49ers slide past Redskins San Francisco sends champs packing, 20-13

January 10, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brian Mitchell had the appropriate epitaph for a star-crossed season for the Washington Redskins.

"Close but no cigar," Mitchell said yesterday after the Redskins came close one final time, but were still dethroned as the NFL's champions.

Even though Steve Young turned the ball over four times in his first playoff start for the 49ers, the Redskins trumped him with four turnovers of their own in a 20-13 divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at muddy Candlestick Park yesterday.

The 49ers will play the NFC title game at home next week against the winner of today's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.

While the 49ers have a shot at their fifth Super Bowl trip since 1981, the Redskins will go home to think about what might have been.

It was a season of what-might-have-beens: the fourth-period interceptions by Robert Massey in Phoenix; the two missed passes in the end zone to Gary Clark in Philadelphia; and the Vince Evans-led drive in the season finale for the Los Angeles Raiders.

Those three games were the difference between 12-4 and 9-7. Yesterday's was the difference between staying alive and being eliminated.

The Redskins, who finished with a 10-8 record after winning the Super Bowl with a 17-2 record last season, came close all season long.

"It was kind of a little bit like our season today," coach Joe Gibbs said.

This time, the Redskins had a first down on the 49ers' 23 with 9:52 left in the game when quarterback Mark Rypien lost control of the wet ball as he was handing off to Mitchell.

"There was a big hole up the middle. I don't know if I would have scored, but I would have gotten a first down," Mitchell said.

Instead, the 49ers recovered and went down to get a field goal to go ahead by 7.

The Redskins had one final shot with 2:12 left, when they took over on their 22.

Rypien needed to drive them 78 yards for the tying touchdown. They had nine plays, but didn't advance past their 34.

Clark, who takes losing so hard, said he wasn't talking after the game. "I'm in too bad a mood. I might say something I'll regret," he said.

Rypien blew up when he was asked if he was "relieved" the frustrating season was over, but the Redskins mainly seemed almost philosophical.

"Hey, I'm proud to be a Redskin," Mitchell said. "Nobody gave up. I can't wait until next year."

"I'm particularly proud of this football team," Gibbs said. "We played hard all year. This game was an example of that. It was kind of wild for both teams."

Summing up the season, Gibbs said: "It was a tough road. Sometimes in life, that's the way it goes. Sometimes I've found in my own life, you grow the most in adversity, you grow in tough times. I think the team grew closer to me because of some of the things that happened to us this year. Last year was like a magic carpet ride, and this year was one of the toughest. Every day, it was something you just had to fight and pull and grab, and all of us did every inch of the way. It kind of wound up that same way today."

Gibbs tried his usual video trick the night before the game when the film department put together highlight clips of the past two years to remind the players of how well they've played.

It didn't work this time.

Gibbs also noted the Redskins may have 12 or 13 players who'll require surgery, and cornerback Darrell Green was only able to play on passing downs because of his bruised heel.

Despite it all, the Redskins kept it close.

The game matched the winners of seven of the past 11 Super Bowls, and it was an intense if sloppy game.

"A great football game," 49ers coach George Seifert said. "It was an extremely exciting game. It was a game where both teams have been many times, so you saw a good football game."

The only bad thing about the game was that it was played on a soggy turf that Gibbs called "the worst [field conditions] I've ever seen."

The Redskins didn't blame the loss on the field. They all said it was the same for both sides and the 49ers could have been more dangerous on a dry track.

Even Gibbs admitted he thought the Redskins were in "real trouble" when Young moved the 49ers 83 yards for a touchdown on their first drive. He got the touchdown on a 5-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor that went right through A. J. Johnson's hands.

"I just missed it," Johnson said. "The ball came in so quick. Maybe if I made that play, things would have been different. You've got to make those plays in big games."

When Kelly Goodburn then got off a 29-yard punt, the 49ers were on the Washington 49 and poised to go in for another score.

But Fred Stokes knocked the ball out of Young's hands for the first of his three fumbles, and Chip Lohmiller got a 19-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 7-3.

After a Mike Cofer field goal made it 10-3, Young had the 49ers on the Washington 29 when he tried an ill-advised pass across the field that Johnson intercepted.

It appeared the Redskins might get out of the first half trailing only 10-3 until Mitchell fumbled after catching a pass.

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