FOXBORO, Mass. -- Against the backdrop of a surreal setting at Foxboro Stadium, the Washington Redskins qualified for the playoffs for the first time in three years yesterday.
The Redskins took a 9-0 lead in the first 2 minutes, 53 seconds before their offense touched the ball and slipped and slid their way through a driving rainstorm to a 25-10 victory over the hapless New England Patriots.
"We're thrilled to be in the playoffs," coach Joe Gibbs said. "It seems like forever [since they last qualified]."
The game, played in rainy, windy, foggy weather, which made it difficult to understand why 22,286 of the 30,734 fans who bought tickets bothered to show up and huddle under their umbrellas and ponchos.
One explanation was that many of them were rooting for the Redskins, although it was still the smallest crowd of the season in the National Football League.
It was the Patriots' smallest home crowd since they drew three 19,000-range crowds at Boston College in 1969, when they were the Boston Patriots.
The conditions were so bad that running back Earnest Byner said, "I was getting the chills. I was literally shaking out there."
He still ran 39 times for 149 yards while becoming the fifth player in the history of the Redskins to run for 1,000 yards in a season. He's at 1,031 yards.
Safety Todd Bowles said: "Oh, man, it was cold. It was wet. It was hard. It was a cross between freezing and ice skating."
Despite falling behind 9-0, the Patriots (1-13) refused to fold and trailed only 19-10 early in the fourth quarter before Chip Lohmiller kicked a pair of field goals to enable the Redskins to cover the 13-point spread.
Coming off a pair of emotional victories over the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears, Gibbs said he was worried his team would take the Patriots lightly.
"I think there's a lot of pressure in a game like this. I was probably more nervous for this game than I was the last two weeks. You come in and you're supposed to win, and everybody puts that on your hat. It's hard to play those kind of games and hard to coach them," Gibbs said.
If the Patriots hadn't gift-wrapped nine points for the Redskins at the start, it could have been a close game.
On the third play of the game, quarterback Tom Hodson botched a handoff to John Stephens. The ball bounced into the arms of linebacker Kurt Gouveia, who ran 39 yards for a touchdown.
Three plays later, center Chris Gannon sailed a snap over the head of punter Brian Hansen into the end zone for a safety that made it 9-0.
At that point, it looked as if it might reach 40-0, but the Patriots didn't collapse.
"We continued to play hard, which is better than just packing it in when you're down 9-0," Hodson said.
Coach Rod Rust, who's in danger of losing his job, said: "I thought they played hard. Some bad things happened to us very early. I didn't notice any diminution in their efforts."
It was also difficult to tell what kind of a game it would have been if it had been played in good weather.
Once they got the 9-0 lead, the Redskins seemed content to let Byner run the clock.
"I think the weather had a lot to do with it," Gibbs said. "Throwing the football was hard to do. We felt we were in control of the game and we didn't want to do anything to take ourselves out of it."
The one daring move Gibbs tried was a flea flicker early in the third period, but quarterback Mark Rypien underthrew the ball, and Fred Marion picked it off in the end zone.
So much for the daring stuff. Rypien threw 11 passes in the game, four in the second half, including just one in the final period.
The bottom line is that the Patriots lost their 12th straight game and the Redskins won their third straight since the Thanksgiving Day debacle in Dallas and boosted their record to 9-5.
The victory qualified the Redskins to play in a National Football Conference wild-card playoff game the weekend of Jan. 5-6.
If they win their last two regular-season games against the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills, they'll play the game at RFK Stadium. It'll be their first playoff game since they won the Super Bowl at the end of the 1987 season.
It's the sixth time they've made the playoffs in Gibbs' 10 seasons as head coach. It also boosted their December record since 1980 to 30-7, the best mark in the league.
The only real drive the Redskins had in the game was a 12-play, 68-yard effort that included two of Rypien's five completions -- a pair of 17-yard passes to Art Monk and Ricky Sanders. The other 10 plays were Byner runs, including a 5-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the second period.
On the touchdown run, tackle Joe Jacoby pushed Byner and several Patriots tacklers in the end zone, which is technically illegal, but the Redskins could joke about it after the game.
"We've been working on it all week," Jacoby said with a smile. "It's called the snow plow."
The Redskins hope the game was a springboard to better things in the playoffs.
Center Jeff Bostic said: "The main thing is going into the playoffs playing well. That's what I think is important. Teams that go in with momentum are sometimes hard to stop."