The scoreboard carried the improbable message: Washington Redskins 27, Dallas Cowboys 23, and in the center of the field, Washington left tackle Joe Patton, who this day made his second NFL start, and left guard Ray Brown, a 10-year veteran, bumped chests in the linemen's version of the high five. Then Patton flopped on his back in joy, feet kicking in the air.
And why not? The Skins were about to hand the Cowboys their first loss of the season in a game in which Dallas lost quarterback Troy Aikman for possibly two to three weeks and in which Washington tailback Terry Allen outrushed Emmitt Smith 121 yards to 95.
"We wouldn't have beaten them if Troy Aikman had played today. Troy doesn't play defense, does he?" asked Cowboy coach Barry Switzer, who watched Aikman go down with a pulled right calf on the Cowboys' sixth play from scrimmage. "They ran it on us. Allen does the same thing that Emmitt does. They just ran our offense."
No surprise there, considering that Norv Turner, Dallas's former offensive coordinator, brought the Cowboy offense with him when he took over the Redskins last season. Sunday just happened to be the first time Washington executed it the way Dallas has the past three seasons. Allen was the workhorse, carrying the ball 30 times and catching a team-high four passes for 34 yards. He gave the Redskins a 20-10 lead by catching a Gus Frerotte pass, bouncing off linebacker Dixon Edwards and diving across a corner of the end zone on a five-yard scoring play with 17 seconds left in the second quarter. After Smith fumbled on Dallas's opening possession of the third quarter, Allen carried on six of the next seven plays, the last of which was a one-yard burst that staked Washington to a 27-10 lead.
"Cutbacks, that's what works best against the Cowboy defense," Brown said. "They're good up the middle, but they pursue so hard that you can cut back to the weak side against them. Guys would be coming back to the huddle and saying, 'Hey, Terry. Cut it back.' " Well, it worked. Allen was the first back to rush for more than 100 yards against Dallas since Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions gained 194 in a 20-17 victory over the Cowboys last season.
As for Aikman, Sunday marked the third time he has come up injured against the Redskins. He sprained a ligament in his right knee in 1991 and suffered the same injury in his left knee last year. "I felt tightness in the calf muscle on Thursday in practice," he said. "Then I went back to set up to pass, and it just popped."
Dallas could start Wade Wilson (21 of 29, 224 yards, one TD and one interception in relief of Aikman) at quarterback against the Green Bay Packers this Sunday and against the San Diego Chargers the following week, but Aikman told SI on Monday, "Don't count me out. I might play." Aikman certainly should be back after the Oct. 22 bye week, which is about the same time that Dallas hopes to have Deion Sanders in the lineup (following story).
The Redskins still have ground to make up to turn the NFC East into a serious race, but the Cowboys are underestimating them no more. "The rivalry's back on," said Dallas guard Nate Newton. "The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. The hell with the 49ers."