This was one of those odd games when the winners were at least as upset as the losers. And they should have been. Anytime the Cowboys can't put away the Joe Washington-less Redskins away until the final minute is cause for concern.
"One of these days we're gonna put it all together," said quarterback Danny White, "and they'll have to realign the league."
His smile said he wasn't as serious as he sounded.
"Danny White lives under the same golden star Roger Staubach lived under," said Joe Theismann, not unkindly.
Theismann still was thinking about the game's pivotal play, shortly after halftime, though the Redskins very likely were doomed by then. Joe Washington's team is Washington's team, and when he twisted himself out of the game just before intermission the ultimate outcome seemed obvious.
With him, the Redskins very likely would have lost anyway, for Dallas had the defense set up for a touchdown kill the entire game. But two straight plays offered the best illustration of why the Redskins could not make a serious threat without him.
They had just tied the score, 10-10, on the first possession of the second half. The Cowboys had moved across midfield, but an offsides penalty left them with second and 18 on their 46. A mixup between quarterback White and receiver Drew Pearson gave Washington's Jeris White an almost impossible-to-miss interception chance.
He missed it.
"Three (interceptions) dead in our hands," defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon groaned later.
Jeris White doesn't talk about football matters; that muff needed no amplification.
Reprieved, quarterback White came back with the play that turned the game inexorably toward the Cowboys, the play that left Theismann shaking his head with grudging admiration. A gamble he probably should not have taken hit the jackpot.
The Redskins flushed White from the pocket, Dave Butz giving chase as both neared the right sideline. No Cowboy seemed open; the best White could hope for was to stay alive, to get out of bounds with the ball before Butz belted him.
White got greedy. All of a sudden Pearson broke free of Redskins not far from his panic-stricken quarterback and dashed the other direction, toward vacant space in the middle of the field about 25 yards away.
Desperate and, some said the instant the ball left his hand, dumb, White threw across his body. This is near the top of a quarterback's list of sins, for lots of dreadful possibilities flash to mind. One of them occurred to Theismann.
In the first game of the season, against the Cowboys in RFK Stadium, Theismann took a similar gamble. He threw a completion, but to a Cowboy, Everson Walls.
Whatever forces lift White out of such danger took over again today, for his pass was just soft enough to lead Pearson and just hard enough for him to catch it before becoming a sandwich, crunched by Redskins front and rear. In two plays, disaster had turned into a first down.
Instead of the ball being Washington's, as it would have been if one White had made a seemingly simple catch, it was Dallas'. And 34 yards closer to an end zone because the other White made a play for the highlight films. Naturally, the Cowboys shortly scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Dallas often can be very deceptive, teasing a team into thinking it has a chance by playing just well enough to stay ahead. It's the sort of frustration that drives White to shaking his head and talking about the terrifying potential of game-long perfection.
It says here the Cowboys were going to win today, Washington or no. The Redskins showed them how, all but hanging out a sign that read: "Go left to victory."
When Dallas wanted something nice to happen it pitched the ball to Tony Dorsett or Ron Springs and sent them behind all-pro blockers toward the right side of the Washington defense.
"We didn't come into the game figuring to do what we did," one Cowboy offensive player said. "They have inexperienced ends, so we planned to run both left and right. But left went so well we just kept at it. We must have run the same play 14 or 15 times."
Buffalo has its Bermuda Triangle defense, a three-man portion of its defense so good that runners might never return to their huddle. Washington today also had a triangle of sorts on its defense, though the resemblance was more to a Bermuda onion.
"Terrible," Dexter Manley said, confessing the obvious. "Pitiful. The worst ever. Ever."
The NFL school of hard knocks? The education of a rookie?
"You ain't jivin', man."
Manley's line partner, Perry Brooks, and right linebacker Monte Coleman also were seldom seen. Neither wanted to relive the embarrassment in public.
"The second half we tried to slant that way," Petitbon said. "We had some success, too."
But doesn't that leave other parts of the defense highly vulnerable?
Yep, Petitbon admitted.
"Gotta try something, though," he said. "It's like that hole in the dike."
The Dallas flood was not as bad as it should have been. The Cowboys were relieved they had no more than a half of Joe Washington.
"We tend to freeze and try to dive at him," said linebacker D.D. Lewis, "and you can't tackle him with your arms. We were cold at the end of the first half, staying off him too much."
Washington moved gingerly toward the bus an hour after the game.
"Hurt it the same way in practice this week," he said. "After a while, the pain subsided. Today was more severe, all kinds of pain. I thought I could come back. That's why I had them strap me up (at halftime).
"I don't think it'll keep me out next week (against Buffalo). As long as my legs are okay and I can run, I'll probably play. We'll do something about it. If the pain goes down 25 percent, I'll be okay.
"Times like this, at this point of the season, everybody's hurting."