Holding call negates Dallas' last-gasp TD
Trailing by six on the last play of the game, Tony Romo scrambled, stumbled and scrambled some more. He stepped forward and finally spotted Roy Williams, wide open in the end zone.
A 13-yard pass for a game-winning touchdown. Teammates knocked Williams to the ground in celebration.
But there was something else on the field. A yellow flag, a game-long nemesis in a mistake-filled game. Holding on Alex Barron. Game over. It was time for the Washington Redskins to celebrate, but only after a huge exhale.
The new era of Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb had a successful start after all, a 13-7 prime-time win Sunday over the rival Dallas Cowboys.
''It was a little heart-wrenching,'' Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. ''I saw that flag on the field. I didn't know what it was for. When I saw the referee make the holding signal - shooooo! - I sprinted off the field.''
So never mind that Washington won without scoring an offensive touchdown. Or that McNabb managed only 171 yards passing, hitting on 15 of 24 attempts without a completion longer than 24 yards. The Redskins, coming off a 4-12 season in which they went 0-6 in the NFC East without scoring a touchdown in either game against the dreaded Cowboys, are off to the good start the franchise sorely needed.
''We've had so many heartbreaking losses around here,'' Washington linebacker London Fletcher said. ''It's a new era. New Redskins football. We are 1-0. Got a big win in the division.''
The game will be remembered for the two plays that ended each half. Hall returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown to send the Redskins into the locker room with a 10-0 halftime lead, and Barron's holding call on linebacker Brian Orakpo ended the game.
Graham Gano had given the Redskins a 13-7 lead with a 49-yard field with 1:50 to play. After the kickoff, the Cowboys started at their own 19 with 1:45 left. They converted a fourth-and-10 at Washington's 43 when Romo hit wide-open Miles Austin over the middle for a 30-yard gain with 12 seconds to go. Three plays later, Barron committed Dallas' 12th penalty of the game.
Barron, who was starting because Marc Colombo was out with a knee injury, sat facing his locker after the game, head in hands, long after most of his teammates had showered. He eventually left without comment.
''You can't blame it on that one play,'' said Williams, who had seen the flag thrown before he caught the pass. ''We had a bunch of opportunities, early in the game, in the middle of the game, at the end of the game, to drive down and get points and we couldn't do it.''
The overhauled Redskins sported a retro look with burgundy jerseys and gold pants at home. LeBron James was among the 90,670 fans on hand, and even Albert Haynesworth got in the game, mostly as a backup nose tackle, for about 16 or so plays after a drama-filled offseason and training camp in which he was often at odds with Shanahan.
McNabb was playing the Cowboys for the third straight game, the first player to face the same opponent three times in a row since the 1970 merger. His Philadelphia Eagles lost to Dallas 24-0 to end the regular season in 2009, then 34-14 the following week in the playoffs in his last game before the Easter Sunday trade that sent him to the Redskins. He now trails Romo 5-3 when the two quarterbacks go head-to-head.
Romo completed 31 of 41 passes for 282 yards. Austin had 10 catches for 146 yards and scored the game's only offensive touchdown.
A yawner of a first half was headed toward a plodding finish when Dallas coach Wade Phillips decided to try to score instead of run out the clock when the Cowboys got the ball at their own 30 with 27 records remaining. On the last play — 4 seconds were left when the ball was snapped — Romo threw short to Tashard Choice, who had the ball stripped by Hall with help from Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter. Hall picked up the ball and ran for the score, somersaulting into the end zone.
''That was my fault before the half. We should have taken a knee,'' Phillips said.
As he kept talking, Phillips then shifted some of the blame to Choice.
''Now, if you catch the ball with 4 seconds left, you don't need to make an extra yard or two, you go down with the ball,'' Phillips said. ''Maybe that's our fault, too.''
The Redskins had a chance to pad the lead early in the second half. In fact, they did pad the lead when Gano made a 36-yard field goal, but Shanahan took the points off the board when Orlando Scandrick was called for offsides. With first-and-10 at the 13, the Redskins still couldn't punch it in, and their next field goal try went awry when holder Josh Bidwell had the snap go through his hands.
Bidwell's miserable third quarter continued when he shanked a 27-yard punt on Washington's next possession, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Redskins 34. Romo needed only six plays to score, hitting Austin over the middle with a 4-yard pass with 1:41 remaining in the quarter.
Romo drove the Cowboys inside the Redskins 40 on three of Dallas' first four possessions in the first half, relying heavily on screen passes, but two drives ended in punts and another proved fruitless when David Buehler's first NFL field-goal attempt went wide right from 34 yards.
''We made far too many mistakes,'' Romo said, ''and we weren't able to overcome them.''
Notes: Cowboys All-Pro LB DeMarcus Ware left the game in the fourth quarter. Phillips said he believes the injury is a sprained neck muscle. ''I think DeMarcus is going to be all right,'' Phillips said. ... Two-time All-Pro Haynesworth didn't have much to say about his new role as a backup. ''The situation is what it is,'' Haynesworth said. ''I was on nickel package. I did my job out there.''