It began with quarterback Troy Aikman imploring his teammates in the huddle to waste as little time as possible between plays and telling them it was still possible to win, even if they were 21 points behind going into the fourth quarter.

It ended with a play called "double dive" on third and two from Dallas's 24 yard line 4 minutes 9 seconds into overtime. It called for a fake handoff to running back Emmitt Smith, then a deep pass to wide receiver Rocket Ismail.

When the Redskins defensive backs went for the fake, Ismail streaked down the field, and Aikman got him the ball in full stride. The resulting 76-yard touchdown gave the Cowboys a dramatic 41-35 victory in the season opener for both teams and completed yet another classic contest in what has become one of the sport's most storied rivalries.

At the time, the Cowboys' spirits were soaring as they flew back to Dallas. The Redskins were a devastated team wondering what had gone wrong and how they would be able to fix it.

Six weeks later, the teams' situations are reversed. The Redskins have won four straight with the NFL's No. 1 offense. The Cowboys are reeling after back-to-back losses to the woeful Eagles and mostly average Giants coming in to Sunday's game here at Texas Stadium.

The Cowboys' offense, so efficient in the last quarter and overtime against the Redskins, has scored only two touchdowns in the last nine quarters. Players and coaches can't pick up a newspaper or turn a radio or TV on without hearing themselves lambasted for their recent performances. Second-year head coach Chan Gailey has been criticized for unimaginative play-calling.

Of course no one was complaining about Gailey or the Cowboys following Week 1, not after Aikman had rallied his team from a 35-14 deficit with 1:04 remaining in the third quarter to a 35-all tie with 1:46 left in the fourth. The Redskins had one last chance to win in regulation until holder Matt Turk mishandled a center snap from his brother Dan, aborting a potential game-winning 40-yard field goal attempt by Brett Conway with three seconds remaining.

Most Cowboys credit Aikman for getting them out of that deep hole with his calm in the huddle and his execution once the ball was snapped. Aikman, in turn, said Gailey called all the right plays at the right times during the best 15 minutes of football his offense has played all year.

"The most important thing we did when we were behind by 21 was go down the field and score quickly," Aikman said today. "I didn't think [the Redskins] were too concerned at the time. But I felt if we could get something going right away, we still might have a chance."

The Cowboys' offense had struggled in the third quarter, with Champ Bailey picking off a pass to stop their first drive and Aikman missing on five of his next six passes on two drives that ended in three plays and a punt. At that point, a decision was made on the Dallas sideline to go back to basics and try to run the ball.

The Cowboys' comeback began rather modestly when they got the ball at their 30 with 1:04 left in the third and handed it to running back Chris Warren for a two-yard gain up the middle. With the Redskins looking to defend against the big play, the Cowboys nickel-and-dimed them with eight straight runs, most between the tackles, by Warren and Smith.

The Cowboys needed 5:21 to get into the end zone in 11 plays, with Aikman throwing only two passes on the 70-yard drive before Smith went around left end for a one-yard score to cut Washington's lead to 35-21 with 10:43 to play.

"When that happened, we basically felt like we were right back in it," said fullback Daryl Johnston, who missed most of the series after jamming his neck but returned later in the quarter. "Before that, you had to wonder. What we do best on offense was not really conducive to coming back like that. But no one panicked.

"We wanted to go back to using our standard personnel, with two tight ends and a lot of play action. We started running well, and that allowed us to throw off similar play action. But the biggest thing was the sense of urgency everyone had. Troy went into the huddle and said, 'We can do this, but we have to save every second we could.' People talk away about [John] Elway and [Dan] Marino being comeback quarterbacks. Troy's in the same class."

The Cowboys got a huge break after Smith's touchdown when the Redskins' kickoff team fell asleep, even while their coaches were telling them to watch for an onside kick. Apparently no one was listening, and Cowboys rookie Dat Nguyen recovered at the Dallas 41.

Still, the Redskins defense did its part on the Cowboys' next series, forcing Dallas into an incomplete pass on fourth and 13 at the Washington 28 with 7:57 left to play. But the Redskins' previously high-powered offense suddenly went a touch conservative with two running plays and an incomplete pass to Larry Centers to force a punt.

The rest, as they say, would be history. With 6:15 left and the Redskins still in a mostly prevent defense, Aikman continued to use the running game to set up a 37-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin. Three runs in four plays preceded the scoring throw, and suddenly, with 3:51 left, the Cowboys were within seven.

The Redskins made a quick first down on Brad Johnson's 14-yard pass to Michael Westbrook, but the Dallas defense made one last stand, forcing a punt four plays later.

"We just calmed down and stopped making mistakes," Cowboys safety George Teague said. "Everything that happened to us before was miscommunication. We were confused by all the shifting and motion they used. We were missing our starting corners, and they had us back on our heels. Then we just started to play."

On the game-tying drive, the Cowboys moved 90 yards in 10 plays and 75 seconds, aided by three offside calls against the Redskins. The drive culminated with a 12-yard pass from Aikman to Irvin with 1:46 to play.

When the Redskins, who won the overtime toss, couldn't get past the Dallas 45 on their first possession, "We felt like there was no way we weren't going to win this thing," Johnston said. "We were saying, 'We've come this far, let's not let it slip through our fingers now.' "

Five plays into the series, on third and two from their 24, the "double dive" call came to the huddle over Aikman's helmet audio receiver.

"You show the back flowing one way to the weakside, and then Emmitt cuts back to the strong side," Johnston said. "We used it earlier in the game and just missed it. Now we're deep in our own end, and they can't be thinking about a pass. I guess [the Redskins'] thought process was taken out of it. They were expecting run all the way.

"Chan called the play, they bit on it, and it's over. It's funny, a lot of people here actually criticized him for the call because if it missed, they'd have pretty good field position. How anyone could question that, I'll never know.

"You know Troy is going to make a perfect throw. He does, and we steal one."