WASHINGTON — Howard return in book since draft
WASHINGTON -- When the Washington Redskins drafted Desmond Howard last April, special teams coach Wayne Sevier had one thought.
"The minute we drafted Desmond, I knew that play was going to be in our book," Sevier said.
The play was Purple Throwback, in which Brian Mitchell, a former college quarterback, catches a punt and throws the ball back to Howard.
The Redskins tried it for the first time yesterday, and Howard took it 55 yards for a touchdown in the 24-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Sevier said it had to be the right situation -- with the opposing team pinned back deep in its own territory -- to call it. It helps that the Falcons have aggressive special teams and converge on the returner. That left Howard open.
Falcons coach Jerry Glanville said he expected the play as soon as both Howard and Mitchell went back for the punt, but couldn't get the attention of his team.
Howard was emotional after the game, saying the warm welcome he got from his teammates as they mobbed him made him feel a part of the team for the first time.
Deion Sanders made a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the next play, and Howard said he needled Sanders for overshadowing him.
"That's all right, a guy liked Deion is a great athlete. It's enjoyable to watch him out there having fun. It makes you want to have fun, too. The game should be fun," he said.
Bypassing the blitz
After threatening to launch a bevy of blitzes against Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, the Falcons employed a surprisingly conservative defensive game plan.
They went with a four-man defensive line for the most part and played a lot of zone coverage in the secondary, although Glanville suggested otherwise.
"We played our game and you know what that means," Glanville said. "We don't like zone and never have. I think the ratio [of zone and man-to-man coverage] is pretty much like it always is."
Cornerback Tim McKyer said the Falcons played zone because of the memory of last year's 56-17 loss to the Redskins, when Rypien beat Atlanta's man-to-man coverage for six touchdown passes.
"After what they did to us last year, we felt like we had to play more of it [zone]," McKyer said.
"Our motto coming in was, nothing deep and nothing cheap. I don't think they beat us long. They knew they had to throw in front of us. It was more like a grind-it-out game for them."
Nowhere to run
The weakness of a four-wide-receiver offense became apparent again when the Falcons sputtered twice inside the Redskins' 10-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 24-14, the Falcons had first-and-goal on the Washington 1. But Eric Pegram lost a yard on a first-down running play and quarterback Chris Miller threw incomplete on second and third down. Atlanta had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Norm Johnson to cut the deficit to 24-17.
On their next possession, the Falcons had first-and-goal at the Redskins' 9, needing a touchdown to force a tie and overtime. Miller threw two incompletions, one to George Thomas in the corner of the end zone.
On third down, he tried to hit Andre Rison in the back of the end zone, but linebacker Kurt Gouveia made a diving interception.
Without a viable running game, the Falcons' options on the goal line were limited.
"That's one thing we need to improve on inside the red zone," Atlanta tackle Chris Hinton said. "We need to be able to run the ball."
The final push
Glanville was upset when Ed Simmons seemed to pull and push Ricky Ervins for the first down at the end of the game that enabled the Redskins to run out the clock. Ervins appeared to be stopped short of the first down before Simmons dragged him through the pile.
Even Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said it's illegal to "assist" a runner, but said he didn't know what Glanville was complaining about.
Was Ervins assisted?
"My offensive line was pushing me. Hey, it felt good to me. We got the first down. That's all we care about," Ervins said.
Howard not only scored his first touchdown, but he also may get a chance to play on four-wide-receiver sets because Stephen Hobbs sprained a knee yesterday. Besides Darrell Green, who broke his forearm, the other injured player was RT Joe Jacoby, who twisted a knee again. . . . Redskins WR Art Monk caught six passes to boost his career total to 809. He needs 11 to break Steve Largent's NFL record of 819.