IRVING, Texas -- Add this one to the lore of Cowboys-Redskins rivalry.
In the latest edition of one of the game's most storied rivalries, the Washington Redskins used a rope-a-dope strategy to beat the Dallas Cowboys, 33-31, at Texas Stadium before 63,025 fans last night.
The Redskins absorbed the Cowboys' best punches in the first half when they gave up three long touchdown drives, and then came back to take control in the second half and prove that the rebuilding Cowboys still aren't all the way back.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said of the victory: "Our guys got inta real hole and came back and got out of it. It was a real thrill for us."
Gibbs said the Redskins defense "was gassed" in the first half before regrouping in the second half.
It was a memorable game that had virtually everything -- a 75-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Thomas, a critical fumbled punt, a pair of fourth down gambles by each team including a fake punt by the Redskins, five long field goals (four by Chip Lohmiller of the Redskins), and a key penalty that kept the go-ahead drive alive.
The victory ended a six-game losing streak on Monday Night Football for the Redskins, who hadn't won a non-strike Monday night game since 1986.
It was seven straight losses if you count a Saturday night game in Indianapolis last December that was moved from Monday night to avoid playing on Christmas Eve.
Trailing 24-23 in the first half after Ken Willis kicked a 51-yard field goal, the Redskins put together an 85-yard drive to take a 30-24 lead with 12 minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter. They did it even though two starting linemen, Joe Jacoby and Ed Simmons were ailing.
The drive featured a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Dan Stubbs for hitting Mark Rypien late on third down. The Redskins, who would have had to punt on fourth-and-twelve from their 24, )) got a first down on their 39.
Four plays later, they faced a fourth-and-one at the Washington 48. The Redskins sent their punting team on the field, but Brian Mitchell stepped up under center and ran three yards for the first down.
Mitchell said the fake punt was a play the Redskins thought would work because the Cowboys overloaded their punt defense and left a hole in the middle.
"They played right into our hands," Mitchell said. "I'm glad they did. I thought it was a big part of the game. All we needed was a first down, and the guys on the line fired off and opened it up."
The Redskins then moved in for the go-ahead score on a one-yard run by Gerald Riggs.
On their next drive, the Redskins added a 46-yard field goal, his fourth of the night. They were from 53, 52, 46 and 45 yards out.
The Cowboys got a touchdown pass from Aikman to Michael Irvin with two seconds left to close the scoring.
The Redskins are now 2-0 and tied for first place in the NFC East with the Phoenix Cardinals. The two teams meet next Sunday at RFK Stadium.
Dallas scored touchdowns the first three times it had the ball on drives of 80, 80 and 86 yards to take a 21-10 lead with 5:44 left in the second period.
But the Redskins managed to stay in the game when they recovered a fumbled punt to set up one touchdown and scored && another on a three-play, 74-yard drive to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 4:18 left in the second period. Chip Lohmiller then made a 52-yard field goal with :08 left in the first half as the Redskins went to the dressing room trailing 21-20.
The three Cowboy drives of 80 or more yards were half the number of 80-yard drives (6) the Cowboys had all last season.
The word "drive" was misleading when used to describe how the Cowboys scored their second touchdown.
The drive lasted just two plays. Emmitt Smith caught a 5-yard pass on the first play and then ran 75 yards for a touchdown on the second play.
Smith ran to his left, spun off several Redskins including Alvin Walton and then cut to his right and --ed into the end zone.
The other two drives were classic ones as Aikman, the third-year quarterback, playing with the poise of a veteran, converted his first six third-down plays and a fourth-down play.
Aikman set the tone on the first play when he completed a pass to tight end Jay Novacek for 14 yards. Two plays later, Smith ran for 18 to the Redskin 45.
Four plays later, the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-three on the Washington 38. The Cowboys went for it and Novacek easily beat Walton for an 17-yard gain to the Washington 21.
On third-and-six at the Washington 17, Alexander Wright beat Martin Mayhew for 14 yards.
That put the ball on the Washington 3 and on first down, Novacek fooled the Redskins while catching a pass for the game's first touchdown.
Novacek first blocked Charles Mann and then released and was wide open on the goal line as Aikman rolled to his right and threw the easy touchdown pass.
When the Redskins failed to get a first down on their first possession, Dallas was in a position to take control of the game.