Cowboy Bomb Shocks Redskins, 24-23
By Leonard Shapiro
Longley, a rookie from Abilene Christian making his first appearance in a regular-season game, threw 50 yards to former goat Drew Pearson for the winning score with 28 seconds remaining.
The pass and the extra point by Efren Herrera, another rookie, kept alive for at least another week the Cowboys' chance of gaining the playoffs for a ninth straight year.
The Redskins, who would have clinched their fourth straight playoff appearance with a victory today, now must win one of their remaining two games - a week from Monday night at Los Angeles or Dec. 15 at home against Chicago - to extend their season.
"I don't have very much to say," coach George Allen said when it was over. "It was probably the toughest loss we ever had."
The Redskins had done everything in their power to deal the Cowboys a killing blow. They recovered four fumbles, they intercepted a pass, they had three field goals from Mark Moseley and two touchdowns from Duane Thomas. And what should have been most important, Dave Robinson knocked Roger Staubach out of the game on a brutal tackle with 9:57 to play in the third quarter.
"I was a little bit scared," Longley said. It hardly showed.
Before the day was through, he had bombed the Redskins' proud defenses, completing 11 of 20 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, the game winner to Pearson and another of 35 yards to tight end Billy Joe DuPree.
Still, many fans in the crowd of 63,243 were filling toward the traffic jams when Dallas got the football one more time, trailing by 23-17 with 1:45 to play and no time-outs remaining.
But Longley appeared calm. On fourth and six at the Dallas 44, he found Bob Hayes open for a six-yard gain, barely enough for the first down.
"I have doubts about it," said safety Big Owens, who made the tackle. Along with the final touchdown pass and a blocked Redskin field goal attempt, it may have been the most important play of the game.
On first down, Longley passed incomplete to Pearson, the NFC's leading receiver, who could not hold onto what would have been the game-tying touchdown pass in the first Washington-Dallas game 11 days ago.
There were 35 seconds left when Longley went back one more time. Dallas head coach Tom Landry described the play:
"We were just able to run through the zone," he said. "If you have time to throw the ball - and normally you wouldn't - you try to get the receiver deep in the zone.
"It was a post route and he was supposed to come back over the middle. But he was able to split the two defenders and he was gone. It was a good move on his part. Longley moved away from their rush and slid outside. The pass was perfectly thrown. We caught them flat-footed."
The Redskins were in their nickel defense, with five defensive backs in the line-up. Pearson was supposed to have been double-covered by Mike Bass and nickel-man Ken Stone, who accepted full responsibility for the game-winning touchdown.
"They were doubling me," Pearson said. "I gave them an inside move. I got behind Stone and Clint got it to me. It's real sweet. There are no words to describe it."
Stone had several. "I got beat deep and I shouldn't have. It was a mistake on my part and I feel bad about it."
Most Redskins also were feeling bad because they had so many opportunities to win this game. Many of them pointed to a block of Moseley's 24-yard field goal attempt by Ed (Too Tall) Jones with 10:51 to play.
Earlier in the game Moseley had hit on kicks of 45, 34 and 39 yards. The 24-yard effort set up by Ron McDole's recovery of a Charles Young fumble, would have given the Redskins a 26-17 lead and made the Cowboys' final touchdown academic.
The Redskins may also look back on some conservative play-calling in their last three possessions of the fourth quarter before Longley's game-winning pass.
They never got a first down after Thomas swept left end behind Jerry Smith's block for a touchdown that gave them a 23-17 lead 1:34 into the fourth period.
On their next possession, quarterback Billy Kilmer called three running plays before Moseley's 24-yard effort was blocked.
Four minutes later, the Redskins got the ball at their own 12. A quick-out to Roy Jefferson was out of bounds and two running plays netted three yards. Mike Bragg punted.
The Redskins seemingly had the game won and a playoff spot clinched 2 1/2 minutes later when Pearson fumbled after receiving a Longley pass for 20 yards. A hit by corner back Pat Fischer forced the bobble; Bass recovered and returned the ball to the Washington 31. Kilmer took over with 2:29 to play.
One first down was all that was necessary. But again Kilmer handed off to Moses Denson for a yard; Denson got three more on second down and Thomas was hit by Charlie Waters on a six-yard loss on third. Bragg punted again and "that rookie" got his hands on the ball one more time.
It was all he needed.
Following Longley's bomb to Pearson, the Redskins gained possession on their 34 with 25 seconds and three time-outs left. But Kilmer was sacked and fumbled on first down and the Cowboys ran out the clock.
Longley said he had been made aware of Talbert's comments before the teams' last meeting.
"I enjoy that now," he said. "I didn't think he was attacking me. It's just that there was a rookie behind Roger. As long as Roger is healthy, I know I'm not getting in. I've just got to accept that."
Allen, meanwhile, looked down but hardly out as he curtly addressed the media. How do you rate your chances in the playoffs? He was asked.
"Excellent," he said, then repeated it.
The Cowboys pulled a surprise play in their first offensive series that put them ahead, 3-0, but gave the Redskins a psychological life.
Punter Duane Carrell connected with Benny Barnes, normally a cornerback, on a fourth-down pass good for 37 yards. It kept a 62-yard drive going, but the Cowboys had to settle for a 24-yard Herrera field goal despite gaining a first down on the two-yard line. Included in Dallas' frustrating effort were eight plays and three penalties inside the 10-yard line.
The psychological lift was 35 seconds short of victory.