Rypien steps up at QB as Redskins finally arrive

JOHN EISENBERG

October 28, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On the humid, foggy night that the Redskins finally beat the New York Giants, the game was about Ricky Ervins, the little back who gave the Redskins a running game in the second half, and about the Redskins' defense, which shut down the Giants after spotting them 13 points.

But on the humid, foggy night that the Redskins finally beat the Giants, in the end the game was about Mark Rypien. All about Mark Rypien. The Redskins' quarterback didn't play his best in the 17-13 win. Far from it. He didn't even complete half his passes. But he arrived as an NFL quarterback.

Yes, he did. Five years, one Pro Bowl, a thousand passes and two thousand skeptical opinions into his pro career, Rypien arrived last night at Giants Stadium as 76,000 fans grew progressively quieter and finally left early to sit in a traffic jam.

It's what happens on such nights. You don't arrive by putting up big numbers on the Browns at home, or even by beating the watered-down Bears on the road. You arrive by coming back from 13-0 against the Giants in Giants Stadium. The Giants, the Super Bowl champs, who had the Redskins spooked. You arrive by de-spooking.

You arrive by converting six third downs -- four with passes -- on a 20-play touchdown drive worth framing in the third quarter. You arrive by finding Gary Clark alone behind the defense early in the fourth quarter, good for 54 yards and the winning touchdown.

You arrive on another third-down late in the game, with the Giants desperate for the ball and Lawrence Taylor's breath on your shoulder pads. Rypien found Art Monk for 20 yards, ensuring that the Redskins finally would beat the Giants after six straight losses.

It wouldn't have happened without Ervins, who took over for Earnest Byner in the second half and bounced around for a spate of yards that jump-started the offense. And it wouldn't have happened without the defense, which, after getting shredded in the first half, allowed but two completions in the last 30 minutes.

That's big. That's huge. But still, Rypien was the one at the foundation of the comeback. Third-and-11, he hits Ricky Sanders for 15. Third-and-6, and he hits Sanders for 14. Third-and-10, he hits Ervins for 11. It all happened in the third quarter, the moments that allowed the Redskins finally to stop shaking.

See, the first half was enough to make you believe in ghosts, perfect Halloween fodder. The Redskins showed up sound asleep, bearing no resemblance to the team that ran off seven wins to start the season. It was as if this Giants hex thing actually had something to it.

Early in the second quarter, Rypien overthrew a wide-open Clark midfield, killing a drive. Then Clark dropped a 50-yarder within sight of the end zone, killing another. There was spooky stuff floating around. The Redskins, first in the league in rushing, cashed in nine yards in the first half.

Rypien was miserable, too. Harried and flustered by a steady blitz, he completed only three of eight passes. It was as if every skeptic's misgivings were in for another validation. Rypien? Can't play the big games. Clutches up when it matters most.

The Giants had something to do with that, of course. They were the ones with something to play for, being three games behind the Redskins, and it showed. Their first-half was as brilliant as the Redskins' was poor. Almost a perfect half.

When the Redskins punted on their first series of the third quarter, it appeared their "unbeatable" sign was about to splinter. But then they got the ball back and Rypien started converting those third downs, the turning point, and the crowd started getting quieter.

It is exactly what the team needs from its quarterback. The Redskins are a balanced, experienced, resourceful team. They don't need Rypien to carry them like a Marino, creating something out of nothing. They need him to set up Clark, Art Monk and Ricky Sanders, the best set of receivers in the NFL. They need him to do the little things, keep drives alive, sustain momentum. They need assists, not points.

The Redskins will never admit this, not in a thousand years, but they would worry about that before every big game Rypien played. They would worry that he might not stand up straight, that his assists might become turnovers. Joe Gibbs admitted in preseason that 1991 was Rypien's year to step up. To prove whether he was a major-leaguer.

Some will think it is overstating the case to say he finally put those questions behind him last night. Can one game offer enough evidence? One game in which Rypien went 12-for-25? The answer is yes. Pay no attention to those numbers. They're just numbers. Rypien fought the good fight last night. It was the Redskins' biggest game, a game they perceived as a litmus test, and in the end it belonged to the quarterback. In the end, the quarterback arrived.

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