September 19, 2010

2005: Two Late Brunell to Moss TD Passes Pull Redskins Past Cowboys

The rivalry between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys has produced numerous close contests and exciting finishes over the years. Such was the case when the two teams met at Texas Stadium in a Monday night game on September 19, 2005.

The Redskins had lost 14 of the previous 15 meetings with the Cowboys dating back to 1997. Hall of Fame Head Coach Joe Gibbs returned to the club in ’04 after an absence of twelve years amid high hopes of reversing the current dry spell, but Washington finished with a 6-10 record. Veteran QB Mark Brunell (pictured at right), obtained after spending nine years in Jacksonville, had labored through a difficult season and split time with third-year QB Patrick Ramsey. He was back for another year, and there was a newcomer at the head of the receiving corps in WR Santana Moss, obtained from the New York Jets for WR Laveranues Coles. They won their opening game against the Bears with Brunell playing well in relief of an injured Ramsey, who had started.

Dallas had also gone 6-10 in 2004 after reaching the postseason in ’03 in the first year under Head Coach Bill Parcells. The Cowboys had made acquisitions designed to improve a leaky defense in 2005, and also brought in an experienced veteran quarterback in 33-year-old Drew Bledsoe. They, too, had won their ’05 opener, beating San Diego with a late score and solid defensive play.

There were 65,207 fans on hand (the largest Cowboys home crowd in ten years) for the home-opening game that also featured the induction to the club’s Ring of Honor of three stalwarts of the 1990’s championship teams, QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith, and WR Michael Irvin.

The Cowboys started off with a long 13-play drive that ended in a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Jose Cortez. Early in the second quarter, Cortez made up for it by connecting on a 33-yard attempt. But by and large neither team could move the ball and the score stood at 3-0 at halftime.

Bledsoe connected with WR Terry Glenn for a 70-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Cowboys a 10-0 lead, and when Cortez extended the margin to 13-0 nine minutes into the fourth period it seemed as though Dallas had the game safely in hand. Washington’s possessions had ended in seven punts and two turnovers and their closest penetration had been to the Dallas 28 yard line. Moreover, the Redskins had lost 25 consecutive games when behind after three quarters.

However, on the possession following the second Dallas field goal, the Redskins’ offense came alive. They drove 76 yards in 10 plays, highlighted by Brunell scrambling for 25 yards and then completing a fourth-and-two pass to WR James Thrash for 20 more. The possession ended with a 39-yard TD pass to Moss.

The Cowboys needed to run the clock down, and seemed bound to do that when Bledsoe completed a 17-yard pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson to the Washington 37. However, a holding penalty on OT Flozell Adams negated the play and, instead of first-and-ten in scoring position, Dallas faced third-and-18 back at its own 36. Bledsoe was able to regain only 13 yards on a pass to TE Jason Witten and the Cowboys were forced to punt.

The resulting kick by Mat McBriar went into the Redskins end zone for a touchback. With 2:52 remaining on the clock, Brunell completed a 10-yard pass to RB Clinton Portis. His next pass was deep for Moss and resulted in a 70-yard touchdown. With the successful extra point, the Redskins were suddenly clinging to a one-point lead.

That lead appeared tenuous when RB Tyson Thompson returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Washington 48. But the Cowboys couldn’t get a first down and when Glenn was stopped short on a fourth-and-four play, they were forced to turn the ball over on downs with under two minutes remaining. Dallas was able to get the ball back once more with 36 seconds left, but time ran out with Glenn tackled on the Redskins 43 after taking a lateral from RB Julius Jones, who had caught Bledsoe’s final pass of the game. Washington came away with a stunning 14-13 win.

Joe Gibbs was dumped with ice-water by his team on the sideline and pronounced the win “one of the greatest moments in sports for me.”

However, a frustrated Bill Parcells said afterward, “You’ve got to learn to close the show. We didn’t do that.” It was the first time that a Parcells-coached team had lost a game in which it led by 13 points in the fourth quarter, going back through 77 such instances.

The statistics reflected the closeness of the final score. Dallas outgained the Redskins by 351 yards to 346 and had the edge in net passing yards (261 to 242). Washington outrushed the Cowboys with 104 yards on 25 attempts to 90 yards on 29 carries. The Redskins gave up the only two turnovers and were penalized 12 times while Dallas drew 7 flags.

Mark Brunell went to the air 34 times with 20 completions for 291 yards, including the two late touchdowns; he was intercepted once. Santana Moss (pictured at left) caught 5 passes for 159 yards and both of the scores. Clinton Portis was Washington’s leading rusher with 52 yards on 17 carries.

Drew Bledsoe completed 21 of 36 passes for 261 yards and a TD with none picked off. Terry Glenn had 6 pass receptions for 157 yards and the one long touchdown. Julius Jones gained 81 yards on 22 carries.

The Redskins went on to sweep the season series with Dallas for the first time in ten years, and the games had a decisive effect on the final standings. Washington finished second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record and qualified for a wild card spot in the postseason, defeating Tampa Bay in the first round before falling to Seattle in the Divisional playoff. Dallas came in third in the division at 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs.

Mark Brunell, who had just turned 35 two days before the game at Dallas, had a comeback season in which he completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 3050 yards with a career-high 23 touchdown passes against just 10 interceptions. Santana Moss caught 84 passes for 1483 yards (17.7 average) including 9 touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl.