ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Washington Redskins woke up just in time to be crowned division champions yesterday.
The Redskins were so lethargic in the first half that coach Joe Gibbs had to kick a chair at halftime and try the no-huddle offense in the third period to spark his team to a workmanlike, 27-6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams (3-10) at Anaheim Stadium.
The victory boosted the Redskins' record to 12-1, as they won the NFC East title for the first time since 1987 and clinched home-field advantage for their first playoff game. They need one victory in their last three games to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
"We expected it," running back Earnest Byner said of the victory.
It was so expected that the Redskins acted as if they just had to show up to beat the Rams, who have lost seven straight.
In fact, just showing up was a problem. Their charter flight Saturday night was more than an hour late because it had to fight 200-mph head winds in the cross-country flight.
"I thought it might be jet lag," wide receiver Ricky Sanders, who caught a 30-yard touchdown pass, said of the team's listless play.
Whatever it was, the Redskins were ahead only 7-6 at halftime and Gibbs wasn't happy, although he said he wasn't as upset as he had been in the season finale five years ago in Philadelphia.
That's when he cleared a table of oranges and then saw his team rally from a 14-0 deficit to win, 21-14. Gibbs said his halftime tirade yesterday didn't meet that standard.
"I was excited [yesterday]. I don't know that I was upset. I was excited about where we were and the fact that we weren't ahead by more than what we were and it was a tough ballgame. The Philadelphia game, I think I had a myocardial infarction or something. I lost my breath. It took me five minutes. I couldn't talk [in Philadelphia]. It wasn't that [yesterday]. I was just excited today like everybody was and nervous about the game," he said.
Gibbs -- who also punched a hole in a blackboard in Dallas in 1984 when the team was trailing at halftime -- appeared to get quick results when Martin Mayhew stripped the ball from Willie Anderson and Wilber Marshall recovered it on the Rams' 34 on the third play of the third quarter.
Three plays later, on third-and-six from the Washington 30, the Redskins hoped to get the first down on an underneath pass to Art Monk, but Sanders broke free on a corner pattern and hauled in Mark Rypien's pass for a touchdown that made it 14-6.
The Redskins then went back to sleep.
On the next drive, Ricky Ervins gained 1 yard on two carries, Rypien misfired on a third-down pass and they had to punt again.
Gibbs then decided some drastic action was needed. He ordered the team to go into a no-huddle offense when it got the ball on its 38 with 6:47 left in the third period.
The Redskins used the no-huddle a week ago against the Cowboys, but only after they were down, 21-7, on the way to a 24-21 loss.
This time, the strategy helped them win the game.
"We finally got things going," Rypien said. "It felt like we were sputtering a little bit. The no-huddle was a way of breaking the game wide-open. We needed to come out and seize the opportunity. We needed to get things back on track."
It took them seven plays to move 62 yards for the touchdown that made it 21-6. They scored on a 24-yard screen pass to rookie Ervins.
Once Ervins got the ball, it was an easy jaunt into the end zone. But Ervins made the play go before he got the ball, because the Rams were in an all-out blitz for one of the few times in the game, and Gibbs likes to run that play against a zone defense.
"If I'd known they'd be rushing all out, I wouldn't have called that play," Gibbs said. "It can be a big play, but it's hit-or-miss on a blitz. Normally, when you draw that up, you wouldn't draw that up against the blitz. You're thinking zone because you want them to drop back, dump it off, get your linemen out in front and take off."
What made it work is that Ervins faked safety Michael Stewart by appearing to miss a block on him. That left Stewart thinking Ervins was supposed to stay in to block, so he went for Rypien. That's why Ervins was alone when Rypien dumped the ball to him.
"Ricky hit the guy just enough that he was still coming, thinking he had a shot at the quarterback," Gibbs said. "If that guy senses a pass, he'll peel off [and cover Ervins]. It [the block] was so realistic that he kept coming."
Another good play the Redskins pulled off was a pass to tight end Terry Orr, who drifted down the left sideline while Rypien rolled out to his right and threw across the field for a 47-yard touchdown pass. If not for that play, the Redskins might have been trailing, 6-0, at halftime.
"That was something we worked on," Gibbs said. "We thought that might be open. It's something that we saw on film."
Gibbs said he called it the previous play, but Rypien audibled to a pass to Sanders that went for 15 yards because the Rams weren't in the right defense for the Orr pass.