Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Classic Rewind: Eagles Comeback Shocks Redskins

Posted on October 23, 2009 by Dean Hybl

Each week, Sports Then and Now picks one NFL matchup and looks through the history books to find an intriguing past meeting between the two teams. We recap the game and hopefully help reintroduce (or introduce for you younger readers) you to some of the greats (and in some cases not so greats) from the history of professional football.

Since their first meeting during the 1934 season when the Redskins still called Boston home, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have played some exciting and memorable games. As NFC East rivals, they play twice annually in games that often have playoff implications.

Until the late 1980s, it surprisingly was not common for both the Redskins and Eagles to be contenders at the same time.

When the Redskins were contending in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Eagles were among the weaker teams in the league. By the time the Eagles became a contender in the late 1940s, the Redskins had already started a stretch in which they recorded only three winning seasons in 22 years.

Despite the struggles of the Redskins, they did give the Eagles a serious run during the 1947 season opener. In a game for the ages, Sammy Baugh connected on five touchdown passes and Eddie Saenz had a 94-yard kickoff return for the Redskins. However, Tommy Thompson threw three touchdown passes and Steve Van Buren scored on a 95-yard kickoff return and a one-yard run as the Eagles held on for a 45-42 victory.

While the Redskins became winners in the 1970s, the Eagles were in the middle of a stretch of 11 seasons without a winning record.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s, with Joe Gibbs guiding the Redskins and Buddy Ryan guiding the Eagles that both teams were at the top of their game at the same time.

Our Classic Rewind for this week looks at a memorable matchup from the second week of the 1989 season when the Eagles shocked the RFK crowd with a dramatic fourth quarter comeback.

This game has particularly special memories for me as I was serving as an intern in the Public Relations Department of the Eagles at the time and had the pleasure of observing the game from the press box.

The Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

Series Record: The Eagles and Redskins have met on the gridiron 148 times with the Redskins holding a 78-65-5 series advantage.

The Game: September 17, 1989, RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.

Team Records: Eagles 1-0, Redskins 0-1

Overview: The defending NFC Eastern Division Champion Philadelphia Eagles entered their first division game of the 1989 season with a 1-0 record after a decisive 31-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener. Washington, which was coming off their only losing season in what would be a 12 years stretch that included three Super Bowl titles, was looking to rebound from a disappointing 27-24 loss to the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.

Coaches: Philadelphia – Buddy Ryan (4th year); Washington – Joe Gibbs (9th year)

Notable Eagles: Randall Cunningham (qb), Keith Byars (rb), Anthony Toney (rb), Heath Sherman (rb), Keith Jackson (te), Mike Quick (wr), Cris Carter (wr), Ron Heller (ot), Jerome Brown (dt), Reggie White (de), Clyde Simmons (de), Seth Joyner (lb), Byron Evans (lb), Al Harris (lb), Eric Allen (db), William Frizzell (db), Wes Hopkins (db), Luis Zendejas (pk)

Notable Redskins: Mark Rypien (qb), Gerald Riggs (rb), Gary Clark (wr), Art Monk (wr), Ricky Sanders (wr), Joe Jacoby (ot), Russ Grimm (og), Mark May (og), Jeff Bostic (ot), Dexter Manley (de), Charles Mann (de), Darryl Grant (dt), Wilber Marshall (lb), Darrell Green (db), Brian Davis (db), Chip Lohmiller (pk)

Interesting Notes: The Eagles entered the game having won only seven of 26 meetings played at RFK Stadium. Philadelphia had allowed 270 yards and forced three turnovers in their season opening with over Seattle. Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham’s second career start and first career win has been in Washington. The Redskins were looking to break an uncharacteristic streak of four straight home losses. They had not lost five straight at home since 1952.

The Game: The Washington Redskins didn’t take long to set the tempo for the game as speedy receiver Gary Clark raced past cornerback Eric Allen and took a pass from Mark Rypien in stride for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. A bad snap on the extra point kept the lead at 6-0.

A fumble by Anthony Toney on the third Philadelphia offensive play of the game was recovered by Charles Mann to give the Redskins a chance for another quick score.

Randall Cunningham passed for 447 yards and five touchdowns against the Redskins.

Randall Cunningham passed for 447 yards and five touchdowns against the Redskins.

