WASHINGTON -- In the cold, cruel world of the NFL, dreams often die hard.
The Washington Redskins buried one yesterday.
"I said, from the beginning, it was a dream. It's a good dream. We didn't get the dream," coach Joe Gibbs said after the Redskins were beaten for the first time this season, 24-21, by the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium.
The dream was the first 19-0 season in NFL history. The dream was duplicating the 17-0 perfect season the Miami Dolphins posted in 1972 -- the only perfect season in NFL history.
Instead, the Redskins joined five other teams that started 11-0 and were beaten in their 12th game.
Losing to Dallas, which has beaten the Redskins three of the past four years in RFK Stadium, giving coach Tom Landry his final win in 1988 and coach Jimmy Johnson his only win in a 1-15 season in 1989, made it even more galling.
Defensive tackle Eric Williams said: "I just wanted to beat Dallas. I didn't care about 16-0. I just wanted 12-0. It's really frustrating. It's at home, a divisional game, a game everybody said we were going to win. A lot of marbles were on the table and sort of fell off on us."
Johnson, whose Cowboys (7-5) had lost three of their past four, said: "I'm proud of our guys. They were probably the only ones who felt they had a shot at winning this game."
If there's any consolation for the Redskins, it was that there were no ifs, ands, buts or what-ifs. The Redskins simply were outplayed in a game that wasn't as close as the score sounded. The Cowboys had a 357-107 edge in yardage before the Redskins rallied for two late touchdowns.
As Gibbs said: "Hey, if you're going to lose one, it's probably the best way to lose it. All of us lost it together, including the coaches."
Even when Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman went out with a sprained knee early in the third period, it didn't make any difference.
Steve Beuerlein, who was traded out of Al Davis' doghouse by the Los Angeles Raiders at the start of the year, came in and kept the Redskins off-balance. Beuerlein passed for 109 yards and put the final 10 points on the board.
Aikman and Beuerlein had the audacity to challenge Darrell Green, who always goes one-on-one against the opposing team's top receiver. The strategy worked, as Michael Irvin burned him for nine catches for 130 yards.
"It was probably one of the worst games I've had in maybe three years," Green said.
The Cowboys also set the tempo, throwing deep on the game's first play, gambling on fourth down to set up their first touchdown (Emmitt Smith ran 32 yards on a draw play when the Redskins were playing pass on third-and-15) and recovering an on-side kick.
Things were going so well for the Cowboys that it helped when they didn't handle the clock well in the final minute of the first half. Dallas ended up trying a "Hail Mary" pass on fourth-and-seven from the Washington 34 with 13 seconds left, resulting in a touchdown catch by Alvin Harper and a 14-7 halftime lead.
The Redskins' first touchdown had come when Martin Mayhew intercepted a pass and ran it back 31 yards for a touchdown in the first period.
The Cowboys also dominated the game on the ground.
While Smith rushed 34 times for 132 yards, Earnest Byner was held to 22 yards on eight carries. Ricky Ervins came in the second half and averaged 5.8 yards a carry, but carried only five times and wound up with 29 yards, as the Redskins had to throw to try to catch up.
The Cowboys also took away the Redskins' deep game with a soft zone. Mark Rypien's longest completion was a 29-yard pass to Ricky Sanders with 18 seconds left in the game.
About the only thing the Redskins did right was to extend their streak of games without allowing a sack to seven straight, although the Cowboys managed to put pressure on Rypien.
Rypien said: "What probably stings the most is that we didn't get one taken away from us. We got beat. That hurts more than
anything else. You lose some games because the breaks didn't go your way. But this was definitely a game when they came in here and outplayed us."
The Cowboys put the game away with an 81-yard, second-half drive that was climaxed by Beuerlein's 23-yard touchdown pass to Irvin, who beat Green so easily he was able to bobble the pass and still hold on to it.
Trailing 21-7, the Redskins used a no-huddle offense to go 92 yards on a drive climaxed by Gerald Riggs' 1-yard touchdown plunge with 8:21 left in the game.
The Redskins had momentum, had the crowd behind them and still had plenty of time to rally. But Beuerlein put together a time-consuming, 48-yard drive that was climaxed by Ken Willis' 42-yard field goal with 1:14 left that just barely got inside the right upright.
That turned out to be the winning margin when Sanders made his touchdown catch with 18 seconds left.
The Redskins didn't seem sure how to view their 11-1 mark.
Green said: "Obviously, we wanted to win the 12th game, the great 16-0; you guys can't say any of that stuff anymore. You certainly hate to lose, [but] now that it's over, I'm kind of glad it's behind us."
Later he added: "The hurt isn't over not getting to 16-0. The hurt is losing, period."
Mayhew said: "I think now the pressure's off, and we can kind of get refocused and redirected toward trying to win a Super Bowl."
Defensive lineman Tim Johnson said, "The dream isn't over."
The new dream is simply winning the Super Bowl.
Cowboys 24. . . . . . ... .. Redskins 21
Steelers 26. . . . . .. . . .Oilers 14
Packers 14. . . . . . . ... .Colts.10
Raiders 38. . . . . .. .. .. Bengals 14
Dolphins 16. . . . . ....... Bears 13
Eagles 34. . . .. . . . . . .Cardinals 14
Jets 24. . .. . .. . .. .... Chargers 3