The Washington Redskins played as if they had never been away from the postseason, while the Philadelphia Eagles stumbled like they always do in the playoffs.
The Redskins rolled to a 20-6 victory Saturday in their first postseason appearance since winning the Super Bowl after the 1987 season.Mark Rypien threw two touchdown passes, Washington's defense shut down Randall Cunningham and the Redskins benefitted from a reversal by replay official George Sladky that negated an Eagles TD and changed the tenor of the game.
The Redskins were leading 7-6 late in the first half when Ben Smith recovered an apparent fumble by Earnest Byner, scooped up the loose ball and ran 89 yards for a touchdown that would have given Philadelphia a 13-7 lead.
The officials on the field ruled Byner had fumbled theball after catching a Rypien pass but Sladky ruled the ball came loose when Byner hit the ground and the ground cannot cause a fumble.
"That would have been a great play," said Philadelphia Coach Buddy Ryan, whose team lost its opening playoff game for the third straight year. "That's what we needed, a defensive touchdown to get things going. From where I was standing, I couldn't make a judgment (on whether it was a fumble)."
Four plays later, however, Chip Lohmiller kicked a 20-yard field goal to give the Redskins a 10-6 lead at halftime and Philadelphia never seemed to recover after that.
"That's the reason they have (replays)," Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Thank goodness they changed it. Our guys were all saying he was down."
Cunningham, who completed 58 percent of his passes and threw for 30 touchdowns in the regular season, was only 15-of-29 for 205 yards and one interception and was even replaced briefly by backup Jim McMahon in the third quarter.
"I just wanted to give us a change of pace," Ryan said. "Things were not going worth a damn, so I wanted to try something. You can't wait until next week and think, `I should have brought McMahon in.' You do something and hopefully, you'll turn things around and make it happen. But nothing happened."
Cunningham said he was as surprised as anybody else when McMahon took the field.
"Buddy didn't say anything to me," Cunningham said. "When Jim ran into the game, I was like, 'What's the deal here? Why am I getting pulled out of the game?"'
While the Eagles were struggling, the Redskins operated methodically on offense and defense.
Washington was able to make the Eagles respect the running game, as Byner ran for 49 yards and Gerald Riggs added 45 more, and that opened things up for Rypien.
Rypien hit 15 of 31 passes for 206 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to Art Monk and a 3-yard score to Gary Clark.
"I think the offense made enough plays to get by and the defense held us in the game," Rypien said.
The Eagles had the early momentum, taking a 6-0 lead on field goals of 37 and 28 yards by Roger Ruzek, the second following a fumble by Riggs.
Rypien was intercepted by Eric Allen on Washington's next possession but the Eagles were unable to generate a first down and the Redskins' offense went to work from its own 32.
On a third-and-9 play from the 33, Rypien found Monk for a 28-yard gain, hit Byner for 23 more yards and then found Monk in the end zone for the touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
Philadelphia moved into Washington territory on its second possession of the second half but Heath Sherman lost his second fumble at the game.
A poor punt by Jeff Feagles and an 11-yard return by Brian Mitchell gave Washington a first down at the Philadelphia 29 and Lohmiller kicked a 19-yard field goal for a 13-6 lead with 2:29 to play in the third quarter.
McMahon replaced Cunningham on Philadelphia's next possession, threw three incomplete passes and did not return.
The emotional damage may have already been done, however, as Cunningham admitted he was stunned by Ryan's decision to replace him.
"It's kind of insulting when you sit and think about it," he said. "But that's part of football."
The Redskins ended the Philadelphia hopes on their next possession, moving 55 yards in five plays to take as 20-6 lead on Rypien's pass to Clark with three seconds to play in the third quarter.
The big play on that drive was a 47-yard pass from Rypien to Clark on a third-and-5 play.
Cunningham was able to pad his statistics in the fourth quarter but the Eagles never came close to scoring.
"We tried to keep him in the pocket," Gibbs said. "If you keep him in there, I feel you have a better chance against him. I don't think anybody contains him. Nobody has the answer to that guy."