WASHINGTON -- Larry Csonka, phone your service.
It's getting serious now. The Redskins are 9-0, with most of the legitimate competition out of the way, and now somebody's knocking the other guys' game-winning field goals out of the sky, so where's it all going to end?
It used to be you wondered if the Redskins would lose. Now, you wonder if they can lose.
"You figure we'll lose a game, if you base it on the odds," said Redskins linebacker Matt Millen.
Sure, if you want to be logical about it. If you want to be logical, then where does Mark Lemke fit in? If you want to be logical, Ian Howfield kicks a 33-yard field goal as time runs out and Houston wins and this becomes just another Redskins-with-a-shot-at-the-Super-Bowl season.
Except Howfield, who was 10-for-11 inside the 35 this season, missed.
It's enough to make you want to cry, isn't it?
If you're Brian Mitchell, it is.
If you're Brian Mitchell, and it's your job to return punts and kickoffs and you fumble the kickoff at your 23 when the game is 13-13 and there's less than two minutes to play, you cry.
If you're Brian Mitchell, and now you know your team, which is unbeaten, is going to lose because of you, and then your team wins anyway in overtime when the other guys miss a chip-shot field-goal try, well, sure you're going to get a little emotional.
"It felt so good I had to cry," Mitchell said. "It was a load off my shoulders."
OK, he cried. Guys can cry now. Ed Muskie was ahead of his time.
After Mitchell watched Howfield miss, he went back to the bench, sat down and just let himself go. Is this the '90s or what?
"I'm an emotional guy," he explained.
Speaking of being let go, what about Howfield? You miss 33-yard game-winners, and that's what happens to you. In this game, kickers who miss inside the 40 are called bartenders. In which case I have only one thing to say to Howfield: You serve light beer?
In the typical kicker's career, Howfield has been cut by at least three teams, although some people say seven. And, because he missed three extra-point tries the previous week and then the field-goal attempt yesterday, we could be working on cut No. 4, or maybe it's No. 8. This possibility was not lost on the young man.
"That's a career-winner if I make it," Howfield said. "It makes me sick. We could be 8-1. I just hope they stick with me."
Give Howfield this: He took all the blame, even though the hold was apparently not all it could have been.
"Everything was great," he said. "It was my fault. I let everyone down, especially myself."
You couldn't help but feel bad for Howfield, unless you played for the Redskins. Kicker Chip Lohmiller, who knocked in the game-winner, said he didn't feel sorry for his colleague even a little bit.
"What do you think?" is how he put it.
L He also said: "There's something magical about this season."
This is where we start to enter dangerous territory. The Redskins mostly like to say they're not thinking about going unbeaten, even after beating the Oilers, now 7-2 with their fearsome run-and-shoot offense, which yesterday was running and shooting blanks. The players give you that one-game-at-a-time stuff, but you know as soon as the doors shut and they're all alone, they're chanting, "19 and 0, 19 and 0."
They do have this matter-of-factness about them, not to mention a great running game and a big-time defense. Most of these guys were actually saying they were pretty sure Howfield was going to miss the kick. In the friendly way that players have, many of the Redskins were reminding Howfield of his, uh, problems of the week before. I wonder if the word "choke" came up.
"I had this much doubt," said defensive end Charles Mann, holding his thumb and finger about 10 to 12 millimeters apart.
When someone suggested that, given the missed kick, luck was on the Redskins' side, Mann took offense.
"I don't believe there's any luck in this game," he said.
Darrell Green, who intercepted the Warren Moon pass that set up the winning field goal, agreed, saying, "I don't need luck."
There you have it. On the way to victory, the Redskins turned the ball over four times. They lost both offensive tackles to injury. The quarterback dropped the ball in the fourth quarter on the way to what looked like a score that would have put away the game. And the kickoff returner fumbled the ball into what looked like a certain loss. This was how they beat a team that may be the best in the AFC. It's how they remained unbeaten.
Of such teams, we say they make their own luck. I don't know. I just saw the Howfield kick start left and stay left.
I told you it was serious.