Cowboys' late burst stuns Redskins, 41-35; Ismail's 76-yard TD catch in overtime caps rally from 21-point deficit


LANDOVER -- Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner grimaced, remaining still with his arms crossed. Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield stared up at the stands and could only close his eyes.

Safety Matt Stevens stood out of breath near the end zone, questioning the biggest blunder in a game defined by mistakes.

The Redskins made physical, mental and all-around embarrassing miscues, paving an easy road for the Dallas Cowboys to come from 21 points down in the fourth quarter to capture a 41-35 overtime victory yesterday.

Inducing gasps from the largest crowd in Redskins Stadium history (79,237), a wide-open Raghib Ismail split Stevens and fellow safety Jamel Williams down the center of the field and scored the game-winning 76-yard touchdown untouched with 10: 51 left in overtime. With the Cowboys facing third-and-2, Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman froze the Redskins' secondary with a sleek fake to running back Emmitt Smith and then only had to hit Ismail, who had a 10-yard cushion between the nearest Redskin, in stride.

It marked the second-largest lead squandered in regular-season history for the Redskins, who failed to hold a 24-point advantage against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1946.

Asked if this game was the strangest in his six-year Redskins tenure, Turner said: "I don't know if anyone's had a game quite like that. If we're going to be a good team, we have to find a way to finish teams off."

The mistakes were plentiful for the Redskins.

The Redskins fumbled twice inside the 10-yard line in the first half. They were flagged four times for 20 yards in the Cowboys' game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. And they couldn't handle a snap on a possible game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

"We can't make any excuses," defensive end Marco Coleman said. "There's not enough time to go back and say, 'If we could have done this.' We can't accept that."

After Dallas scored on its first two possessions to take a 14-3 lead, the Redskins shut out the Cowboys on their next seven drives, holding them without a first down on five of those possessions. The Redskins then closed to 14-13 with 4: 12 left before halftime, when receiver Michael Westbrook hauled in a 41-yard touchdown, and Brett Conway kicked a 42-yard field goal.

But the Redskins, with a chance to take the lead, self-destructed on their last possession of the first half. On third-and-goal at the Dallas 4-yard line, Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson couldn't find an uncovered Albert Connell in the back of the end zone. Johnson fumbled after getting thrown to the ground by the Cowboys' Greg Ellis.

"That was a play where I should get rid of it, especially in the red zone because things happen so quickly," Johnson said. "That is unfortunate. It can always come back and haunt you."

It was only four series after Redskins running back Stephen Davis had lost the ball at the Cowboys' 3-yard line.

Said Turner: "If you want to win in this league, you have to take care of the ball."

The Redskins made up for those missed opportunities by exploiting a Cowboys secondary without Deion Sanders for big plays. Johnson completed all four of his passes in the third quarter for 98 yards as the Redskins scored 22 points on just 16 plays.

Connell capped that quarter when he ripped the ball away from Dallas cornerback Charlie Williams in a mid-air leap, scoring on a 50-yard catch to put the Redskins ahead, 35-14, with 1: 04 remaining in the third.

"We didn't let up on the accelerator," fullback Larry Centers said. "I think we didn't taste blood like we probably should have. When we had them down, we should have gone into a feeding frenzy and really finished them off."

Instead, the Redskins showed why they haven't made the playoffs the past six seasons. And the Cowboys showed why they have won the NFC East title six of the past seven years.

Dallas opened the fourth quarter with an 11-play, 70-yard drive that was finished off by Emmitt Smith's 1-yard run. Wide receiver Michael Irvin then beat the Redskins' Darryl Pounds down the left sideline for a 37-yard TD to close to within 35-28 with 3: 51 left.

The Redskins then were called for offsides four times for 20 yards, allowing the Cowboys to march 90 yards in just 1: 15.

Dallas, however, tied the game too quickly when Aikman found Irvin on a quick 12-yard slant. Richie Cunningham's extra point, which ricocheted off the left upright but went through, made it a 35-35 tie and handed the Redskins the ball back with 1: 46 left in regulation.

Aided by a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Dallas' Kevin Mathis, the Redskins drove to the Cowboys' 23-yard line and had another shot to escape with a victory. But Matt Turk bobbled a slightly high snap on Conway's field-goal attempt, which forced overtime.

Although the Redskins won the toss, they couldn't manufacture any points and had to punt when Johnson was again sacked by Ellis. The Cowboys, meanwhile, came out conservative as Aikman completed three straight passes to his running backs.

Still, the Redskins had one more lapse in them. With third-and-2 on his own 24-yard line, Aikman baited the Redskins with a fake to Smith and connected with Ismail for the 76-yard game-winner. The Redskins safeties -- Stevens and Williams -- both found themselves out of position on the play. Stevens and Williams were replacing starters Leomont Evans and ex-Bengal Sam Shade, who were both suffering from leg cramps.

"Eventually, we can get over this," Davis said. "The mistakes we made today as a team and as individuals, I think everyone understands it's a wake-up call."

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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