WASHINGTON -- "Which turning point?" cornerback Darrell Green asked in the merriment of the Washington Redskins' locker room after their fun-filled 31-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
In fact, there were more than one. The first was coach Joe Gibbs' decision not to take his team off the field for "a little get-together" after the first five minutes. Their trip to the woodshed Thursday seemed not to have refreshed their outlook.
In the game's first 13 plays the Skins had committed an illegal block, dropped two passes, flagrantly missed three tackles, punted the ball 24 yards and left a New Orleans receiver alone in the end zone for a 7-0 deficit.
The latter nonfeasance left virtuoso Green grumbling around the bench at his young teammates' inefficiency.
But then Mark Rypien made everything all right. Back to work after 54 days of convalescence from knee surgery, he completed 26 of his next 35 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Rypien threw no interceptions and his patched offensive line allowed the reputedly ferocious Saints' defense no sacks.
So proud was Gibbs that his real Redskins had showed up that he gave them today off, even though it is the shortest of weeks: they play the Cowboys (now four-game winners) in Dallas on Thursday.
But about those other turning points. "You mean the pass I knocked down on the goal line?" Green asked. "Well, that was a good play . . . "
Indeed. Spotting receiver Floyd Turner three inches (the 5-8 Green spots everybody some inches), Darrell outleaped him and swatted away a pass that could have gotten the Saints even, 17-all, three minutes into the second half.
"My guy caught a lot of short balls," Green acknowledged. His man, Eric Martin, caught 10 balls (one of them for 25 yards as New Orleans quarterback Steve Walsh beat Todd Bowles' blitz in a shotgun formation), and drew a 15-yard penalty when Green gave him a shot in the helmet as they went up for a pass.
"My arm hit him," Green said, "but it was not a personal foul."
The 25-yarder helped the Saints to the Washington 27 and the 24-10 lead began to look like another crisis. But here New Orleans coach Jim Mora became helpful.
At second-and-six he had 260-pound Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who had been averaging almost 5 yards a carry, throw a pass. Heyward iron-handed a lob to Bowles and the crisis passed.
Green didn't remember the other turning point. He promised to think about it in the shower but still couldn't remember.
It came in the second quarter, with the Redskins ahead, 10-7. The Saints had driven 74 yards in 13 plays, to the Skins' 19. Heyward, with Rueben Mayes blocking, had gained 19 of the yards in four carries.
As they lined up and counted cadence, Green came running from his right cornerback position to the other side, shouting and pointing toward the Saints' right tackle hole. Mayes carried to precisely that place and the Redskins' left side stuffed him for a 2-yard loss. New Orleans had to settle for the field goal.
"I always try to convey whatever information I observe," Green said. "But I really don't remember doing that."
Apparently nobody paid attention anyway. Charles Mann, the end on that side, didn't remember. Neither did Tim Johnson, who made the tackle.
The lock-up touchdown came on Rypien's skillfully lobbed pass to Kelvin Bryant in the end zone. Bryant spiked the ball fiercely. "I was trying to bust it," Bryant said.
Pronounced "the best receiver coming out of the backfield that I've ever seen" by Gibbs, Bryant had caught only 12 passes in the Skins' first nine games this year. In the Philadelphia horror last Monday night, he never touched the ball.
Bryant went into the game with the ball on the Saints' 3-yard line, third-and-goal. He replaced Earnest Byner, whose gestures made it clear on his halting way to the bench that he wanted to stay in the game.
"Yeah, I wanted that touchdown," Byner admitted. "But they [the coaches] wanted to do their third-down thing." Byner had a claim to the score, having carried six times for 19 of his game-high 116 yards in the 12-play drive.
"I felt kind of sorry for Earnest," Bryant said. "But it did feel good to be in that end zone." Kelvin didn't say "again," but the thought was there. He scored 21 TDs his first three seasons with Washington, after collecting 60 in three years in the USFL.
"Yeah, Kelvin was sorry for me," Byner said with a grin. "A little bit sorry. But he needed that touchdown. I'm glad he got it."
Gary Clark, juking defenders out of their socks, had eight catches and two touchdowns. Art Monk had four receptions to make 702 lifetime. Only three NFL receivers have topped 700.
But Byner topped the menu with the catch of the day, reeling in a high toss from Rypien at full speed with his right hand, in the NTC manner of a jai-alai player skillfully wielding his cesta.
It was the catch that set up Bryant's touchdown.