Last Friday, when Cowboy Coach Jimmy Johnson spoke to his reeling team at practice, he pulled 6'5", 285-pound John Gesek out of the pack of players. "If you're going to fight a big gorilla," he told his guys, motioning at Gesek standing next to him, "and you can't run away, you don't just barely hit him. You hit him as hard as you can hit anything. That's what we're going to do Sunday. We're going to go after 'em with everything we've got."
And so 6-5 Dallas went into Washington on Sunday to play the 11-0 Redskins and unloaded. The Cowboys went for it four times on fourth down, blitzed Washington quarterback Mark Rypien about twice as often as they normally would, tried an onside kick, gave eight zealous rookies significant playing time, threw in Pro Bowl cornerback Darrell Green's direction all day and went for a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half instead of getting in position to kick a very makable field goal. After 48 minutes, Dallas had outgained the Redskins 357 yards to 107 and outscored them 21-7.
Dallas (7-5) wound up winning 24-21 to keep from falling behind in the crowded race for three NFC wild-card spots. In the process, it killed the Redskins' shot at going undefeated. "We shut up the world," Cowboy rookie defensive tackle Russell Maryland said.
Back home in Dallas on Sunday night, Johnson said he had drawn up a risk-taking game plan to use against Washington because he thought it was the only way his team could win. "You've got to understand where we were," he said. "We were coming off a horribly disappointing loss in Houston and a very controversial loss in New York, and two of our key guys, [tackle] Nate Newton and [tight end] Jay Novacek, were hurt, and we were going up against probably the best team in professional football, at their place. Our only chance to win was to throw everything at 'em."
December 2, 1991
Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman threw deep on the first play of the game—a 39-yard completion to the Washington 24. The first fourth-down gamble worked, setting up a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter. At the end of the first half, daring Dallas eschewed a field goal attempt from the Washington 34 to go for a TD with 13 seconds left, even though Aikman had been intercepted on six previous Hail Mary throws in his Dallas career. This time he found rookie Alvin Harper, a former SEC high-jump champ, skying above the Washington defense in the end zone. The Cowboys led 14-7 and never trailed thereafter.
Dallas even got a terrific performance from backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein (7-for-12 passing for 109 yards) after Aikman went down with a torn collateral ligament in his right knee early in the third quarter. It was as big a win as any team has had in the NFL this year, but Johnson was already thinking beyond it as he relaxed Sunday night. "It's big," he said, "but not as big as ones we're going to have around here in the future."
The loss didn't deflate Washington's confidence much—not even Green's, who was beaten nine times by Michael Irvin for 130 yards. "I've been around the game long enough to know I'm not going to win every time," Green said. "There's going to be days like this."