Late in the third period, the Washington Redskins finally decided to test Dallas cornerback Steve Wilson deep. The result was a Charlie Waters interception near the goal line that all but sealed the Redskin fate.

"I knew the Redskins would try me soon," said Wilson, a former Howard University star and a second-year pro. "He [receiver John McDaniel] never even gave me a fake. He lined up wide and just took off and I went with him. We had a blitz on a Charlie's man was held up so he doubled up on the corners. He just made a super interception."

Waters' interception halted a promising Redskin drive at the Dallas 26. The key play was just one of a handful the Cowboys would make in whipping the Redskins, 17-3, last night at RFK Stadium.

Redskin fans will wonder why Joe Theismann never tried to take advantage of Wilson and the other cornerback, Aaron [A.M.-P.M.] Mitchell. Theismann completed 19 of 34 passes, but nine of them were of the safety valve variety to his back circling out of the backfield. Wide receiver Art Monk caught five passes, but they were all short out patterns.

"We didn't mind giving them the short stuff," said Wilson, who is the leading receiver in Howard history and made the Dallas team as a free agent. "We were concerned about them beating us deep. we weren't going to let anyone get behind us. I looked for the deep pass early and when it didn't come I started coming up and playing tighter. I guess that's when they tried to go long."

Wilson, who was switched from flanker to cornerback because of the injury-riddled Cowboy secondary, didn't find out he was going to start until yesterday morning. Regular cornerback Bennie Barnes, who has been plagued with a bad foot, underwent an emergency appendectory and Wilson got the nod.

"Wilson played off his man two or three yards deeper than normal. The only thing we were going to give them were the turn-ins and the short stuff," Dallas Coach Tom Landry said. "The thing that would have beaten us the easiest would have been the deep pass.

"We played aggressively and controlled the ball. Keeping their defense on the field was a big key for us and our defense did an excellent job of controlling Theismann and stopping the running game," Landry said.

"It wasn't like I was green because I had started three exhibition games," Wilson said, "But then, they were exhibition and this was the opener -- against the Redskins, at that."

It was the sparkling play of Wilson [who had six unassisted tackles], Waters, Mitchell and Dennis Thurmond and tenacious pass rush, led by Ed [Too Tall] Jones and Harvey Martin, that held the Redskins to a meager three points. It was the first time in 19 years the Redskins hadn't scored a touchdown in an opening game.

"We know they don't have any love for us here," said defensive end Martin. "I told the young guys about the people up here and to try not to let it get to you. The intensity is here and you have to keep your concentration or you're lost. We knew we had young people in the secondary and we had to keep pressure on Joe. We control Joe, we control the game.

"After each pass play, I told the corners to listen to Charlie in the huddle," Martin continued. "Charlie was having school in those huddles. He's very important to this team. That interception was very important."

Indeed, Waters, playing at about 75 percent, made a nice one-handed grab of Theismann's pass just when it appeared McDaniel had beaten Wilson.

"I would have gone all the way if I didn't have two bad knees," laughed Waters. "I didn't think I could get to the ball when I first went after it.I was dropping back to help the corners and sort of floated to that side since McDaniel went deep. And there was the ball."

On the other end of the spectrum, the Washington secondary, regarded as one of the best in the NFL, didn't get much of a workout since Danny White stayed with a successful ground game.