Washington's turnover triple turns into 17 Dallas points

January 31, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- James Washington recognized his cue last night. It was the bright lights of Super Bowl XXVIII.

The Dallas Cowboys' nickel back played like a million bucks in a 30-13 conquest of the Buffalo Bills, turning a defensive trifecta.

He stripped Thurman Thomas for a fumble in the first quarter, a play that resulted in a Dallas field goal.

He scooped another Thomas fumble on the bounce and raced 46 yards to a momentum-changing touchdown in the third quarter.

Then, to top it all off, Washington stepped in front of receiver Don Beebe to make a fourth-quarter interception and set up another Cowboys touchdown.

That's three turnovers worth 17 points. Not a bad night's work for a reserve back. And so much for Buffalo's 13-10 victory in Week 2.

"They can win all the regular-season games," Washington said, "but it's time to shock the house with all these people watching."

Washington, a regular a year ago, was a reserve most of this season, starting just the first and last games.

Yet, last night, only a 132-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance by Emmitt Smith kept Washington, 29, from MVP honors.

"Emmitt's my frat brother," he said of missing out on the MVP award. "I'd have been ticked off if anybody but him got it."

Washington was anything but ticked off as he surveyed the media crowd around his interview stall. When opportunity presented itself, Washington was ready.

His contract is up, and this amounted to a very nice audition tape in case the Cowboys don't want to keep him.

"I think it helped my career," he said of his big night. "I showed I'm capable of doing some things. Hopefully things will work out and I'll stay here. I'm behind two great safeties in Darren Woodson and Thomas Everett.

"But I still feel I'm the hardest-hitting defensive back on the team."

Still, his biggest play was not a hit as much as it was a run. When defensive tackle Leon Lett jarred the football loose from the fumble-prone Thomas less than a minute into the second half, Washington was in the right spot at the right time.

He caught the carom, then weaved down the field to a touchdown that earned a 13-13 tie for Dallas.

That was a momentum-draining turnover for the Bills, who didn't score in the second half after holding a 13-6 halftime lead.

"Before the [second] half, I told Leon, 'I need big things from you.' That's what he did -- cause a fumble."

Once Washington had the ball, he looked as nifty as a running back cutting down the field. He was, in fact, a wide receiver at UCLA.

"I was looking to pitch the ball to Kevin Smith," he said. "The person I was looking for was Beebe [who stripped Lett of a certain touchdown on a fumble in last year's game]. Hopefully, he was not going to knock this one out."

Everett helped out with two key blocks on the run.

Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson glowed in the thought that even his reserves were making big plays. "We try to get playmakers," Johnson said. "We've got playmakers at backups, and throughout our lineup."

Said Washington, "That's the reason he brought me here, to make plays. Sometimes I have a tendency to do other things. Sometimes I free-lance. But Jimmy lets me beat to my own drum."

Washington delivered his first big play halfway through the first quarter. The two teams had traded field goals and Buffalo stopped the Cowboys' offense in three plays.

The Bills had good field position -- their own 41 -- when quarterback Jim Kelly flipped a shovel pass to Thomas. Washington came up to make the hit on Thomas and in the process pulled the football out. Ken Gant recovered at the 50, and seven plays later Dallas had another field goal.

"I told ESPN I would continue to hit him [Thomas] until he turns it down [fumbles]," Washington said. "He started fumbling, and they put him on the bench."

Thomas reportedly went to the bench in the second half with cramps in his calf.

Washington's interception came on the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys protecting a 20-13 lead and the issue still in doubt.

He picked off a third-down pass from Kelly and returned it 12 yards to the Buffalo 34. The Cowboys went in for Smith's second touchdown run, opening a 27-13 lead.

"It was like the Super Bowl last year," he said. "They were driving and driving, and then my interception and we score a touchdown. . . . Two Super bowls and I had the first two turnovers. I mean that's a good streak for myself."

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