What more could you ask of the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys? Yesterday, they fought, clawed, kicked and were so nasty that a helmet even was yanked off a player's head. A big Washington lead all but evaporated into the chilly air at RFK Stadium; a late Dallas comeback fell short due to a controversial mix of a questionable coaching decision, an unusual non-measurement that infuriated Tom Landry, several penalties and an instant replay review.

The Redskins won a game that meant next to nothing, 24-20, but it left opposing players pointing fingers at one another, spitting fire and complaining well into the night. Isn't that what this rivalry is all about?

The Redskins (10-3) officially knocked the Cowboys (5-8) out of the playoff race for the second year in a row. For the first time since 1963-64, the Cowboys will have consecutive losing seasons. The NFC Eastern Division champion Redskins, on the other hand, are still hoping to gain home field for the playoffs.

All the bizarre happenings on the field nearly overshadowed a fine day by Washington wide receiver Gary Clark, who caught nine passes for 187 yards and one touchdown, a 56-yard bomb for a 17-3 lead late in the first half. It was his third consecutive 100-yard game and proved he can amply make up for injured Art Monk on possession-pass plays as well as on the long stuff.

Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder had his best first half of the season, completing nine of 15 passes for 183 yards. After the game, he had a bandage wrapped around his right shoulder, the shoulder he sprained in the first game of the season. But he said it was "just sore and tired" and he was not listed on the team's postgame injury report.

So who can figure these Redskins? The darlings of the fourth quarter much of this season, they disappeared in the final 1 1/2 quarters in front of 54,882 spectators, allowing Dallas to score 17 straight points.

"It's one of those wins you're not sure what to say, but you're sure happy you won the game," said Coach Joe Gibbs, who beat Landry a third straight time.

Landry was sure about what he wanted to say. He was angry, furious especially that the officials did not measure for a first down when, on third and inches at the Washington 35 with 2:23 to go, Redskins running back George Rogers moved just slightly forward over the right side of his line. The officials signaled first down without measuring, the clock rolled toward the two-minute warning and the Redskins never had to relinquish the ball.

Apparently, no one along the Dallas sideline asked for a measurement at the time, but, at the two-minute warning, Landry was screaming. He said the officials told him it was too late to complain; Landry said that was a perfect time.

"It's just amazing that you don't measure it," Landry said. "Whether I asked for it or not. That's just foolishness. The whole game was right there. Who knows if the guy painted that white line out there on the field just right."

Landry isn't totally correct on one point. That alone was not the game. Three plays later, his team had stopped the Redskins for an apparent fourth down with 1:35 to play, but strong safety Bill Bates jumped on top of Rogers too late and was called for a personal foul that gave Washington a first down. That was the game.

The fates were not kind to the Cowboys -- particularly veteran quarterback Danny White -- in that fourth quarter. There were three crazy moments:

No. 1: With 13:14 to play, down 24-13, the Cowboys chose to try for a first down on fourth and four at the Redskins 20. White threw toward big tight end Doug Cosbie, incomplete. A 37-yard field goal (exactly the distance of Roger Ruzek's last kick in the third quarter) would have put Dallas only one point behind late in the game and a field goal from victory.

No. 2: Landry, like Gibbs, is a fan of the instant replay. But it tried his patience yesterday. For nearly four minutes, replay official Chuck Heberling mulled whether Redskins cornerback Barry Wilburn intercepted a pass with 7:45 left, or whether it was a long incompletion, as the play originally was called. Finally, Heberling ruled in favor of Wilburn, ending another Cowboys possession. "I had to do a little politicking," said Wilburn, who leads the team with seven interceptions. "I told the {field} official the ground caused the ball to come loose and no one hit me."

No. 3: White led the Cowboys 76 yards in nine plays to the only touchdown of the fourth quarter, a five-yard pass to Rod Barksdale with 2:49 to go. It was the first fourth-quarter touchdown given up by the Redskins in five weeks. But no sooner had he thrown the pass than he was on his back, being pummeled by several Redskins.

The bench-emptying brawl began when rookie Cowboys tackle Daryle Smith and Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley were tussling along the line. Manley ended up yanking off Smith's helmet and carrying it around in one hand. Dallas' Kevin Gogan, another rookie tackle, tried to help Smith and jumped in. Washington middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz then flew in from the side and nailed Gogan. White grabbed Olkewicz. Olkewicz charged into White. Pretty soon, several other Redskins went after White.

"It was all Olkewicz's fault," White said. "There's no place for that on the football field. It was a cheap shot." Said Olkewicz: "I just went in to knock him off and all hell broke loose."

Washington's first touchdown was set up by Herschel Walker's fumble at the Dallas 25. Schroeder immediately threw to Clark, who tiptoed close to the goal line but was ruled down at the 1. It took Rogers two tries, but Washington led, 7-0, less than five minutes into the game. That was the first of two Rogers touchdowns, both one yard long.

Ruzek kicked a 22-yard field goal on the Cowboys' next possession. Their drive was aided by the eagerness of defensive end Charles Mann, who gave away a first down with two five-yard encroachment penalties in three snaps.

Gibbs blamed something called "hard counts," the quarterback's change of voice inflection and cadence. Mann said Gogan, his man, was moving ever so slightly. "Any time I see him move anything, I took off," Mann said.

Defensive tackle Dave Butz and Manley later were called for encroachments. But Mann made up for it with two sacks to retake the team lead from Manley, 8 to 7 1/2.

The Redskins moved ahead, 17-3, at halftime on Ali Haji-Sheikh's 31-yard field goal and Clark's touchdown. Rogers added his second touchdown early in the third quarter for the Redskins' final points, but it was clear they were having trouble running the ball. Rogers gained 64 yards on 27 carries and managed a long gain of nine. He said he was disappointed. He wanted to do more. But the Redskins seem unable to break a long run this season.

The Cowboys began their run when Clark fumbled after a reception at the Washington 28 late in the third quarter. White hit wide receiver Mike Renfro for a 25-yard touchdown and there were more than 18 minutes remaining -- and the crazy fourth quarter lurking.