Dallas Cowboys Coach Chan Gailey said today he did not know that cornerback Deion Sanders had not been medically cleared to play in the second half until after Sanders returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown with 9 minutes 3 seconds left in Sunday's 38-20 Dallas victory.

Sanders suffered a mild concussion in the first quarter on a punt return when he was hit helmet-to-helmet by Redskins long snapper Dan Turk and was taken to the locker room for treatment. He played virtually the entire second half after leaving the locker room with about 12 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter and dashing to his normal position on the field.

Asked about the wisdom of allowing a player with a concussion to play at all, Gailey said: "First of all, I didn't know. I thought he'd been cleared. Guys don't just run back on the field. I assumed and, wrongly so, he had been cleared.

"An awful lot of the responsibility is on the player, the doctors and the training staff. I understand the physicalness of this game, how hard it is to play and how many tough licks they can take. But I didn't find out until after the punt return.

"That's when they said he shouldn't have been out there. After the next punt return, I said, 'Come on off.' He did, reluctantly. I'm always going to be cautious, but at the same time, I'll allow guys to play if they're well enough. People are the best judge of their own bodies. I'll never force a guy to play. If a guy says he can play, I'm not going to keep him out, for the most part. We know what we can and we can't do."

Gailey said he was told during the second quarter that Sanders would not return and acknowledged during a news conference today that he had never seen a player put himself into a game that way, especially someone with a concussion.

"It was obvious from the way he played he loves a great challenge," Gailey said. "He loves to have a big impact on the game and wants to help us win any way possible, and that was not just yesterday.

"What it does is set a precedent, an example, a precedent, a tempo. It lets [other players] see the importance of where we are and what we're doing. We have to create that sense of importance every week."

The Cowboys, 4-2 and tied with the Redskins for first place in the NFC East, now face a tough six-game run with games at Indianapolis and Minnesota the next two weeks, a home game against the Packers, a date at Arizona, a home game on Thanksgiving Day against Miami and a Dec. 5 game at New England.

Gailey insisted today that he does not even look at the schedule because "I've never gained anything by doing that. All that matters is what happens next week. If you say to yourself, 'Boy, the last two [of the next six games] are really gonna be tough to win,' if you lose the next four it won't matter. You're better off focusing on this game. Every second you spend thinking about the fourth game means a second I'm not thinking about this game."

Gailey was asked whether comments by Redskins wide receivers Albert Connell and Michael Westbrook during the week had an effect on the Cowboys.

"You can't ever separate whether we played well because 30 percent was in response to what they said and 40 percent to the way we played or 30 percent something else. You just add it up and take the sum total. But, hey, we'll take all the help we can get."