The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins met at RFK Stadium on December 16, 1984. The stakes were simple. A Big Red victory would give them their first NFC East title since 1975 and their first home playoff game. A loss would end their season. Turnovers and mistakes gave the Redskins a 23-7 halftime lead and it appeared the Cardinals would soon be dusting off their golf clubs. But, as it turned out, the Cards were not ready to give up.
“At halftime, we said that anybody who didn’t think we couldn’t win the game shouldn’t go back out.” — Big Red safety Benny Perrin.
The Big Red came out on fire in the second half. After a slow start to the game, Neil Lomax shredded the Washington secondary going 25 of 28 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the with 468 passing yards, his best day as a pro. It was the most passing yards ever given up by a Redskin defense. “We were a little nervous; this was our first big game for most of us. Once we got our timing down in the second half, things opened up a little bit.”
Let’s take a look at the key series and plays of the second half:
O’Donoghue FG: The Cardinals got a nice kickoff return from Danny Pittman to start the second half and started on their own 39 yard line. Lomax hit a couple of short passes and then scrambled for 13 yards to the Washington 27. The drive stalled at the 13 and the Big Red settled for a Neil O’Donoghue 30 yard FG to cut the lead to 23-10.
Lomax to Green: The Cards forced a Redskin punt on the next series and took over at their own ten yard line. Three plays later Neil Lomax hit Roy Green on a 75 yard bomb to cut the lead to 23-17 with 8:14 left in the third quarter.
Moseley FG: The Redskins added three points on a Mark Moseley 37 yard field goal with 3:54 left in the third quarter to increase their lead to 26-17. Joe Art Monk’s 36 yard completion on the drive gave him the NFL single season pass reception mark of 102.
O’Donoghue FG: As the fourth quarter began, Lomax hit OJ Anderson out of the backfield for eight and 21 yard gains, but the drive stalled at the 17 yard line and the Cards again settled for an O’Donoghue 34 yard field goal to cut the lead to 26-20. Anderson played a big role in the second half comeback as he finished the day with 12 catches for 124 yards.
Lomax to Green: After surviving a questionable pass interference call on Wayne Smith and a bogus roughing the passer call on E.J. Junior, a Curtis Greer sack of Theismann forced the Redskins to punt. The Big Red took over at their own six yard line with 8:01 left in the game. Lomax hit Danny Pittman and Roy Green on a couple of nice passes and then connected with Green on an 18 yard TD pass to give the Cards their only lead of the game 27-26 with 6:15 remaining.
Moseley FG: The Redskins took over at their 23 yard line with just over six minutes left in the game. Theismann moved the ball to the Cardinals 39 yard line. On second and ten, Elois Grooms made a great move on Ken Huff at the line of scrimmage and sacked Theismann all the way back to the 47 yard line. That set up the play of the game as far as the Redskins were concerned. On third and 19, Theismann hit Art Monk for a 20 yard completion. Monk actually lined up at tight end on the play which appeared to baffle the Big Red defense. “We never used that formation until this game. We wanted to show them something different,” Monk later said. Mark Moseley would kick the go ahead 37 yard field goal with 1 minute 33 seconds left in the game.
O’Donoghue Missed FG: With 1:27 left in the game, Lomax started the Cards final drive of the season at the 20 yard line with no timeouts. The stadium was rocking as the confident Lomax took charge. He completed his first four passes quickly moving the Big Red to the Washington 39 yard line. After throwing the ball away to stop the clock and a short pass to OJ Anderson, it was third down and nine. Lomax hit Danny Pittman across the middle, but he was tackled in play short of the first down with 20 seconds left on the running clock. Neil O’Donoghue and the Big Red field goal unit frantically rushed out onto the field. The Cards would play another week or they would be going home. O’Donoghue just got the kick off before the clock ran out, but the ball sailed wide left and the Redskins won 27-26. The season was over.
The Big Red gave it everything they had. “I needed one more down,” said Neil Lomax.
“The thing I’ll always remember is the way we fought back,” head coach Jim Hanifan would say from the locker room. “We were down 16 points at halftime and we came back ans went ahead against a darn good football team. I told our guys to keep their head up. They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
This is very heartbreaking and discouraging. I feel for our fans in St. Louis, too, because they wanted this one badly.” — Roy Green
“You can look back on a couple of plays and say you could have or should have, but we didn’t and that’s it,” said running back OJ Anderson. “I don’t think we’ll be in this position next year. I think we will already have clinched by this time and be playing like San Francisco for home field advantage and to get the younger guys some experience.”
“It just hurts so bad,” said offensive tackle Luis Sharpe. “All season long there’s been Green Bay, New Orleans, Dallas and now this game that we should have won and didn’t. Sharpe was referring to a missed kick in Green Bay, a blown fourth quarter lead to New Orleans, and the phantom offensive pass interference call on Roy Green against Dallas.
“What can I say?” O’Donoghue said. “I wish we had it to do over again. The whole operation was just a little rushed. I didn’t even know what the snap count would be. I heard the crowd counting down – three, two, one – and I think I kicked it on one. I thought I hit the ball well, but…”
“It’s funny,” said Lomax. “After all this time, after all these months, after all this work, it boils down to one field goal.”
This wasn’t the first time a game boiled down to a field goal. And, as die-hard Big Red fans know, it wouldn’t be the last.