Too Tall Jones and the rest of the Dallas front gave ample proof last night that the Cowboy defense, which played so horribly at times last year, is back to its old tricks. Jones and Co. thoroughly dominated the Redskins along the line of scrimmage and sent Washington down to a stunning 17-3 defeat that had the partisan RFK Stadium crowd of 55,031 booing in disgust.
The fans had come out expecting a ninth straight Redskin home triumph on Monday night television. Instead, they were treated to an impressive game-long display by Cowboy defenders and a decent-enough starting debute by Dallas quarterback Danny White, playing for the retired Roger Staubach.
White did his job in the first half, when his team jumped to a 10-0 lead. He was much more inconsistent in the second, but it didn't matter. The Redskins could not budge the Cowboy front four, which shut off the Washington running game and put constant pressure on Joe Theismann every time he tried to pass.
Still, Washington had plenty of chances to win. The Cowboys made enough turnovers and Theismann completed enough passes to have the Redskins in Dallas territory throughout the game. But the Cowboys would never let their opponnts move closer to the end zone than the 12.
To make matters more frustrating for Coach Jack Pardee, his normally reliable field goal kicker, Mark Moseley, missed attempts from 45 and 29 yards before hitting from 45 on the first play of the fourth period.
That success pulled the Redskins to within 10-3, but then Dallas put together its only drive of the second half to sew up its 16th straight season-opening victory.
The Cowboys moved 59 yards on 12 plays that consumed eight precious minutes. Ron Springs, who was impressive as Dallas' new fullback, carried the last four yards for the touchdown with 6:32 left in the game.
The Redskins' inability to run the ball hurt them tremendously. They gained just 58 yards on the ground, 20 of which came on one Clarence Harmon carry. Nineteen other tries could net just 38 yards.
Once the Cowboys realized they had shut down Washington's backs, they could tee off on Theismann. He was sacked just once, but threw constantly under heavy pressure. He was scrambling all night instead of being able to sit back and look over the inexperienced and patched-up Dallas secondary.
That backfield had Steve Wilson and Aaron Mitchell, both inexperienced second-year players, starting at cornerback and Dennis Thurman, normally a reserve, at one safety along with limping Charlie Waters.
But, despite allowing Theismann to complete 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards, the defensive backs never allowed the Redskins to pull off the play they needed to get back into the game.
Probably the most crucial defensive play for Dallas came midway through the third quarter. Linebacker Monte Coleman picked off a White pass (White threw two interceptions) and returned the ball to the Cowboy 26. On first down, Theismann went for a quick score. He had John McDaniel open at the goal line, but Waters cut across the field and intercepted the toss just before McDaniel could haul it in.
Earlier in the same period, the Redskins had possession of the Cowboy 14 after Ike Forte returned the second-half kickoff 53 yards and Harmon sprinted around left end for 20 yards, which was four more yards than the Redskins managed on the ground in the entire first half.
But Jones, who did not play last year while he pursued a boxing career, sacked Theismann for a nine-yard loss. When a 10-yard pass to Buddy Hardeman was short of a first down, Moseley came on to try from 29 yards out, normally a chip shot for him. But the kick was wide, just as his first-half attempt had missed badly.
Moseley's 45-yard success in the fourth finally stirred the crowd's emotions, but then Dallas, working mostly off the left side of the Redskin defense with power runs, moved smartly down the field for the final touchdown. Springs was the main force in the drive while Tony Dorsett, who gained 66 yards for the night, was on the sidelines with leg cramps.
Springs began by pulling in a 12-yard screen pass against the fired-up defense. He later had two five-yard runs and a third-down sprint of eight that picked up a first down at the 19. His two-yard run netted another first down at the eight and then he powered to the four before slamming up the middle for the score.
The Redskins helped out during this span with some poor tackling as they showed signs of fatigue. But they also were being blocked well by the Cowboys, who had spent most of the second half doing very little against Washington's defense.
