-- Even after Filip Filipovic's punt boomed 43 yards, trickling to a stop near the end zone and trapping the Washington Redskins at their 3-yard line, Coach Steve Spurrier's team appeared quite capable of ending its enigmatic losing streak against the Dallas Cowboys.
At that moment, the Redskins led 20-10 in the third quarter against one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL. Quarterback Danny Wuerffel had recovered from a terrible first half and appeared to have stabilized the offense.
But three plays later, Wuerffel threw a pass that changed everything. Kenny Watson had circled out of the backfield on a short pattern and Wuerffel threw what appeared to be a safe pass. But the ball bounced out of Watson's hands into the waiting arms of safety Roy Williams, who easily returned the interception five yards for a touchdown, swinging the momentum toward the Cowboys.
The Redskins have had their share of misfortune in losing 10 straight times to a Dallas franchise that has gone 32-48 during the streak. And today, there were several pivotal plays that doomed the Redskins. But perhaps no play was as critical as Williams's interception during the Cowboys' 27-20 victory.
"It changed the momentum of the game," said Watson, as he slowly changed clothes in the visitors' locker room after the game. "We pretty much had it. It was 20-10 at that time. We still had our chances but that was the big play."
Wide receiver Rod Gardner said: "That put points on the board and closed the gap between us. At the end, it put our backs against the wall. And we couldn't get it done."
The Redskins started at their 3-yard line on first and 10. The Cowboys, who entered the game allowing an average of only 3.7 yards per rush, expected the ball to go to Stephen Davis. It did, and the Cowboys responded by group-tackling Davis in the backfield, sending him back for a two-yard loss.
On second and 12, Wuerffel rolled right and had a clear path for a few yards. But the quarterback tried to throw for a first down, and his pass sailed wildly out of bounds with no receiver near it.
"We had them on their heels a little bit," Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley said, "especially when we're down by our tunnel. They couldn't hear because we couldn't hear. When we got them down there, we could feel the momentum shift our way."
At that point, the Redskins merely wanted to create some extra room for a punt by place kicker James Tuthill, the emergency replacement for Bryan Barker, who broke his nose in the first half.
"That was a play that we figured we had to throw out of there," Spurrier said. "It was just a little delay under against the two deep and it went right through his [Watson's] hands. It was unfortunate."
The ball bounced off the tailback's hands and glanced off his chest. Williams caught the serendipitous bounce and went into the end zone.
"I'm happy I made that play," Williams said. "I was in the right place at the right time. We scored, and it turned the game around."
Spectators cheered wildly as the Redskins' offensive unit glumly walked off the field. One Cowboys fan waved a placard that read: "Ten in a row. Welcome Stevie."
"I think the crowd really got in the game," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "The [Cowboys] gained a lot of momentum. I can't point out one play. It was a lot of plays."
Said Spurrier: "That [interception] was a big play, but I don't know if that was the deciding one."
Watson had no doubts, however, when asked if his gaffe was the most critical.
"It came at a bad time," Watson said. "You just can't give up points like that, especially in a close game."
Watson is considered an excellent receiver for a running back. He joined Penn State in 1997 after being recruited as a running back. But the Nittany Lions had so much talent at the position that most of Watson's opportunities for Coach Joe Paterno came at wide receiver. During Watson's senior season, he finished with 15 catches for 275 yards.
Those numbers were meaningless in the third quarter today as Watson trudged off the field, head down, fans cheering.
"Those are the kind of plays that win games," Smoot said. "They made them; we didn't."
Special correspondent Gene Wang contributed to this report.