Cowboys Drop Ball At Their Own Party

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By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

IRVING, Tex., Sept. 19 -- From the opening kickoff, this was supposed to be Dallas's night. Troy Aikman smiled broadly at halftime, his blond hair barely mussed under the white lights at Texas Stadium. He looked toward the fans, who stood and applauded him once more. They clapped for all the touchdowns Aikman threw, all the Super Bowls he, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith won. And they kept applauding -- enough to warrant an amendment to Willie Nelson's lyrics.

Mamas, it is okay to let your babies grow up to be Cowboys. Just don't let them grow up to become Bill Parcells with a lead -- at least on this Monday night.

On a night when Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell got slung to the turf by Dallas safety Roy Williams and every other guy with a star on his helmet, it seemed, all of football-obsessed Texas reveled in the Cowboys' past, present and -- for 56 minutes and 14 seconds -- its promising future.

The Cowboys led the Redskins 13-0 with less than four minutes left, and the whooping and hollering had not stopped since halftime. From the moment Aikman, Irvin and Smith were inducted into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor at intermission -- their names added to a marquee encircling Texas Stadium that includes such luminaries as Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Randy White -- this was thought to be a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And then Brunell dropped back. And Santana Moss went long. And Parcells, the gruff, platinum-haired Cowboys coach, began employing some of the most questionable strategy imaginable in the final minutes. He did not nurse a 13-0 lead in the final four minutes; he neglected it until it frittered away to a sea of boos.

After Brunell converted a fourth-and-15, 39-yard touchdown strike to Moss -- a game-over down if Brunell had not completed that pass -- Parcells suddenly was not interested in killing the clock and going home.

Four of the next six Dallas plays were stop-the-clock passes, including an errant first-down throw by Drew Bledsoe immediately after Brunell made it a game, with the Redskins trailing, 13-7.

Suddenly, all that Dallas mastery of Washington, all those years of frustration in this crackerbox of an NFL stadium, died the moment Brunell went long again. This time, he connected with Moss for a 70-yard score, an arcing bomb behind the Cowboys' defense that ruined for Dallas what was supposed to be a grand night of festivities.

Moss tucked in that ball from Brunell like Dallas's Patrick Crayton had tucked in a ball from Vinny Testaverde last December -- a stunning end to a game Gibbs nearly had.

Gibbs turned the tables on Parcells Monday night, sticking with the same quarterback who had caused the franchise so much grief and second-guessing a season ago and beating the Cowboys, 14-13. He stuck with Brunell on a night when Brunell was pressured, hit and forced from the pocket on almost every passing down.

While Bledsoe was converting Parcells's trickery into a flea-flicker, 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter, Brunell was giving Gibbs fits with his short-armed passes and his inability to escape the pressure.

Texas Stadium rumbled after Bledsoe completed that pass to Terry Glenn, the longest scoring pass for the Cowboys since the 2002 season. The crowd whooped and hollered almost as loud as it used to for Aikman, Irvin and Smith.

Until the final four minutes, when Brunell and Moss -- with help from a playing-not-to-lose Parcells -- detonated Dallas's big night.

The streak of nine straight Redskins losses at Texas Stadium had not only ended, but Gibbs had beaten Parcells for the first time since 1987, when Parcells was coaching the New York Giants and going toe-to-toe with Gibbs for NFC East supremacy.

For 56 minutes and 14 seconds, that was a century ago. But then Brunell dropped back and Moss went long. And Gibbs spoiled a party in the Big D.

Just like old times.


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