WASHINGTON -- The Dallas Cowboys were ready to make no concessions to the Washington Redskins yesterday.
Not to the Redskins' aura of invincibility. Not to the hostile home crowd at RFK Stadium. Not even to Washington's Pro Bowl cornerback, Darrell Green.
This was a day when underdog Dallas dictated terms in a 24-21 upset.
"Teddy Roosevelt said one time, 'Don't ever hit a guy lightly,' " Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said after what might be his finest NFL moment. "Whether it's a battle, a war, whatever.
"That's what we said we'd do. Give it our best punch and be aggressive. That's the only way to beat a great team."
The Cowboys, in good position at 7-5 for an NFC wild-card spot, set the tone for the afternoon on their first offensive snap. Quarterback Troy Aikman found wide receiver Alvin Harper on a 39-yard pass play.
Before darkness fell on RFK, the Cowboys showed the wisdom of that strategy. Twice they converted fourth-down passes, one a "Hail Mary" for a touchdown just before the half. They attempted -- and recovered -- an on-sides kick in the second quarter. On defense, they dared to blitz Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien often. Even if the blitz never resulted in a sack, the Cowboys treated Rypien more rudely than anyone has in a long while, knocking him to the ground at least four times.
But nowhere was their bold approach more apparent -- or critical -- than in the Dallas passing game. Even when the Cowboys lost Aikman five plays into the second half with a sprained right knee, they never backed off. Aikman torched the Redskins for 204 yards and one touchdown, and his replacement, Steve Beuerlein, threw for 109 yards and one score.
No one in the Redskins secondary was spared, not even Green, who has had a superb season. Playing against Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin, Green had his worst game in several years.
Irvin appreciated the Cowboys' aggressive approach more than most.
"We knew it'd be this way early in the week," he said. "Norv [Turner, offensive coordinator] said in our meeting Monday morning we were going to play our offense and attack, no matter who was playing you. I usually complain about the game plan when I play against Darrell."
Not this time. Irvin had nine catches for 130 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave Dallas a 21-7 lead. The Redskins blitzed on the touchdown play, and Irvin broke off his pattern early to get open. He eluded Green with an inside fake at the 5-yard line, and then he made a great recovery of a bobbled ball for a 23-yard scoring catch.
"The ball was thrown behind me," Irvin said. "I tried to tip it back up in the air and get a second shot at it, and that's what happened."
The football took some friendly bounces all afternoon for the Cowboys. When Ken Willis' on-sides kick slipped through Andre Collins' hands, Willis wound up with the ball under a pile.
The Cowboys were unable to capitalize on that gift. But, one series later, they pulled another rabbit out of their hat on a "Hail Mary" touchdown pass.
Harper, who leaped to catch the pass amid four Redskins, said: "I hit the ground so hard that my nose was bleeding."
In the end, it came down to a seven-minute Dallas drive and Willis' 42-yard field goal. Willis had missed from 51 and 32 yards earlier. The successful kick was just inches inside the right upright.
Statistics for the Cowboys' Michael Irvin and those of the Redskins' Posse -- Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders -- were close to equal yesterday:
2& .. .. . . . .Rec.. . Yards. .. TD
Irvin.. . . . 9. . . .130. . .. .. 1
Clark. . . . .7. . ... 82. . .. ...0
Sanders. . . .2. . . . 47. . ..... 1
Monk. . . ... 2. . . . 22. . . .. 0
Total. . ... 11. . ....151. . . .. 1