By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010; 3:16 AM
In those final frantic moments, when the Redskins' defense was trying to hold on after having done so much so well all game, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo again applied the pressure.
The emerging star had overwhelmed Dallas Cowboys right tackle Alex Barron, playing for injured starter Marc Colombo, for most of the night, and the Redskins needed one more play from Orakpo. He delivered while being held on the game's final play, nullifying a potential tying touchdown pass and giving Coach Mike Shanahan a 13-7 victory in his regular season debut before 90,670 at FedEx Field - the team's largest crowd for a season opener.
Dallas had reached the Redskins 13-yard line with only three seconds remaining, and quarterback Tony Romo was dancing around in the backfield in an effort to extend the play. Romo located wide receiver Roy Williams in the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown that would have tied the score, with the point-after kick pending. But there was a flag on the field in the vicinity of Orakpo. Television replays showed Barron had his forearm around Orakpo's neck as Orakpo raced toward Romo.
"I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness, this don't make no sense,' " said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who scored the Redskins' only touchdown in the first half, returning a fumble after stripping the ball from running back Tashard Choice. "To fight that hard, and for those guys to drive down the field, it was definitely a little heart wrenching.
"But I did see that flag on the field. I didn't really know what it was for. I kind of thought he was going to scramble past the line of scrimmage and throw the ball. I didn't really know. I saw the referee make the holding signal and I sprinted off the field. I sprinted off the field."
Redskins fans left the stadium celebrating an opening victory against the rival Cowboys that also ended a losing streak against NFC East opponents at six games. After going winless against the division last season, the Redskins started things well despite their shaky performance on offense.
Shortly after he was hired, Shanahan selected Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator and told him to build a championship-caliber unit. Although it's way too early to tell whether Haslett has accomplished his goal, the group appeared headed in the right direction against the Cowboys.
"I wish I could have got 30 [tackles]," said strong safety LaRon Landry, who was credited with a game-high 17 13 unassisted) and was treated with intravenous fluids during halftime. "I'm a defender, and that's my job. . . . This defense enables me to fly around, read my keys and I can just play ball instead of just sitting back in the middle of the field, trying to get action.
"This defense enables me to go really get it and not mess up. I'm closer to the ball, I can just read my keys and fly, and that's what I love about it. It's a big-time statement, and week in and week out, we're trying to make a statement. We're here to play. We're here to win. That's what it's all about."
Dallas outgained Washington in total yards, 380-250, and also had more than an eight-minute lead in time of possession. But Hall scored on the 32-yard fumble recovery as time expired to close the first half, Haslett made numerous correct calls in unveiling more of the team's aggressive new 3-4 scheme and defenders attacked the Cowboys throughout.
"We were getting off the field when we needed to," Orakpo said. "They scored seven points . . . that's all they had, man. I really feel like we hunkered down; did a good job containing that high-powered offense to be able to get this win."
And the offense contributed late in the fourth to help seal the victory. Washington took possession with 6 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the game and turned to quarterback Donovan McNabb and top back Clinton Portis down the stretch.
Starting at Washington's 43, McNabb teamed with wide receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley for timely gains. Portis ran for 26 yards on two carries on Washington's final possession.
Place kicker Graham Gano did not waste their efforts. He connected on a 49-yard field goal to cap a 10-play drive that spanned 4:24. The Cowboys got the ball back with 1:45 to play at their 19-yard line, but were unable to complete the rally for a victory.
Hall's stunning fumble return to close the first half sent the Redskins into the locker room elated and the Cowboys, judging by their pained expressions, frustrated about the major blunder.
After Josh Bidwell's 50-yard punt, Dallas took over on its 30-yard line with only 27 seconds remaining in the half. The Cowboys ran four plays and were at their 36 after Barron was called for holding Orakpo. Only four seconds remained in the half. Instead of simply scrambling and running out the clock, Romo inexplicably flipped the ball to Choice on his right. Hall quickly closed on Choice and ripped the ball from the third-year back's grasp with both hands as Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter offered support.
Hall, who has three career touchdowns, scooped up the ball and raced toward the end zone, high-stepping as he approached the goal line while his teammates and Redskins fans celebrated. Gano's successful point-after kick gave the Redskins a 10-point halftime cushion with no time remaining on the game clock.
Hall's touchdown was Washington's first on a fumble recovery since Sean Taylor accomplished the feat on Jan. 1, 2006, against the Philadelphia Eagles at Philadelphia. It was Hall's first touchdown on a fumble recovery.
"I've had some big plays. I've definitely had some big plays in my career, but I don't think I've ever had that big play in a Redskins uniform," Hall said. "It felt good. It felt real good."