With his team up by 20 points in the third quarter and Rex Grossman doing a lousy job as Washington’s new starting quarterback, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones let out a sigh of relief. He figured the game was “tucked away ... a cakewalk.”
Apparently, he forgot how lousy his defense is.
Grossman and the Redskins rallied to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, leaving Jones gasping for air. Then, David Buehler put Dallas back ahead with a 39-yard field goal with 50 seconds left and the defense finally came through with a crucial stop, pulling out a 33-30 victory Sunday.
“I’d take an ugly win over a hard-fought loss any day,” said cornerback Terence Newman, whose interception and weaving return drained the clock at game’s end.
Dallas led 13-0 before Grossman had crossed midfield. Washington coach Mike Shanahan’s benching of Donovan McNabb looked even worse when Grossman fumbled early in third quarter and the Cowboys turned it into a touchdown that stretched their lead to 27-7.
They could’ve been up even more, but had only field goals to show for drives that reached the 20 and 2, and didn’t have anything to show for drives that reached the 1 and 18.
Still, the way the game was going, what could go wrong?
Well, Shanahan figured out a few things, and so did Grossman. He led the Redskins to touchdowns on three straight drives over the third and fourth quarters, getting 2-point conversions on the last two. Mike Sellers danced with joy after catching a lob that tied the game at 30 with 7:37 left.
Santana Moss caught two of Grossman’s touchdown throws and might’ve had a third in the closing minutes. The cornerback covering him fell and there was only a safety to beat when a ball hit Moss in stride around midfield – but he dropped it. The Redskins punted and the Cowboys answered with the winning drive.
It went only 31 yards over seven plays, but drained plenty of time and set up Buehler’s final kick. It made up for a missed 35-yarder and provided a bit of revenge for a loss to Washington in the opener that sent the Cowboys’ season spiraling down the drain.
“I’m just happy I got that opportunity,” said Buehler, who’s had the winning kick in Dallas’ last two victories.
The Cowboys improved to 4-2 under interim coach Jason Garrett, guaranteeing no worse than a break-even finish for his tenure. They also have a chance to avoid finishing last in the NFC East. Dallas and Washington are both 5-9 and tied for third.
Garrett might even have Tony Romo back from a broken collarbone for the final two games. He could be cleared to return Christmas night in Arizona, although Jones wasn’t optimistic after seeing him throw before this game.
“Frankly, he’s still having sensitivity there,” Jones said. “We’re a little behind where I thought we would be on how healthy he is. ... He’s not ready to play. That doesn’t mean he might not get out there, throw and practice, but he’s not ready.”
Fill-in quarterback Jon Kitna was 25 of 37 for 305 yards with two touchdowns, so he’s obviously not holding Dallas back. Ten of the receptions went to tight end Jason Whitten who passed the 600-reception career mark, becoming only fourth tight end in NFL history to do that.
It’s a defense that has allowed at least 30 points for four straight games, the club’s worst streak since doing it five in a row while going 1-15 in 1989.
Maybe that’s why Shanahan figured this was the perfect time to turn to Grossman.
Making his first start since November 2008, Grossman was 25 of 43 for 322 yards and tied his career high with four touchdowns. He threw two interceptions and was sacked five times.
“I didn’t have jitters, but it took a while to get into the flow of the game,” Grossman said. “Maybe we started our run a tad too late.”
McNabb watched from the sideline in a black Redskins hat, arms crossed or grasped behind his back. He stood mostly by himself and by the third quarter had to be wondering how low his stock had fallen for Grossman to be considered better than him.
Grossman’s first series ended with a pair of incompletions. His second ended on an interception thrown to an area lacking any Redskins. He was sacked for an 8-yard loss on the third series. Later, he threw a pass so off target that Garrett caught it. Then came what could’ve been the game’s deciding play – third down on the opening drive of the second half, Grossman bumped into left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, making him a sitting duck for DeMarcus Ware to sack him and knock the ball loose. Dallas recovered and got the touchdown that made it 27-7.