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Amid Farewell, Welcome Relief

In Green's Finale, Redskins Wrap Up Dallas

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 30, 2002; Page D01

The Washington Redskins gave Darrell Green a proper sendoff and gave themselves a clean slate against the Dallas Cowboys. They ended a mostly frustrating season on a positive note by stopping their five-year, 10-game losing streak to their most despised rival, holding on to beat the Cowboys, 20-14, yesterday before 84,142 at FedEx Field.

"It went on too long," guard Tre Johnson said after the Redskins' first win over the Cowboys since Oct. 13, 1997. "It was too long for them to have the record they have and talk a lot of trash . . . . It's gratifying just to get all the verbiage out of the way. I don't think they've been a better team than us since '95, but we always found a way to lose. It got a little crazy, but we found a way to win."

Chad Hutchinson, Bruce Smith watch LaVar Arrington recover ball in end zone for TD after Smith sacked Cowboys' quarterback, caused fumble. Redskins committed five turnovers of their own. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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An emotional day produced a strange game, with the Redskins (7-9) losing touchdowns on a fumble through the end zone and a penalty for having too many men on the field on a fumble recovery on a kickoff. But what most of those on hand will remember is that Green said goodbye with his typical grace. In the final game of his 20 seasons with the Redskins, Green started at cornerback. His NFL-record string of 19 straight seasons with at least one interception ended, but he gave the fans one last memory of his on-the-field exploits with a 35-yard run after taking a handoff from Champ Bailey on a trick punt return.

"Now I know how it feels to beat the Cowboys," Bailey said. "Beating them and sending Darrell off with a win -- you can't do much better than that."

Steve Spurrier wrapped up his first season as an NFL head coach by being able to give the game ball he'd promised to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder after his first triumph over the Cowboys. The Redskins enter the offseason uncertain whether they will lose defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to a head coaching job and pondering a makeover of Spurrier's offense. But they looked like a model of stability compared with the Cowboys, who completed their third straight 5-11 season and appear set to fire Dave Campo as their coach as soon as today while owner Jerry Jones attempts to apply the finishing touches to a deal with Bill Parcells to succeed Campo.

"Dallas was a team that didn't have a lot going for them" yesterday, Spurrier said. "Obviously their coach is probably going to be canned [today], and he knows it. So it was hard for him to get his team really riled up to play. We had a chance to beat them pretty good. We just allowed them to stay in the game. Our guys played hard. We just didn't play very smart at times."

The Redskins held the Cowboys to 186 total yards. Running back Emmitt Smith managed only 13 rushing yards on 18 carries in potentially his final game with Dallas, falling 25 yards shy of what would have been his 12th consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

"It was a huge distraction," Smith said of the coaching melodrama. "I can't even begin to tell you how much of a distraction it was. When you have the subject talked about as much as it was this last week, then it trickles over to the football field and players want to know what's going on. Guys think I have all the answers, but I don't."

The Redskins' defense provided the tie-breaking touchdown in the third quarter, when defensive end Bruce Smith sacked Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson and forced a fumble and linebacker LaVar Arrington dove on the ball in the end zone. Still, the Redskins almost lost. They committed five turnovers, and cost themselves three touchdowns -- two that they didn't get and one that they handed the Cowboys -- with gaffes.

They lost a second-quarter touchdown when rookie tailback Ladell Betts was stripped of the ball a yard shy of what would have been a 27-yard touchdown run. Betts recovered his fumble in the end zone but was out of bounds -- giving the Cowboys, by rule, possession on a touchback. Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey threw a floating pass over the middle in the final minute of the first half that was intercepted by Dallas safety Roy Williams and returned 85 yards for a touchdown.

And, in the strangest play of all, the Redskins appeared to wrap up the game late in the third quarter when they forced a fumble by the Cowboys' Woody Dantzler on a kickoff. Players on both teams milled around, not knowing that the ball was loose on the turf, until the Redskins' Bryan Johnson finally noticed, picked up the ball at the 12-yard line and ran into the end zone. But in the confusion, the Redskins' defensive players had begun to take the field with the play in progress. The Redskins were penalized for having too many players on the field, losing the touchdown and possession of the ball.

"Someone said [cornerback] Fred Smoot bumped the ref on the way out, and they called illegal participation," Spurrier said. "I've never seen that one in all my days. That's a first for me . . . . We're excited that we won the game, but we're not very happy with the way we played the entire game."

The Redskins had to sweat out some anxious moments late in the game, but never lost the lead they got midway through the third quarter on the exploits of Smith and Arrington. On a third-and-22 play from the Dallas 15-yard line, Smith raced around offensive tackle Flozell Adams. Smith and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener had been running stunts all day, with Smith dipping to the inside and Gardener going to the outside. This time, Smith faked to the inside, and raced around Adams on the outside.

"I felt he was pretty much set up to fake it," Smith said. "He bit hard."

Running back Troy Hambrick gave Adams no help, and Smith crashed into Hutchinson from the quarterback's blind side. The jarring hit sent the ball rolling into the end zone, and Arrington beat Hambrick to the ball.

"I didn't care if I blew out a leg or sprained my ankle, I was going to get that ball," Arrington said.

That touchdown and place kicker Jose Cortez's extra point gave the Redskins a 14-7 lead, and they stretched the advantage to 20-7 on a pair of field goals by Cortez. But the Cowboys got within 20-14 when wide receiver Antonio Bryant beat Smoot and safety David Terrell to catch a 46-yard touchdown pass from Hutchinson on a fourth-and-14 play with just more than three minutes remaining. It seemed possible that the hex would live on, but the Redskins got a seven-yard run by tailback Kenny Watson on a third-and-six play and managed to run out the clock.

"We came into the locker room knowing we were going to win," Arrington said. "Of course, we felt that way in prior games and it didn't work out . . . . It got rough at times but guys did not give up on the season, and that's big. We did something we haven't done in previous seasons: We beat the Cowboys."

Ramsey had another decent performance, throwing two interceptions but completing 17 of 31 passes for 209 yards. Betts rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries, while Watson had 58 yards on 17 rushing attempts while Stephen Davis watched from the sideline. The two-time Pro Bowl tailback is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery today, and the Redskins plan to release him in the offseason.

On many fronts, they are ready to move on. And now, at least they know they are not destined to lose every time they look across the field and see the Cowboys.

"The important thing, like I told our guys earlier, is we don't have to play perfectly to beat Dallas," Spurrier said. "I told them, 'If something goes bad, let's don't fold up our tents like maybe we did a little bit in Dallas [during a loss on Thanksgiving]' . . . It's hard for me to get excited about beating a 5-11 team. I know they've beaten us a lot. Don't get me wrong. But they're still a 5-11 team three years in a row, and sometimes we maybe give Dallas too much credit, you know what I mean? We think they're too good when they've been 5-11 three years in a row."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company