The Skins' offense had been in deep trouble. Riggins was a question mark coming in. His bad back had kept him out of all but two series in the last two games, and early in the week he'd had a traction device set up in his house. The day before the game he said his back "felt fine, but it's my conditioning I'm worried about. I haven't had a chance to work out much in the last month."
The Skins got two first-half field goals on long drives, but when they got in close bad things would happen. Theismann got the ball slammed back in his face when he tried to pass. The Dallas blitzers—safeties, nickel backs, linebackers—were plundering. Theismann was sacked four times and he had another thing to worry about: The Cowboys' new starting alignment replaced linebacker Anthony Dickerson with safety Bill Bates—the hit man, the maniac blitzer.
"It gave us tremendous problems; it caused me to realign my whole offense," said Gibbs, who handled the situation by flanking his second tight end, Clint Didier, out wide to remove Bates, who was covering him, from the action.
Early in the third quarter things looked almost hopeless. Washington ran three plays and punted. Jim Jeffcoat, the Cowboys' defensive right end, was starting to run wild, mainly because the tackle blocking him, All-Pro Joe Jacoby, had suffered a bruised left shoulder. "Joe told me he was losing feeling in the shoulder," said Skins' guard Russ Grimm, who was to leave the game after he caught a finger in the eye.
The Cowboys' first series of the second half ended with Green's interception for a TD, and then the nightmare really began. Chuck McSwain fumbled the kickoff, setting up a 22-yard TD pass, Theismann to Calvin Muhammad, that cut Dallas's lead to 21-20. The Cowboys' next possession ended with another interception by Green, this one in Washington territory, and the series following ended with a low snap from center and a scuffed 16-yard punt. The Cowboys were coming apart. When Timmy Newsome fumbled on the Dallas 23 on the next possession, Mark Moseley kicked a field goal and the Skins were up by two.
"We played with tremendous intensity—we played hard," Tom Landry said. "But you can't turn the ball over that many times."
The Cowboys fought back. They were backed up, third-and-20 on their own 18, but White laid one in perfectly to Hill for 26 yards. Three plays later he connected with the 43-yard bomb to Hill, over right cornerback Vernon Dean's coverage. The Cowboys were back on top, 28-23, but it was the dying spark.
The Skins' winning drive started on their own 45 with 9:41 left. On second-and-one Riggins went for 13, on his way to a 24-carry, 111-yard day. The Cowboys dug in. Everyone knew what was coming: Riggins left, Riggins right. Washington crossed them up. Monk got the call on the end-around. Theismann wiped out Dickerson and cornerback Ron Fellows with a block ("One of the better ones I've thrown," said Joe), and the Skins were on the 15. On second-and-10 the Cowboys brought in three extra defensive backs and blitzed, only this time Theismann rolled to his right, away from the action and connected with Monk, down to the one-yard line. It took Riggins three shots to get it over. There was 6:34 left.
The Cowboys had two more chances. The first drive ended when White was sacked by tackle Perry Brooks. Finally they got the ball back on their 29, with 1:58 left. White completed a shortie to Ron Springs for six yards and then he went to Tony Dorsett, screen left, but Dean took off on the snap of the ball and nailed Dorsett for a seven-yard loss. A third-down pass to Doug Cosbie was overthrown, and the lights went out when Springs slipped making his cut and the final pass fell incomplete.
Afterward the Skins looked as if they'd been in a war. Theismann's face was bruised. Riggins described his nose as "a crooked country road." Grimm's left eye was shut tight and Jacoby's left shoulder was packed in ice. But the Skins look good for the playoffs—if they can find enough healthy bodies.