Jay Schroeder threw a pass 70 yards yesterday, and darned if little Gary Clark didn't almost run under it. Clark -- who almost always dirties up his play clothes -- dived for it and just missed by an inch or two or three.

The point is, Clark is faster than he thinks. After the 24-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, he called his legs "old" and said he runs a 4.9 second 40-yard dash. But judging from the 70-yard dash he ran yesterday, he must be mistaken.

Clark, whose legs are only 25 years old, is one of these guys who makes mountains out of molehills. After a loss in Philadelphia this year -- a game in which he played hurt and played well -- he decided to take it out on a locker room wall, hurling helmet against concrete. "We lost to the Eagles!" he droned. "We lost to the Eagles!"

Obviously, this is why CBS-TV broadcaster John Madden adores him. Madden likes guys who play on one leg, who dive for balls over the middle, who refuse to tuck in their shirt, who get filthy and who get violently upset when they mess up. That about describes Gary Clark.

Yesterday, while injured Art Monk wore a sweat suit and baseball cap on the sidelines, Clark caught nine passes for 187 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. One year removed from the Pro Bowl, about the most praise he gave himself was: "I'm where I want to be as a receiver," but he also harped on his fumble in the third quarter that led to a Dallas touchdown.

He could hardly be blamed for that one, because it happened as he tried to make a move he's made work a million times. Clark caught the ball near the left sideline, his back to defender Ron Francis, and did his patented reverse spin move to escape. This same move beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime last year, but this time Francis poked his finger in there and the ball popped loose.

Clark, smiling, said Monk told him to do a better job of holding on next time. But, actually, he said Monk has inspired him, lecturing him on what to do against double coverage, on what to do when a defender bumps you on the line, and so on.

"{Monk} didn't have to teach me," Clark said. "I owe a lot to the guy."

In a way, yesterday was Clark's coming of age, the first time he's ever had to play without Monk. Usually, it's Monk who draws double coverage, but Clark expected to draw the crowd this time.

Instead, the Cowboys crowded the line of scrimmage -- sometimes with eight men -- in an all-out attempt to ruin running back George Rogers. What this did was isolate Clark with cornerbacks Everson Walls or Francis. On the 56-yard touchdown, he ran right by Walls, who for some reason glanced back at Schroeder and then found himself staring at Clark's back.

"Geez, a 4.9 {second} guy {running by Walls}?" Clark mused later. "But, really, Jay did a great job of looking the guy off. He caught Everson back-pedaling."

Walls explained: "Well, it was a blown coverage on my part. I was supposed to be the deep man in a three-deep coverage and didn't realize it. I thought I had help."

Assistant Coach Dan Henning, who watched from the press box, claimed none of the Dallas cornerbacks had much help. Cowboys Coach Tom Landry wanted to stop Rogers.

"What Tom tried to do was come out and stop the run," Henning said. "And he did it. But in doing it, you have to get eight or nine guys up on the line of scrimmage, and that leaves the middle of the field open and gives you man-to-man coverage on the outside guys . . . You're putting the game in the hands of the cover guys. And, on our side, we're putting it in the hands of our receivers and our quarterback."

According to Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins also gave Clark a lot of routes over the middle, patterns that running back Kelvin Bryant, who played only briefly because of an injury, normally runs.

Clark's preference for sliding and using his body to catch the ball seem to make him ideally suited for the job, because he can avoid defensive backs' clean, hard hits. And Clark seems to relish the danger.

"I like doing it -- well, nobody likes going across the middle in the NFL -- but I like that role now, basically because it's my trademark," he said. "People think I'll go across the middle and that I'm a gutsy little guy that does it."

Madden already has threatened to put Alvin Walton ("The best strong safety in the game right now," he said on yesterday's broadcast) and defensive end Charles Mann on his prestigious All-Madden team, and it appears Clark is another nominee. Apparently, it's the dirty uniform that clinches it.

"{Clark} looks like an offensive lineman in a wide receiver's body," Madden said on the air yesterday. "His shirttail's out . . . He looks like a guard out there."