PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Redskins did everything but gloat yesterday.
They parlayed a swarming defense that contained Randall Cunningham, an instant-replay reversal of Ben Smith's touchdown run with an Earnest Byner fumble and a baffling decision by Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan into a 20-6 upset victory over the Eagles in a National Football Conference first-round playoff game at Veterans Stadium.
The only thing the Redskins didn't do was gloat about it the way the Eagles did when they injured nine Redskins in a 28-14 victory over Washington on Nov. 12, asking whether they had enough body bags to take the injured players home.
"We'd like to win the right way, and we'd like to lose the right way," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said after the team posted its first playoff victory since routing the Denver Broncos, 42-10, in Super Bowl XXII after the 1987 season.
It was the third straight year the Eagles have lost their opening playoff game, and left the Eagles 0-for-5-years in playoff games under Ryan, whose contract expires at the end of the season.
Ryan said he wants a new one ("I built this team"), but owner Norman Braman would say only that he'll evaluate the situation.
The Redskins will play on the road against the two-time Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers on Saturday if the Chicago Bears beat the New Orleans Saints today. If the Saints pull an upset, the Redskins would travel to play the New York Giants on Sunday.
The players said they made a pact at their weekly players-only meeting the night before the game that they wouldn't trash the Eagles after the game.
"I had nothing to do with it," Gibbs said.
But Gibbs frowns on the trash-talking that is the Eagles' trademark, and the Redskins made their usual bland comments after the game.
"I'm not going to sit here and degrade them," said cornerback Darrell Green, who shut out Fred Barnett while Martin Mayhew held the other wide receiver, Calvin Williams, a Baltimore Dunbar High School graduate, to one catch.
The closest anyone would come to saying what the game meant to the Redskins was Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach in charge of the defense that has held Cunningham to three touchdowns in the past four games between the teams.
"This was a big one for us, and you can underline big," Petitbon said. "We wanted this game very badly. It was sweet, very sweet, very, very sweet."
When he was asked whether it's risky for an NFL team to motivate the opposition the way the Eagles do, he said: "I think so. That's not our style."
Talking about the previous game, when the Eagles taunted injured Redskins, Petitbon said, "I think we were humiliated and they enjoyed their victory, and now we'll enjoy our victory."
Petitbon's defense limited Cunningham to 15 completions in 29 attempts for 205 yards. They sacked him five times and intercepted a pass, although he did run seven times for 80 yards.
As reporters looked for explanations of the Redskins' success against Cunningham, Petitbon said: "I wish it were magic. Believe me, we just played a good, solid football game."
The Redskins set the tone early, when they forced the Eagles to settle for two field goals after they had first downs on the Redskins' 11- and 2-yard lines in the first half.
Washington was helped when Ryan made a bizarre decision late in the third quarter, lifting Cunningham for a series for veteran Jim McMahon, who threw three straight incomplete passes.
"I was very puzzled," Green said. "I don't know why he was taken out of the game. I think when you take out Randall Cunningham, you're taking a lot out of your offense."
Then Green said, "Buddy, I'm not second-guessing you."
There were two versions of Ryan's move. One was that Cunningham was arguing with offensive coordinator Rich Kotite on the sidelines when Ryan waved in McMahon. The official version was that Ryan, maybe confusing himself with Earl Weaver, "was just trying to get something going, use a different pitcher."
Cunningham said he was "insulted" by the move.
All it did was waste a series after Chip Lohmiller's 19-yard field goal gave the Redskins a 13-6 lead.
After the McMahon series, the Redskins moved 55 yards in five plays to take a 20-6 lead, then shut out the Eagles in the final period after Cunningham came back.
Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien completed 15 of 31 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. One of his passes was intercepted in this, his first playoff game.
Rypien, who injured his ankle on the play on which Byner's fumble was reversed, completed a 47-yarder to Gary Clark on the final touchdown drive, then hit Clark with a 3-yard touchdown pass.
Rypien showed a lot of poise when he brought the Redskins back from the 6-0 deficit with a 68-yard drive in five plays late in the first half to give the Redskins a 7-6 lead. He completed passes of 28 yards to Art Monk and 23 to Byner before connecting with Monk on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half.
After the Eagles lost a fumble by Heath Sherman but forced the Redskins to punt, Green intercepted a pass at midfield.
Three plays later came what may have been the turning point of the game. On a first down at the Eagles' 17, Byner caught a pass, but fumbled as he hit the ground, and Smith picked it up on the 6 and ran it back for an apparent touchdown.
It immediately brought back memories of Byner's past playoff mishaps. He was guilty of critical errors in three losing playoff games when he was with the Cleveland Browns, including a fumble near the Denver goal line in the final minute of play in the 1987 title game that would have tied the score. Ryan predicted that he'd fumble three times against the Eagles.
But instant-replay official George Sladky ruled that Byner had control when his right arm hit the ground, and Sladky overturned the fumble call.
Instead of trailing 13-7, the Redskins took a 10-6 halftime lead when they got the ball back and Lohmiller kicked a 20-yard field goal.
It also saved Byner, who rushed for 49 yards in 18 carries, from being a possible playoff goat again.
Byner said he thought he was down, "but you are never confident that the official will see it your way."
Gibbs, a longtime advocate of instant replay, said, "Our guys were all yelling he hit the ground on it."
Asked if he supports instant replay, Byner said: "When it goes my way, yes. When it doesn't, no."
Yesterday, virtually everything went the Redskins' way.