After getting routed by Dallas by more than three touchdowns in each of their past three meetings, Washington revived the rivalry yesterday by pulling off one of the most stunning upsets in the long and storied series.
Capitalizing on a freak pulled calf muscle that sidelined Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman on the first series, the Redskins built a 17-point lead in the third quarter and then hung on for a 27-23 victory before 55,489 at RFK Stadium. It was the Cowboys' first loss after four victories.
The Redskins did it with a 121-yard rushing game from Terry Allen and a 192-yard passing performance by Gus Frerotte, who wasn't rattled when Darren Woodson returned a poor throw 37 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter.
The Redskins came back to score 17 points in the second period to take the lead for good.
It was a sweet victory for Redskins coach Norv Turner, the former Dallas offensive coordinator.
"I've been on both sides of it," he said, referring to the rivalry. "It wasn't [great] the last three times [38-3, 34-7 and 31-7 Cowboys wins], but it is a great rivalry and it was today."
Turner, who came in with a 4-16 record as Redskins coach, said this victory could turn the team around. He compared it to his first season in Dallas in 1991 when the Cowboys came into RFK Stadium and upset the 11-0 Redskins.
"This is of that magnitude for our football team, a very similar win. It's going to give our guys confidence. We've got to use it to take a step," Turner said.
On the other hand, the Redskins -- who've now beaten the Cowboys three times in the past four years at RFK -- beat the Cowboys, 23-10, in the 1993 season opener when Emmitt Smith was holding out, but won just three games the rest of the year.
Veteran cornerback Darrell Green was quick to note the Redskins are still 2-3.
Although he conceded it was the biggest win of the Turner era, Green said, "I say that with a small b."
He added: "It was a great game for the fans, RFK, history, people talk about Walt Garrison and all of that. Yes, we have a moment to reminisce, but ultimately it's one game."
Turner has been insisting the Redskins are improved this year, but it's the first time they've proved it on the field.
"We have a lot more good football players than we did a year ago," Turner said. "I'm a lot better than I was a year ago. We're just a lot better."
It helped that the officials, who made questionable calls on three end zone plays in the last two games against the Redskins, made a few in their favor this time.
Allen stepped out of bounds on the Dallas 1 with 17 seconds left in the first half, but the officials gave him a touchdown. "It was about time," Allen said. "We were due for a few calls to go our way."
The Cowboys felt Washington got two more calls in the fourth quarter when they were on the Redskins' 5, trailing 27-20.
After Michael Irvin was held on two straight plays, the Cowboys settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to 27-23.
Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, who decided not to go for the touchdown on fourth down, said, "They held Michael twice, just held him. They weren't going to let the ball go to him."
Irvin, normally one of the most quotable Cowboys, declined to comment after the game.
But Switzer wouldn't blame the calls or Aikman's injury for the loss.
"We wouldn't have beaten them if Troy Aikman played today and that's just the way I feel about it," Switzer said. "There were too many errors, too many mistakes."
The Cowboys, bothered by the crowd noise, had four false-start penalties. One of them wiped out Wade Wilson's touchdown pass that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter.
Wilson passed for 224 yards, but the Redskins had the edge on the ground. They got the ball to Allen 30 times; Smith carried only 22 for 95 yards as the Redskins jammed the line of scrimmage.
"Troy doesn't play defense, does he? They ran it on us," Switzer said. "He [Allen] does the same thing that Emmitt does. They just ran our offense."
Turner brought the Dallas offense with him to Washington, but it was one of the few times the Redskins executed the way the Cowboys do.
"I believe we can play with anybody," Turner said.
They proved they can play with Dallas when it doesn't have Aikman, who's out two to three weeks.
"I wish I could explain it better," said Aikman, who wasn't touched when he suffered the injury planting for his third pass.
Switzer said he first feared Aikman had a knee injury that would sideline him for the season. Aikman may only miss two games because the Cowboys have an open date Oct. 22 after playing host to Green Bay and going to San Diego the next two weeks.
That means he could be back on Oct. 29 when the Cowboys go to Atlanta. Deion Sanders, who watched the game from the sidelines, should be ready for that one, too. Both figure to be ready for the Nov. 12 game with San Francisco, which also is 4-1.
Meanwhile, the Redskins are tied for second in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who they meet next week.
It'll be a chance for the Redskins to show that their victory wasn't a fluke.
Turner said: "When you win a game like this, people look and say, 'Hey, this guy isn't nuts, they are getting better.' We are getting better and we're going to keep getting better."