This was Washington's first regular-season game without fullback John Riggins, who retired during training camp. Riggins, who always played well against Dallas, was sorely missed. Harmon led Redskin rushers with 39 yards, but Wilbur Jackson, obtained in a trade with San Francisco, could add only one on two carries and new halfback Hardeman gained just 11 on six tries.
The Cowboys had been dealt a potentially devastating blow hours before game time when veteran cornerback Benny Barnes was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
That left Dallas seemingly very vulnerable in an already hobbled secondary. To survive, the Cowboys obviously needed a superior game from their front four and that is exactly what they got.
Whatever emotion Washington brought into the game from memories of its 35-34 loss to the Cowboys last December -- a defeat that cost the Redskins a playoff berth -- disappeared in the first half through a combination of its own inconsistent play and White's precision performance.
The Redskins should have known it wasn't going to be their night when, after penetrating into Dallas territory on their very first possession, Theismann fumbled a third-down center snap and Mike Connell had to try his first punt as a Redskin.
The kick was good for only 30 yards, and the snap from new snapper Jeff Bostic wasn't much better. It was high, throwing Connell off balance.
Dallas then went on an 80-yard scoring drive that was highlighted by some excellent Cowboy playcalling. The Redskins were off balance during the entire march, guessing wrong time after time about what play White would run.
Leman Parrish appeared to have stopped the Dallas threat in its infancy when he intercepted a White pass. But the Redskin cornerback was called for illegal use of the hands and Dallas maintained possession.
Dallas was having success because it was able to run outside on Washington.
Once the Redskins started looking for sweeps, White would come back with a screen to a wide receiver (18 yards to Tony Hill) or to a back (22 yards to Springs for a touchdown). But the score was called back when Drew Pearson was penalized for unnecessary roughness while blocking down field.
So White got a first down at the 13 on a three-yard pass to Pearson and a four-yard run by Dorsett. Then Dorsett started right on a sweep. The Redskins converged on him and he cut back to the left, breaking down field to the six before being tackled. On the next play, he cut off right end behind Springs' block on Coleman and Dallas was up, 7-0, with 2:15 left in the opening quarter.
Washington immediately threatened. Theismann hit John McDaniel for an 11-yard gain and then tight end Phil DuBois, playing for the injured Don Warren, for 16 more. Harvey Martin was called for hitting Theismann after the pass to DuBois was released and another 15 yards was added onto the gain to put the ball on the Cowboy 41.
When Theismann scrambled for a first down at the 30, the stadium was in an uproar. But McDaniel dropped a first-down pass and Moseley had to come on for his first 45-yard try, which sailed far to the right.
Moments later, Washington had the ball again when free safety Mark Murphy got a gift interception from White, who overthrew Dorsett and tossed the ball right into Murphy's chest.
Starting from their own 42, Theismann found rookie Art Monk for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the Cowboy 46. But Forte was thrown for a three-yard loss on a blitz and Theismann had to toss away a third-down pass under heavy pressure.
Connell got another high snap from Bostic and shanked his punt, which traveled just five yards, giving the Cowboys excellent field position at the Dallas 43.
White struck quickly. He connected with Hill for 14-yards against soft coverage from Joe Lavender. Two plays later, Hill beat Parrish on a down-and-out pattern, hauling in the 37-yard pass at the Redskin nine.
Two runs got the Cowboys to the five,but on a third-and-two, White rolled to his left and looked for tight end Doug Crosbie in the endzone. Strong safety Ken Houston shot through the line and almost hauled down White, who lofted a creampuff pass far over Crosbie's head.
Rafael Septien kicked a 19-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 6:06 left in the half.
The Redskins had problems during the preseason generating much offense, save for one triumph in RFK over Oakland. But they attributed some of their problems to their decision to substitute liberally in the exhibitions.
Last night, however, Washington was deadly serious in its appraoch. But Dallas was even more ready, which now leaves the Redskins in a precarious position as they travel Sunday to New Jersey, where they have never beaten the Giants.