the game-winning touchdown, his third of the day compared to just four during his previous 52 career games. The affable, hard-working fullback hadn’t scored three times in a game since he was in high school.
“This Redskins organization has a lot of history and tradition to it,” Young said in an unsolicited nod to the old-timers and the franchise’s glory days. “[This was] a perfect opportunity to go out there and show the older guys that this is what we’re out here for. We’re out here to represent you guys. We appreciate everything you did.”
His coaches and teammates certainly appreciate what Young, who signed as an undrafted rookie linebacker in 2009 before being brought back by coach Mike Shanahan as a fullback in 2010, does. Young understudied veteran Mike Sellers as a rookie while playing on special teams, duties he hasn’t abandoned since becoming a starter in 2011.
“DY does a heck of a job for us – on special teams, as a fullback [and] he can actually go in there and work as a tight end,” Shanahan said. “We run so many running plays with a halfback [when] he’s a blocker, [that defenses] lose him. DY does have the skills to make people miss.”
Young’s five carries yesterday netted just 12 yards, seven fewer than he had gained on his two attempts during the first seven games. But of course, the runs against the Chargers were much more satisfying, especially the final one on third-and-1 from the San Diego 4.
“[Robert] came in the [huddle before the] last play and said, ‘DY, I need you on this man, let’s finish the game,’ and I said, ‘All right, let’s do it, man,’ ” Young said.
It was appropriate that Young, not Griffin or any other high-profile teammate, was in the spotlight after the 30-24 victory that kept Washington in the NFC Least race at 3-5, a game and a half behind the Cowboys – who also pulled one out yesterday – and a half game behind Philadelphia, whom the Redskins visit in 13 days after a quick turnaround for Thursday night’s game at Minnesota.
“DY [is] a behind the scenes, do a job type of guy,” said Alfred Morris, who churned out many of his franchise-record 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie in 2012 along with plenty of his season-high 121 yesterday behind Young. “He’s a fullback. Fullbacks don’t get much love in this league. I’m glad he was able to get some touchdowns and the game-winning one. He deserves it. He blocks for me more than enough. To do a little role reversal, I’m fine with that.”
After a horrific 0-3 start, the Redskins are 3-2 since, losing at Dallas and Denver while rallying to beat Oakland, Chicago and San Diego. That kind of role reversal, and Young’s version, is just what Washington needed.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.