- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

IRVING, Texas — Whether they were aware of it at the time, the Washington Redskins’ season already was over by the time they surrendered a staggering, game-winning touchdown to Patrick Crayton last night.

Victories by the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers yesterday officially put an end to the Redskins’ long-shot playoff hopes.

Not that the reality of the NFC playoff picture made a 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys any easier to accept.

This one hurt. Really hurt.

“Heartbreaking,” said defensive tackle Brandon Noble.

“Devastating,” added quarterback Patrick Ramsey.

“I feel like I fell out of a tree with no net at the bottom,” defensive end Ron Warner said.

The Redskins (5-10) blew this one in grand fashion. Up 10-6 late in the fourth quarter, they needed only to run out the clock to seal their first victory at Texas Stadium in nine years.

The ensuing collapse, capped by Crayton’s 39-yard touchdown catch from Vinny Testaverde, might go down as one of the worst in Washington history.

Stymied all afternoon by the Redskins’ second-ranked defense and unable to pick up a first down on their previous four offensive series, the Cowboys (6-9) got the ball at their 25 with 1:25 to play, no timeouts and a half-empty stadium booing their ineffective quarterback.

They then proceeded to march 75 yards down Washington’s throats, converting a crucial fourth-and-10 and retaking the lead with 30 seconds left thanks to Crayton’s first-career touchdown.

“Football is played 60 minutes, not 58, not 59,” Warner said. “That’s what happens if you don’t play all the way through.”

Maybe so, but nothing that transpired over the previous 59 minutes led anyone to believe the Cowboys would pull this one out. Dallas could not do anything on offense, and the 41-year-old Testaverde looked twice his age.

The Redskins, though, did everything they could to help make a comeback possible. After taking a 10-6 lead with 6:44 to go on Ramsey’s 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Royal, Washington stopped playing football. The offense twice went three-and-out while trying to run down the clock. Return man Antonio Brown fumbled a punt with 2:21 left to give the Cowboys another shot.

And the Redskins defense wilted in the game’s waning moments, surrendering a 15-yard pass to Crayton on fourth-and-10 and then blowing their pass coverage on the game-winning play.

Testaverde’s 39-yard strike to Crayton caught everyone by surprise, especially the Redskins. Cornerback Shawn Springs lined up opposite Crayton, but gave the receiver only a light shove before handing him off to rookie safety Sean Taylor. Taylor never got to Crayton in time — Testaverde threw a high-arcing spiral to the seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern Oklahoma State, and the Redskins could only watch in horror as he hauled the pass in.

Springs would not directly blame Taylor for the blown coverage, but he strongly hinted at it.

“I know what the coverage was,” Springs said, “but I’m not going to say nothing about it.”

The Cowboys drew the play up perfectly, exploiting a depleted Washington secondary that lost cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Ade Jimoh to injuries during the game.

“I knew the safety was paying attention to [wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson], and I had him,” Crayton said of his touchdown catch. “We go through that play every day in practice.”

Afterward, a downtrodden Joe Gibbs (who has lost 10 games in a season for the first time in his coaching career) did not want to put too much emphasis on one play.

“You can look at 50 plays in a game like this where you can win it,” said Gibbs, who lost for the eighth straight time against coach Bill Parcells. “I feel sorry for the players. If there has ever been a group of guys who played hard every single week, this is it.”

The Redskins had their chances to put this game away early. Ramsey drove the offense 62 yards on the game’s opening drive, but was intercepted by Cowboys safety Lynn Scott, who was the fortunate recipient of a pass off H-back Brian Kozlowski’s hands.

Ramsey (19 for 29, 158 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) again drove the offense to the Dallas 7 the next time down the field, only to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Jeff Chandler.

The Redskins’ offense was futile for the next two quarters, producing 31 total yards before the fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

“We scored 10 points,” Ramsey said. “That’s not enough to win.”

It nearly was. The Cowboys were even more offensively inept — at one point, Testaverde was tackled with the ball on four of six plays, leading to a cascade of boos from the crowd of 63,705.

Dallas, though, had just enough left in its tank to pull off one last drive, defeat Washington for the 14th time in 15 games and leave the Redskins in a state of shock.

“It’s baffling, it really is,” Noble said. “It’s hard to take, it’s hard to stomach. We have one week left. We have to go play the Vikings. We have to come out angry and come out swinging and lay it all down so we’ve got a good taste in our mouths getting out of the season.”

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