When Cowboys cornerback Jacques Reeves looked up and saw Washington Redskins wide receiver Rod Gardner make an acrobatic catch near the Dallas 20-yard line, he knocked Gardner to the ground and immediately glanced at the scoreboard in FedEx Field. Reeves liked what he saw: 3, 2, 1.

As the seconds ticked away in the Cowboys' 21-18 win over the Redskins last night, Reeves was becoming more and more relieved. The Redskins were out of timeouts, and he knew it would be impossible for them to line up and attempt a game-tying field goal. Instead, many of the Redskins players fell to their knees and appeared to be in disbelief about their squandered opportunity.

"I was very relieved," Reeves said. "After he caught the ball, my goal was just to keep him in bounds. I knew they were out of timeouts and there were only a few seconds left. Once he stayed in bounds, I knew the game was over."

The rookie from Purdue University had been thrust into action after starter Pete Hunter injured his knee during the first half. And Reeves played like a seventh-round draft choice usually plays when he's forced into a big game. With the Cowboys trying to protect a 21-10 lead during the fourth quarter, Reeves surrendered two long passes to Gardner.

Dallas, which led the NFL in total defense last season, held the Redskins' offense in check for most of the game. But with the Cowboys leading 21-10 late in the fourth quarter, Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell threw deep down the left sideline for Gardner, who beat Reeves for a 49-yard gain to the Dallas 15.

On the next play, Brunell found Gardner again, this time after the former Clemson star sneaked behind cornerback Terence Newman in the back of the end zone. Gardner's touchdown, followed by Brunell's two-point conversion pass to Taylor Jacobs, cut the Cowboys' lead to 21-18 with 41/2 minutes remaining.

Reeves "went to sleep there in the last couple of minutes of the game and got beat deep," Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells said. "Some of these young guys are going to have to grow up very quickly. That's just the way it is."

Maybe even quicker than expected. Parcells said Hunter injured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and could miss the rest of the season. Dallas's other starting cornerback is Newman, a second-year pro and former first-round draft choice from Kansas State. The only other reserves are rookies Nathan Jones and Bruce Thornton, who was inactive on Monday night.

"I think [Reeves] did a hell of a job coming in as a young guy," Cowboys safety Roy Williams said. "He didn't get his head turned around on a couple of plays, but I thought he did a hell of a job coming in for Pete."

Reeves, a sprinter on Purdue's track team who was the 223rd player selected in this year's NFL draft, does have some positive memories of his first extensive NFL action. With the Cowboys leading 7-0 after the two-minute warning of the first half, Brunell completed a 20-yard pass to Laveranues Coles, but Reeves was able to tackle him and keep him out of the end zone. The Redskins had first down and goal at the 1-yard line, but they failed to score on Brunell's sneak and on Clinton Portis's run to the right side. On third down, Cowboys linebacker Dexter Coakley tipped Brunell's pass, and the Redskins settled for John Hall's 19-yard field goal.

"Just like the good play, you've got to put the bad plays out of your mind when you're a cornerback," Reeves said.

The Cowboys, who ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense last season, allowed 384 yards to the Redskins, 148 of them coming in the final quarter. Brunell completed only 19 of 35 passes for 175 yards and he was sacked three times. Portis was held to 78 rushing yards on 20 attempts, with his longest run being 13 yards.

The Redskins' Rod Gardner catches a 46-yard pass, but Jacques Reeves (35) and Roy Williams prevent him from getting out of bounds. End of game.