CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Washington Redskins were backed up on their 14-yard line in overtime in Detroit last November when Ralf Mojsiejenko went in to punt on fourth down.
The Redskins were looking for a booming punt to get them out of trouble. Instead, Mojsiejenko kicked a 31-yarder that gave the Lions possession on the Redskins 45.
Only a superb defensive stand saved the game, which the Redskins won on their next possession.
But the Redskins didn't forget Mojsiejenko's 31-yard punt in the clutch. He was gone a month later.
"Mojo got into a slump, and he couldn't shake it. It almost cost us a couple of games and we felt like if we didn't make a change and the punting cost us a playoff spot, it'd be our fault," said Wayne Sevier, coach of the special teams.
Getting rid of Mojsiejenko was the easy part. The trick is finding a good replacement.
"If you look at the [recent] history of the Redskins, we're looking ,, for that guy who's going to take over this job and keep it for a while and produce," Sevier said.
The Redskins have changed punters often.
In 1988, they had Steve Cox, Tom Barnhardt, Gary Waiters (he lasted one day in practice) and Greg Coleman.
In 1989, they brought Greg Horne and Rick Tuten to training camp and wound up trading for Mojsiejenko. He was supposed to solve the problem but got into a mysterious slump.
"The frustrating thing is that he was punting very well in practice, very well in the warm-ups prior to the game, and then when he went on the field, he wasn't hitting the ball," Sevier said.
When the Redskins cut Mojsiejenko after the 12th game last year, they brought in Kelly Goodburn, who had been cut earlier in the year by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Statistically, Goodburn didn't kick as well as Mojsiejenko, averaging 30.4 yards to Mojsiejenko's 34.2 yards.
Sevier said the statistics were misleading because Goodburn did a lot of position punting. He said of Goodburn's four key punts, he did well on two, average on one and below average on the other.
But Goodburn didn't kick well enough for the Redskins to hand him the job. They drafted Chris Shale, who led the nation in punting last year with a 46.7-yard average at Bowling Green, in the 10th round.
"Obviously, if we thought Kelly was absolutely our guy, we couldn't have drafted somebody. Kelly's got to come back and earn his spot," Sevier said.
Although Goodburn has an edge because he's the incumbent, the race is up in the air as the punters prepare for the first exhibition game, Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
"I'm not really satisfied," Sevier said of their punting in practice. "We're making progress, but we've got a ways to go. I see too much inconsistency on our punts."
Shale has the stronger leg, but Goodburn gets the ball off more quickly (in his four-year career, none of his punts have been blocked).
Shale's inexperience is a plus and a minus. He has to prove he can kick well with the pro ball, which is slimmer and designed more for passing than the college ball. But he has potential.
"You don't know how good he can be because he doesn't have a track record," Sevier said. "Kelly's got a history."
Goodburn has been to six training camps. He was cut by the Chiefs in 1986, but made it the next four years before being cut after the third game last year.
He's proud that nobody has blocked one of his punts. "Sometimes they may be ugly, but they won't be blocked," he said.
Goodburn said he's used to competition in camp and doesn't worry about it. "I'm in competition with myself," he said.
Shale didn't start kicking until his junior year in high school and wasn't offered any college scholarships. He went to the University of Tennessee as a walk-on before transferring to Bowling Green, where he kicked for three years.
He said being drafted by the Redskins was a dream come true because he became a Redskins fan when he went to grade school in Newport News, Va., before his father, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was transferred to Ohio.
Shale said he feels "nervous anxiety" going into the Pittsburgh game.
"I'm anxious to finally get the opportunity I've waited for for a long time," he said.
Meanwhile, Sevier says the Redskins will be the real winners of the competition between the two punters.
"If Chris pushes Kelly to be better and Kelly's the guy, he's improved us," Sevier said. "If he's good enough to beat Kelly out, he's improved us. I think we're going to come out of this with a solid punting game."
NOTES: RB Gerald Riggs sat out yesterday's practice with a sprained ankle, but coach Joe Gibbs said that it's a minor injury and that he'll be back today. Since Riggs was troubled by injuries the past 2 years, the Redskins are hoping that he'll have no complications. . . CB Charles Bell, the team's ninth-round draft pick, is spending a few days at home in Waco, Texas, because of the death of his 2-year-old son with a blood disorder. Funeral services will be tomorrow.