- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

The Washington Redskins kept competing in the noncompetitive portion of their schedule yesterday, closing out coach Steve Spurrier's first season with a meaningless but satisfying win over the hated Dallas Cowboys.
Three weeks after the Redskins' playoff hopes officially ended, they accomplished their second-biggest goal by snapping a 10-game losing streak to their archrivals. Washington dominated defensively but had to overcome several quirky miscues the kind that often have meant losing in this recent lopsided series to win 20-14 before 84,142 at FedEx Field.
The victory provided a nice cap to the brilliant 20-year career of cornerback Darrell Green, who joined the Ring of Fame in an emotional pregame ceremony. But winning two straight to finish 7-9 ultimately left players hungry for 2003 and beyond.
"I told guys that's the feeling we have to remember," linebacker LaVar Arrington said. "As excited and elated as we were to win this game, that's the feeling we have to remember and continue to build on, so it can be winning a Super Bowl. It's not [about] just winning and it's against Dallas for a pride thing; it's [about] winning a Super Bowl and there's confetti coming down."
Obviously, colored paper wasn't falling from the sky as rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey took a knee to run out the final seconds, but the Redskins did avoid some dubious distinctions heading into what could be their first offseason of continuity since owner Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999.
As players look forward to having the same coaching staff (minus perhaps defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who could land an NFL head-coaching job) and the same foundation of personnel, they can take pleasure in the fact that the league's longest winning streak between two teams is over and that Spurrier didn't go winless in the NFC East.
"Now we don't go into next year saying, 'If we don't do anything else, we have to beat Dallas,'" cornerback Fred Smoot said. "We're going to go into next year trying to beat the rest of the league."
Washington, as it had done before without beating the Cowboys, dominated much of the game. The Redskins gained nearly twice as many yards (352) as Dallas (186), which closed out a third straight 5-11 season under lame-duck coach Dave Campo.
But Washington committed five turnovers (all deep in Cowboys territory), had two apparent touchdowns taken away and gave up a 46-yard scoring pass to Antonio Bryant with 3:10 remaining. The Redskins might have been in trouble if not for a 7-yard run by Kenny Watson on third-and-6 at the two-minute warning, which allowed them to run out the clock.
"It should never have come down to that," said Spurrier, who seemed far less excited about the win than the bulk of his players. "I'll get my enthusiasm up in a little bit, but it's hard for me to watch everything that happened out there."
Bryant (seven catches, 170 yards) was the only Cowboy to do anything on offense. Dallas' other touchdown came on an 85-yard interception return by safety Roy Williams (the same Roy Williams who scored on a pick in this season's first meeting). The Cowboys' offensive players not named Bryant netted just 16 yards.
Washington's defensive performance was its second-best of the season, 20 yards shy of what it did to the Texans a week earlier. The previous effort boosted the Redskins to No.6 in the NFL's total defense rankings, and yesterday's secured their place among the league's elite units.
The Cowboys had posted four straight 200-yard rushing efforts against Washington, thanks mostly to star Emmitt Smith, who was averaging 105.5 yards in the series. But Smith's 18 carries went for just 13 yards yesterday as Dallas finished with 38, by far its lowest ground total this season.
"It just shows that when everybody's on the same page, everybody's jelling, the sky's the limit [for this defense]," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "We can be as dominating as we want to be. It took awhile. There were some growing pains. But I wouldn't trade it in. I think we needed those growing pains. I think it's going to carry on into next year."
Washington's defense also scored a touchdown, when Arrington pounced on a fumble caused by Bruce Smith's ninth sack of the season (which moved Smith within three of Reggie White's all-time NFL record of 198). That score gave Washington a 14-7 lead midway through the third quarter, after Williams' interception return stunningly tied the game with 42 seconds left in the first half.
A nice punt return by Champ Bailey then sparked a drive for a field goal late in the third quarter, and a 27-yard run by Ladell Betts (17 carries, 98 yards) set up another field goal midway through the fourth.
Between those scores fullback Bryan Johnson appeared to run in for a touchdown on a fumbled kickoff return by Dallas, but a penalty on Washington's defense for running onto the field while the ball was in play nullified the touchdown and the turnover. It was the second time an apparent Redskins' touchdown was called back. Betts fumbled just before he crossed the goal line in the second quarter.
But the Redskins won in spite of those setbacks and Bryant's late score. Their lead and Watson's clutch run proved to be enough for the victory and provided a ray of hope on the horizon.
"I think the thing we can take from this game is the offense made a bunch of yards at times, had a chance to score points, [and] the defense completely shut down Dallas, except for the long pass there at the end," Spurrier said. "So we're not too far off, I don't think, from having a team that can compete."

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