Turnovers sweet for Redskins Late fumble in end zone defeats Cowboys, 20-17


WASHINGTON -- Move over Clint Longley and Walt Garrison and Ken Houston and George Allen and Diron Talbert and Roger Staubach and all the other ghosts from the storied past of the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys rivalry.

Make room for Jason Buck and Danny Copeland.

They added their names to the Redskins-Cowboys memory book when they pulled off a wild play that will be remembered as long as these two teams play.

Buck caused a Troy Aikman fumble and Copeland grabbed it out of a pile for a touchdown after Emmitt Smith tried to toss it out of the end zone to give the Redskins an improbable 20-17 victory over the Cowboys before 56,437 fans at RFK Stadium.

Buck, a castoff defensive lineman from the Cincinnati Bengals who was playing only because Eric Williams is injured, called his shot by telling linemate Charles Mann before the play that he was going to cause a fumble and Mann was going to run it in for the touchdown.

Hey, nobody's perfect. It was Copeland instead of Mann who got the score.

"The defense has got to score, that kept repeating through my mind," Buck said.

The defense had to win it because the offense was ineffective as Mark Rypien reverted to his poor early-season form, drawing occasional boos. He completed 12 of 29 passes for 144 yards. The Redskins' only touchdown pass was a 41-yarder by running back Earnest Byner to Terry Orr on a halfback option play.

Although the offense struggled, the Redskins survived with their defense.

The winning touchdown will be talked about for a long time because there was some doubt about whether it should have been ruled an Aikman fumble or an incomplete pass because his arm seemed to move forward before he was hit. It was unclear if he tried to pull his arm back.

Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was waving his arm forward on the sidelines after the play and rushed to the middle of the field to jaw with the official at the end of the game, although he didn't dwell on it later in the locker room.

"We came up short against a good football team on the road. The team came up three points short. Our guys will be all right," he said.

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said he didn't see the play. Buck saw enough for the two of them, and knows he's now a part of the rivalry.

"A couple of years from now when I'm a has-been and nobody remembers my name, I can put that [play] on and say, 'remember.' "

He doesn't have to worry about people forgetting his name now.

The victory boosted the Redskins to 9-5 and they can clinch a playoff berth by beating the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.

The Redskins were outplayed throughout the game, but managed to pull it out because they came up with four turnovers.

This game also rekindled the rivalry. When it was over, Mann was talking about "this new group of Cowboys" with obvious disdain in his voice.

He couldn't help noticing that the Cowboys did some talking last week, although Michael Irvin's comment that he was going after Darrell Green's broken forearm may have been in jest.

"It started with their owner [Jerry Jones], who said he likes walking out of RFK with a victory, and Tony Casillas talks about the 'Deadskins, oops Redskins,' and Michael Irvin talks about he's going out to hurt Darrell," Mann said. "In the earlier matchups, we had a lot of respect for them and they had a lot of respect for us, but this new group of Cowboys, they don't seem to respect us."

Mann added, "I don't think they have a handle on how you win. We're going to have to keep showing them by the way we win and the stuff that we say and don't say," he said.

Green said the experience of the veteran Washington team made a difference.

"This was the type of game we're more familiar with," he said.

The Cowboys also lost it because they didn't know how to put the Redskins away.

The Redskins were trailing 10-0 in the second period when Kelly Goodburn punted to the Cowboys' 41. Kelvin Martin slipped and the ball hit him and snapper Guy Bingham recovered it to set up Byner's touchdown pass on the next play.

The Cowboys had another shot to wrap it up when they were leading 17-10 and had a third-and-one at the Washington 2 early in the fourth period. Aikman threw a pass right into linebacker Andre Collins' arms. He returned it 59 yards and the Redskins then moved down to the Dallas 11 on first down.

But the offense that sputtered the entire game again failed and the Redskins were forced to take a Chip Lohmiller field goal that made it 17-13.

Three plays later, Aikman drilled a pass to Irvin, but Green stripped it from his arms and Copeland made his first fumble recovery.

Green downplayed the fact he caused a fumble with the arm Irvin said he was going to hurt.

"My arm wasn't an issue. He couldn't hurt it even though he wasn't trying to. My arm is healed. It not as strong as it should be, but it's solid," he said.

The offense again sputtered and Gibbs faced a decision at fourth-and-one at the Dallas 2. He decided to go for it, figuring if the Redskins didn't make it, they would leave the Cowboys in the shadow of their end zone.

Mark Rypien missed Gary Clark in the back of the end zone and the Cowboys took over on the 2. Darryl Johnston ran for 3 yards on first down to make it second-and-seven at the Dallas 5 with 3:25 left.

That's when Aikman tried to pass to his right and ran into Buck, who was pushing back Dallas guard Mark Stepnoski.

When the ball popped loose and Smith made the ill-advised decision to try to toss it out of the end zone, Copeland came up with it and ran to the 30-yard line while the officials were looking for the ball in the pile. Monte Coleman then told him to go back in the end zone.

"I think this is as good as it gets in the NFL," Copeland said.

The Cowboys still had 3:14 left, which was plenty of time to get the tying field goal or force overtime.

Aikman completed three straight passes of 14 yards to Martin, 14 more yards to Irvin and 10 yards to Martin to move the ball to the Redskins' 38.

They were getting close to field-goal range, but rookie Shane Collins sacked Aikman for a 7-yard loss on first down.

Aikman passed for 7 yards to Smith on second down, setting up a third-and-10 play at the Washington 38. Coleman blitzed up the middle and was untouched and sacked Aikman for another -yard loss.

That made it fourth-and-17 at the 45. The Cowboys were down to one play. Aikman went deep to Alvin Harper, but it was high and Green, playing with a bruised sternum and a bruised heel, tipped it away.

Gibbs was obviously drained after the game. "Just for me, that's one of the memories I'll remember there, that crowd tonight. The whole stadium and that game was one of the great moments in sports for me that I've ever been a part of. I thought it was a great night."

Green said, "This was the old days, the wild, wild west."

It's now part of the highlight film of this rivalry.

Fuummmble or not?

The play that resulted in the Redskins' winning score:

On second-and-seven from the Dallas 5, the Cowboys' Troy Aikman dropped back into his end zone to pass. As Aikman was pressured by the Redskins' Jason Buck, the ball came loose.

It appeared that Aikman might have been in the process of throwing the ball, in which case the play would have been an incomplete pass. But the ball also never left Aikman's hand until it came loose, and the play wasn't blown dead.

Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith picked up the bouncing ball, but he almost immediately was tackled. Before he was down -- or maybe after his knee hit the ground -- Smith tossed the ball forward.

The ball bounced around a pile of Cowboys and Redskins until Washington's Danny Copeland ended up with it for the score. While officials searched for the ball, Copeland ran out of the end zone to celebrate.

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