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Skins Own Lions

Nov 4, 2004, 12:30 AM EST

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The Redskins beat on Detroit like the Lions are rented felines.

On October 3, 1965, the Lions beat the Redskins 14-10 at Tiger Stadium. After that, the Redskins got more than even; they ran off a streak of 18 wins against them before losing 15-10 to them in the Pontiac Silverdome in 2000. Included in that 18-win roll were 10 wins while Joe Gibbs was coaching.

A lot of fans tend to look at a streak like this as a fluke but, while certainly you have to have some breaks go your way to maintain a streak like this, as we’ll see in a minute, this streak makes perfect sense when you look at the records of the two teams.

In the 17 seasons during which the teams have played since 1965–they played twice in 1991, so it’s 18 games in 17 different seasons–the Redskins aggregate record is 170-101-1, a .634 winning percentage and the Lions’ is 126-142-3 for a winning percentage of .470.

The only two times that a Washington win over Detroit could be considered an upset were in 1970, when a 6-8 Redskins team beat a Lions team that finished 10-4 and in 1995 when Darrell Green intercepted a pass in overtime and ran 10 yards into the end zone for a 36-30 win. Those Redskins finished 6-10, the Lions 10-6. The ’97 Redskins wound up a half game worse than the Lions team they defeated and in every other season the Redskins have been anywhere from one to eight games better than the Lions at the end of the year.

The streak was in its greatest jeopardy on November 3, 1990 with about ten minutes left in the third quarter in the Silverdome. Barry Sanders had just broken up the middle for a 45-yard touchdown and the Lions had a 35-14 lead. Redskins QB Stan Humphries had set up the touchdown run by throwing his third interception of the day. Humphries had had started in place of an injured Mark Rypien so when Joe Gibbs looked down the bench he saw third stringer Jeff Rutledge. He told Rutledge to start warming up.

Rutledge quickly led the Redskins on a 63-yard TD drive that pulled the Redskins within 14, but the Lions got three back on a field goal on the last play of the third quarter. It was 38-21.

Then Washington got two strokes of good fortune. First, Eric Williams sidelined Lions quarterback Rodney Peete after a hit. Second, Wayne Fontes got brain lock. OK, Fontes getting brain lock wasn’t good luck, it was one of the natural advantages of playing against a Wayne-Fontes coached team.

Regardless, during the entire fourth quarter, when just a couple of first downs strung together would have clinched the game for the Lions, when he had Bob Gagliano at quarterback, Fontes did not once call the number of his emerging superstar running back, Barry Sanders. Through three quarters, Sanders had 10 carries for 100 yards. When the game ended, Sanders had 10 carries for 100 yards. Unbelievable. After a Chip Lohmiller field goal that made it 38-24, the comeback began in earnest.

With 8:41 to go, Washington took over at its own 20 and moved smartly down the field, taking seven plays to score, a drive finished off with a 34-yard TD pass to Gary Clark. Detroit could only manage to burn two minutes off the clock and punted with 3:24 left. Washington got the ball at its own 15. Rutledge converted three third downs in moving the ball downfield, completing 8 of 12 passes, the last to Clark moving the ball to the Lions 12. Washington called its last time out with 24 seconds left. The Posse of Clark, Art Monk, and Ricky Sanders was having one of its best days ever, on the way to combining for 32 catches for 432 yards. So it was going to be four shots to the end zone to tie the game, right?

But Gibbs had seen something in the films that somehow made him think that the slow and not-so-nimble Rutledge could score on a quarterback draw. Remember, the team had no time outs left and the up the middle play would certainly burn all but a few of the remaining seconds. Rutledge seemed to take forever to make his way to pay dirt, but he did and the score was tied at 38.

Each team had a possession in overtime before the Redskins started their game winning drive. The big play was a 40-yard Rutledge to Monk connection on third and fifteen at the five. Nine plays later, Lohmiller was perfect from 34 yards out 9 minutes 10 seconds into overtime and Washington had a 41-38 win.

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