Champion Cowboys are lassoed, 35-16, in opener at RFK


September 07, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Quarterback Troy Aikman fumbled the snap on the Dallas Cowboys' first play and backup Jason Garrett fumbled the snap on their final offensive play.

In between, the Cowboys learned how tough life is at the top in the NFL.

They turned the ball over four times in all, missed an extra-point try and looked sloppy while stumbling to a 35-16 loss to the Washington Redskins last night before 56,345 at RFK Stadium in their first game as defending champions.

The Redskins were far from flawless. They started off slowly while gaining just one first down in their first three possessions. It didn't help that A. J. Johnson blew a coverage to give the Cowboys an 80-yard touchdown and that Brian Mitchell downed the ball on a kickoff on the 1-yard line when he thought he was in the end zone for a touchback.

In the end, it didn't make much difference because the retooled Redskins offense pounded the Cowboys' defense while putting together drives of 80, 78, 99 and 65 yards.

It appeared they missed defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, now the Chicago Bears' head coach, more than they missed holdout running back Emmitt Smith.

Rookie Derrick Lassic, filling in for Smith, gained 75 yards on 16 carries, but was trumped by Mitchell's 116-yard game.

Quarterback Mark Rypien overcame a slow start to complete 22 of 34 for 161 yards and three touchdowns while executing the team's new short passing offense.

It helped that Rypien wasn't sacked, as Moe Elewonibi, filling in for injured Jim Lachey, held his own against Charles Haley. Elewonibi said the short passing game made it easier to contain Haley because he didn't have to hold Haley out for long periods of time.

The game was so one-sided that Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, who blew up last year after his team's last loss, a 20-17 decision at RFK last December, was gracious after it was over. He even started out his news conference by congratulating Redskins coach Richie Petitbon, whose hand he ran across the field to shake after the game.

Petitbon said: "I like Jimmy. I really do. I gave him a wave, and I thought he was going to go off. I certainly would have met him halfway. I thought that was a very nice gesture on his part," he said.

Mitchell, remembering the Redskins' 23-10 loss to the Cowboys in last year's opener when they were on top, said the Cowboys will now learn what it's like to be the defending champions.

"We went through it last year. We know how it is. After a year like they had, they had to be thinking they were going to walk over the Redskins. I think we had that attitude that we're not losing this game."

He added: "One comment I think that stuck was at the end of the year, Jimmy Johnson said, 'How about them Cowboys?' He opens this season saying we can beat the Redskins with whoever we take up there. We can beat them without Emmitt Smith. He gave us no respect. Talking and doing things like that pump us up. We know we can't be talking and boasting."

Petitbon said he understood the Cowboys' problems: "They've had a lot of distractions. That's what happens when you win."

Petitbon added: "Let me say, I'm extremely pleased with the effort our football team put forth. I think we played an excellent game. We made a lot of mistakes, but I think we have a chance to be pretty good. It was just one game, but it was a nice win."

Asked how personally satisfying his first victory was, Petitbon said, "It's very nice. It's very, very nice. Believe me. I wish there were more time to enjoy it. This could be one I could really enjoy."

Petitbon said, "We made enough mistakes in the first half to beat ourselves, but we were able to come back in the second half and play pretty good football. We can't get too excited about this one because of the short week."

The Redskins play host to the Phoenix Cardinals on Sunday.

The Redskins, who had trouble running the ball during the exhibition season, gained 171 yards in 35 carries. Reggie Brooks gained 53 yards on 11 carries.

"I said it [running game] would [work]. Preseason games don't mean that much. I thought we moved it pretty good against a doggone-good run-defensive football team. That's a very encouraging sign," Petitbon said.

The Cowboys jumped to a 6-0 lead when A. J. Johnson let Alvin Harper get behind him for an 80-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter.

"That was not a very good sign for us. I thought up until that point we played very good defense and then we blew a coverage and gave them an easy six. We came back and got a score and that really helped," Petitbon said.

The first touchdown was the Cowboys' high point. Lin Elliott missed the extra-point try, and it was all downhill from there for Dallas.

Brooks came into the game and ran eight times during a 13-play, 80-yard drive that gave the Redskins the lead, 7-6.

Pat Eilers then made his second fumble recovery of a mishandled Dallas punt, picking the ball up at the Dallas 17 after it hit James Washington.

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