Cowboys Thwart Williams, Shock Redskins, 13-3
By Tom Friend
Quarterback Doug Williams found himself shaking off mothballs last night, and the Dallas Cowboys finally found a team they could handle -- the embarrassed Washington Redskins.
Running back Paul Palmer, a Potomac native, rushed for 110 yards at RFK Stadium and personally produced the drive to his touchdown that broke a 3-3 tie. Then his 14-yard, fourth-quarter scamper set up an insurance field goal sealing the Cowboys' first victory of the NFL season and the first win of Coach Jimmy Johnson's pro career, 13-3.
Dallas (1-8) held the Redskins to 50 yards rushing, roughed up starting fullback Gerald Riggs and had only its second halftime lead, 3-0, of the entire season. Rookie quarterback Steve Walsh stayed away from interceptions, and Palmer kept scurrying free on timely draw plays. His longest run from scrimmage was a 47-yarder when he faked safety Clarence Vaughn every which way in the third quarter. A minute later his touchdown dive made it 10-3 and made the crowd of 53,187 antsy.
The Redskins now have the dubious distinction of being the only team the Cowboys have defeated in their last 21 games -- both times here. The Cowboys have more wins at RFK the last two years than at Texas Stadium, which is why the crowd booed with gusto.
"They pay their money," Williams said. "It's not right for us to go into the stands and choke them if they boo."
The Redskins (4-5) now face a perilous stretch of games against Philadelphia, Denver and Chicago. The team has theorized that only an 11-5 record can place them in the playoffs, but that would mean a victory in every remaining game.
"It's a real low point for us," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We're not getting better, and we're not playing winning football. We're just not getting the job done, starting with me."
Gibbs named Williams the starter for this coming Sunday in Philadelphia, but the coach also revealed that starting right guard Mark May is out for the year with a severely sprained knee -- suffered early in the first half. Williams, who underwent back surgery 10 weeks 2 days ago, was not sacked last night, but there was no Redskins running game to relieve him from steady Cowboys pressure.
Riggs left after two series when he aggravated his sore arch, and the team's leading rusher for the night, Jamie Morris, mustered but 36 yards. Morris gained 100 as the Redskins beat the Cowboys, 30-7, in Texas Sept. 24, when Walsh had a rough initiation as a late-game substitute for Troy Aikman, and Herschel Walker, not Palmer, was carrying the ball.
"With all the tradition, you never want to lose to Dallas," Morris said. "And nothing against them, but you definitely didn't want to be their first win."
Said a saddened Riggs: "I'll just have to figure out another way to get well. This gets real annoying. The rest of my body's ready to go."
Williams, who leaves today for Zachary, La., to prepare for his father's funeral Tuesday, completed 28 of 52 passes for 296 yards and two interceptions -- one deep inside Dallas territory and one that set up Dallas's 3-0 halftime lead. "I thought he'd get it done tonight, but he was off," Gibbs said.
Said his quarterback: "I don't think I did that bad. At times I found myself throwing off the wrong foot. . . . I don't feel like I was rusty. I had a good week of practice; I got in sync as the game went along."
The second interception was telegraphed to safety Bill Bates, who rambled 18 yards to the Redskins 34-yard line.
Then on third and three at the 27, Walsh threw a dart to wide receiver Kelvin Martin that eluded free safety Todd Bowles. It was a 24-yard gain, and after an incomplete slant pass to Martin in the end zone (cornerback Brian Davis distracted him), Ruzek kicked his 20-yard field goal to make it 3-0 two seconds before halftime.
The Redskins, enduring their first game without a touchdown since the January 1987 playoff shutout by the Giants, didn't register their points until 4:58 remained in the third quarter, and they were aided by the instant replay officials. Williams completed a third-down slant to wide receiver Art Monk, who was collared by cornerback Ron Francis and fumbled. The Cowboys recovered and rejoiced, but replay official Chuck Heberling ruled Monk's knee had touched the turf before the fumble -- still Washington's ball.
Williams then completed a 12-yard pass for a first down, and Chip Lohmiller's subsequent 38-yard field goal tied it.
The Cowboys answered swiftly. They started with a 39-yard kickoff return by James Dixon, which had Redskins special teams coach Wayne Sevier visibly disgusted. Then on third and three at the Dallas 47, the Redskins deployed their nickel package when running back Palmer, the Churchill High product, shocked them and went 47 yards on a draw play -- leaving Vaughn in his dust along the way.
Outside linebacker Wilber Marshall said that on several of those draws the Redskins' defensive tackles were trapped, and he often had to take on five blockers by himself.
It took two plays for Dallas to score from the 6: a four-yard run by Palmer and his two-yard dive with 2:17 left in the third quarter. Ruzek's extra point made it 10-3.
The Redskins' drive that underscored the loss was in the fourth quarter, Washington still trailing by seven. On first and 10 at their 15, running back Earnest Byner took a draw for nine yards, then Williams zipped a low incompletion to Byner. Facing third and one, Morris was thrown for a four-yard loss by 38-year-old Ed "Too Tall" Jones.
Ruzek's field goal with 4:05 left that put Dallas up by 10 was made possible by a penalty against Redskins rookie Joe Mickles. After a short Dallas punt return, Mickles gave a forearm shiver to an opponent, a personal foul giving the Cowboys an extra 15 yards.
"I hit him with my hand," Mickles said. "It was around his chest, but I guess it got up in his face."
Palmer then went his 14 yards to set up the field goal. His efforts gave life to a Dallas running game that was 26th in the league coming in, averaging 64 yards a game.
After the field goal, Williams couldn't engineer a scoring thrust. After two passes gained him a first down at the Dallas 42, he threw three times deep to Monk and once long to Gary Clark and failed each time. With 2:44 left the Redskins had to give up the ball on downs.
"You take a good solid look at the team" at this time, Gibbs said, "because there'll be criticism and deservedly so."
Injuries, other than to May and Riggs, were minimal. Reggie Branch had a sprained ankle, guard Russ Grimm (who replaced May) a twisted knee and tight end Don Warren a sprained shoulder.
Said a sighing Cowboys Coach Johnson: "The rocky days are not over for the Cowboys. But we're going to have a lot of wins over the next so many years in Dallas. It's just good to get started."