A team still walking on edge of disaster

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The game ended with Bill Parcells flinging his headset to the ground and Joe Gibbs looking like he needed a blood transfusion. The Cowboys had it won … and then lost it. The Redskins had it lost … and then won it. Just another week in the NFC East, folks.

How do you even explain what happened yesterday in the last few seconds at FedEx Field, the series of events that turned a killer 22-19 defeat for the Snydermen into a life-giving 22-19 victory? It was improbable enough that Mike Vanderjagt, who once went an entire season without missing a kick, had a chip-shot field goal try blocked — and almost unbelievable that Sean Taylor scooped up the loose ball and weaved 30 yards, Barry Sanders-like, to the Dallas 44.

“But after all that,” Brandon Lloyd mused, “how does a penalty come into play that gives us a chance at the winning field goal?”

How, indeed. But it did. One of the Cowboys was spotted grabbing a face mask, the ball was moved 15 yards closer to the Dallas goal posts and, with time expired, Nick Novak booted it through from 47 yards for the win. This is the same Nick Novak, mind you, who had been wide from almost the same distance just 31 seconds earlier.

Novak got a second chance, and now the Redskins have one. But it’s only that — a chance. Consider: If it weren’t for (a.) yesterday’s freaky finish and (b.) the Bucs beating the Eagles on a 62-yard field goal a few weeks back, the Redskins would be at least three games behind everybody else in the division (and, in all probability, warming up Jason Campbell in the bullpen). That’s how close they are to Total Oblivion.

But, hey, anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? That’s certainly how the Redskins are looking at it.

“If you look back [two months from now] on what the defining point of our season was, it could be this game,” Renaldo Wynn said. “I hope it is.”

To which Jon Jansen added, “I think it’ll pull us together because we know [now] everybody [in the locker room] is going to fight to the end.”

For most of the afternoon, the game looked like anything but the defining point of the Redskins’ season — the last straw, perhaps, but not the defining point. Despite a two-week respite to recover from a 2-5 start, they looked in many ways like the same team as before. They got stuffed on the goal line in their first series, came way with only three points the next time they visited the red zone and had all kinds of trouble stopping Dallas on third down.

Then they came out in the third quarter and, as has been their custom, let the Cowboys drive for a touchdown that put them ahead 19-12. And to think, said Gibbs, “We made a special effort to want to play great in the third quarter.”

It could have been worse, too. Later in the quarter, Terrell Owens got behind the Washington secondary, and Tony Romo hit him in stride for what should have been a 74-yard TD. But T.O., who had 76 yards in receptions and about 85 yards in drops, must have had another of his Narcoleptic Moments because the ball bounced off his hands. Had he hung onto it, that might have been the defining point of the Redskins’ season, in as much as they’ve been burned by the bomb all year long.

Finally, with his offense still spinning its wheels in the fourth quarter, Coach Joe changed quarterbacks — for a play, anyway. On first down at Washington 32, Mark Brunell handed off to Antwaan Randle El, and the former college QB heaved a long pass in the direction of Lloyd. A 48-yard interference penalty on Cowboys safety Roy Williams resulted, and soon enough Brunell was finding Chris Cooley in the corner of the end zone for the tying TD.

The ball came dangerously close to being intercepted, though. In fact, it actually deflected off the hands of Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry. That’s why it’s hard to get too excited about this Redskins win. Yes, they made a miraculous comeback at the end, and yes, they persevered without their top playmaker, Santana Moss; but they were dancing on the edge of disaster all day.

It can hardly be said that the Redskins “made a statement,” not with Novak missing the 49-yarder in the final minute and the defense then allowing Dallas to march down to the Washington 17. What the Redskins did was survive, live to play another day. But if they really want to salvage something of this season, they can’t continue to depend on dropped touchdown passes and 62-yard field goals. They’re going to have to do a little more of the work themselves.

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