The Redskins' struggles against Dallas continued Monday night, as the Cowboys won 21-18 in front of a record-setting crowd of 90,367 at FedExField. It was the Redskins' 13th loss to NFC East rival Dallas in the last 14 games.
More importantly, the Redskins' record dropped to 1-2, two games back of NFC East leader Philadelphia.
"We're getting tested right now," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "We're going to have to bounce back. All year long, our guys have fought hard. I'm proud of them for that. If we can keep fighting like that, we'll be okay."
The Redskins had one last effort to get into position for a game-tying field goal. With 13 seconds left, Rod Gardner hauled in a 46-yard completion to the Cowboys' 21-yard line, but he was tackled in bounds by safety Roy Williams and the clock ran out on the Redskins.
It was a career performance by Gardner, who caught a career-high 10 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
"We fought hard as a team," he said. "We gave great effort through all of the adversity that we went through during the game. To end the game like we did, it's a sour feeling."
Brunell, who had a hamstring injury that limited him some in practice last week, had a strong performance, completing 25-of-43 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. And Clinton Portis churned out tough yardage, rushing for 94 yards on 23 carries.
It was another solid effort by the Redskins' defense. The Cowboys were held to just 50 yards rushing in the game. As a team, the Redskins out-gained the Cowboys by 384 yards to 287. And the Redskins dominated the time of possession, holding on to the ball for more than 35 minutes.
Like many of the classic Redskins-Cowboys games, Monday night's nationally televised contest started out like a sparring match, with both teams going three-and-out on their first possessions.
At one point, following a Dallas interception that was eventually overturned by replay, both offensive units were on the field at the same time, separated by nearly 50 yards. It was as if neither unit wanted to leave the field until replay officials told them to do so.
Midway through the first quarter, the Cowboys scored first on a 1-yard touchdown run by Eddie George. The score was set up by a 40-yard pass interference penalty against Walt Harris. Vinny Testaverde had thrown a deep pass to Terry Glenn, and Harris and Glenn appeared to get tangled in the end zone as both went for the ball. The referee tagged Harris with the infraction.
Early on, the Redskins' defense was aggressive against Testaverde. Renaldo Wynn sacked Testaverde on the game's first series. Later, Matt Bowen and Fred Smoot pressured Testaverde into incomplete passes.
But Dallas's defense was equally as tough. Brunell was sacked five times, including on consecutive plays in the second quarter by Cowboys' defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and defensive end Greg Ellis.
Late in the first half, the Redskins strung together an impressive 15-play drive. Rookie Chris Cooley had two key receptions on the drive, including an 11-yard catch that converted a third down.
Mark Brunell's 20-yard completion to Laveranues Coles gave the Redskins a first and goal at the 1-yard line. But the Dallas defense stiffened, shutting down a Brunell sneak, a Portis run and a pass in the end zone to Cooley.
The Redskins had to settle for an 18-yard field goal by John Hall.
"That was big, not getting in there," Gibbs said. "That was four points. We've had a tough time in that spot so far this year, and we've got to get over that. We've got to be stronger down there and we've got to get in the end zone."
The Cowboys used a quick-strike offense to increase their lead to 14-3 in the third quarter. Vinny Testaverde threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the corner of the end zone. The 4-play, 80-yard drive was aided by a 48-yard completion to Antonio Bryant, who fought off solid coverage by Fred Smoot to haul in the pass.
The Redskins kept on coming back. Late in the third quarter, Brunell led the Redskins on a 14-play, 62-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gardner.
The Cowboys struck quickly again, going 72 yards in just five plays. Testaverde pitched the ball left to fullback Richie Anderson, who lofted a 26-yard touchdown pass to Glenn. The wide receiver just managed to get both feet in bounds for the score. The Redskins challenged the play, but the ruling on the field was upheld.
Down 21-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Redskins used a quick-strike offense to pull within three points of the Cowboys. With just over four minutes left in the game, Gardner hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brunell. On the play, Brunell had scrambled to the right, avoided a tackler and threw to Gardner in the back of the end zone for the score. Brunell connected with Taylor Jacobs for the two-point conversion.
But time ran out on the Redskins' comeback effort.
"It was a very hard-fought game on both teams' part," Gibbs said. "They're extremely well coached and you've got to give them credit. I thought our guys kept fighting and tried to find a way to come back."
On the injury front, safety Matt Bowen left the game in the first half with a strained groin. In the second half, kick returner Chad Morton left the game with a sprained knee and a concussion. Their status will be determined later this week.