At 30 years old and with eight years of NFL wear and tear on his knees and ankles, Mike Renfro is not supposed to be the Dallas Cowboys' deep receiving threat.

He's supposed to be the down-and-out, get-you-seven-yards type of receiver. Third and six? Look for Renfro at the sideline.

But every now and then, he will surprise everybody with a quick step and some speed, and Washington rookie cornerback Barry Wilburn became his latest victim tonight.

With Dallas leading by only 10-7 with time running out in the first half, Renfro put a move on Wilburn that caught the young cornerback flatfooted. Faking to the outside, Renfro drew Wilburn to the sideline, then raced past him with a clear shot at the end zone.

Danny White lofted the ball in Renfro's direction, and the result was a 55-yard touchdown play that put the Cowboys ahead, 17-7, with only six seconds left in the half and, more important, kept momentum in Dallas' corner.

"There's no question that was a very big play," acknowledged an excited White after Dallas' 44-14 victory. "Renfro just made a great move to the outside and got away from the defender. It was a big shot in the arm for us."

"I don't know how big it was," Renfro said. "All I know is that it was seven points more than we had before. We would have gone into the half ahead by a field goal but we went in ahead by 10. I'd say it had to help."

Renfro said the play was designed to be run against third-year cornerback Darrell Green, known for having great speed but a risky nature in his coverages.

"Everybody knows their secondary likes to take gambles," Renfro said. "We set that play up the entire half, and we couldn't have run it at a better time. He got (Wilburn) to bite on the fake and I was just able to scamper in. Usually on a play like that, the safety (Raphel Cherry) will provide deep help. But he never appeared in the play."

"It was the biggest mistake I could have made, jumping out like that," Wilburn said. "It was due to his experience and my lack of experience. I should have seen it coming."

The reception was Renfro's fourth of the first half (for 80 yards), and the 10th completion in 18 attempts for White at the time. Although Renfro caught only one pass in the second half, he made it an important one.

Having watched Everson Walls get one of the Cowboys' six interceptions, the Cowboys set up shop at the Redskins' 44 on their second possession of the third quarter.

On first down, White again lofted the ball for Renfro, and he outjumped Green for the 19-yard gain at the Redskins' 25. Four plays later, Rafael Septien kicked a 39-yarder for a 20-7 Dallas lead and set the tempo for the second half.

"I can't tell you how important scoring that field goal was," White said. "We all remember last year, when we led (21-6) at halftime and blew it in the third quarter. We were determined not to let that happen again. By getting that field goal, we knew we were on our way."

Thanks to the performance of the defense, stealing six turnovers from the Redskins in the second half, the offense's job was basically done for the night.

But even so, said running back Tony Dorsett, the offense felt it had accomplished its goals.

"Everybody had this offense written off, so we had a lot to prove to people out there tonight," he said. "I couldn't believe the way Coach (Tom) Landry opened the offense up. If he keeps calling plays like that all season, I think we're in for some big times. We can't help but get better.

"We really wanted to rub this in a lot of people's faces. To many people, I'm sure this was a surprise. But this is just the first surprise. There's more of them to come."