They didn’t waste any time as the second offensive play for the Skins resulted in their second touchdown with Gerald Riggs breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and then rambling 41 yards for the score. A successful conversion made the score 13-0 in favor of the Skins.

Philadelphia turned the ball over deep in their own territory on each of their next two possessions. They dodged a bullet on the first one as Rypien threw a deep pass that was picked off by Eric Allen.

However, after Brian Davis intercepted Randall Cunningham for the third Philly turnover of the quarter, Rypien tossed an 11-yard touchdown to Earnest Byner to make the score 20-0.

Philadelphia finally was able to move the ball on their next offensive possession and got on the scoreboard thanks to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to Keith Jackson.

Washington didn’t take their foot off the pedal as they made the score 27-7 on a five-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to Clark.

The Eagles began to turn things around midway through the second half as an interception by William Frizzell gave them great field position deep in Washington territory. Anthony Toney made up for his earlier miscues by scoring on a three-yard run.

Chip Lohmiller converted a late 25-yard field goal to give Washington a 30-14 halftime advantage.

After turning the ball over on their first three possessions, the Eagles settled down and didn’t turn the ball over the remainder of the game. Conversely, turnovers became more of a factor for the Skins as they finished the game with six turnovers.

A five-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to Jackson completed a 92-yard drive and cut the deficit to nine points. Another five-yard touchdown toss, this one to Cris Carter early in the fourth period, following a Washington fumble cut the Washington lead to two points at 30-28.

Keith Jackson caught 12 passes and scored three touchdowns against the Redskins.

Keith Jackson caught 12 passes and scored three touchdowns against the Redskins.

After another Washington turnover, the Eagles had a chance to take the lead, but Luis Zendejas missed a 33-yard field goal.

Having struggled offensively for much of the second half, the Redskins finally got things going with a scoring drive that culminated in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Rypien to Art Monk to make the score 37-28 with 3:06 remaining.

Philadelphia was able to march back down the field and cut the lead back to two points on a two-yard touchdown toss to Mike Quick in the back of the end zone with 1:48 remaining.

Rather than try an onside kick, the Eagles chose to kick away and let their defense stop the Redskins. When Gerald Riggs scampered 58 yards on the first play, it looked like the decision may not have been a good one for the Eagles.

However, a fumble by Riggs two plays later proved to be the break they needed. Al Harris picked up the fumble, but his teammate Wes Hopkins took it from him and raced 77 yards before Ricky Sanders he was tackled out of bounds by Ricky Sanders at the four-yard line.

Cunningham then capped his career-day with his fifth touchdown pass of the game, a four-yard toss to Keith Jackson on the first play after the fumble. The score made it 42-37 with :58 remaining in the contest.

Buddy Ryan got an improbable victory ride after the Eagles rallied to beat the Redskins.

Buddy Ryan got an improbable victory ride after the Eagles rallied to beat the Redskins.

Fittingly, Washington’s final chance ended on the first play of their next possession as Jerome Brown stripped the ball from Mark Rypien and Reggie White recovered for the sixth takeaway of the game for the Eagles.

Cunningham finished the game completing 34 of 46 passes for 447 yards and the five touchdowns. Keith Jackson caught 12 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns.

Gerald Riggs had the best rushing game of his career with 221 yards on 29 carries, but the final attempt proved to be a costly one for the Skins.

Post Script: After the game, for some strange reason the Philadelphia Eagles bus was detoured through a number of residential neighborhoods in the area around RFK making for a few tense moments before the team headed back up I-95 toward Philadelphia.

The next week Philadelphia hosted the defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers in a highly anticipated contest. The Eagles raced to a 28-10 advantage before this time they became the victims of a late comeback. Joe Montana tossed four touchdown passes in a 38-28 victory.

In their rematch at Veterans Stadium on November 12th, the Eagles managed only three points in a 10-3 loss to the Skins.

Philadelphia finished the season with an 11-5 record and hosted the wild card round of the NFC Playoffs. They lost to the Los Angeles Rams 21-7.

Despite a 10-6 record, the Washington Redskins missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

A year later, the two teams would meet in the playoffs for the only time in the history of the rivalry. Washington won the game 20-6 and the Eagles fired head coach Buddy Ryan despite making three straight playoff appearances.

Behind quarterback Mark Rypien, the Redskins won their third Super Bowl in a decade following the 1991 season.

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