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Classic Rewind: High Scoring Cowboys Edge Redskins in 1999 Opener

Posted on September 08, 2010 by A.J. Foss

The consensus is that the best rivalry in the National Football League is between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins.

For the past 40 years, the Cowboys and the Redskins have staged many memorable games in their annual quest to be the best in the NFC East.  One of those memorable games occurred on the opening day of the 1999 NFL season when the Cowboys came back from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to knock off the Redskins 41-35 in Washington D.C.

This opening day was supposed to be special for Washington as it was the first regular season game with Daniel Snyder as owner of the Redskins after he bought the team in May 1999 for $800 million.

Despite the fact they had finished 6-10 the year before, expectations were high for the Redskins as they had acquired quarterback Brad Johnson from the Minnesota Vikings for three draft picks.

While the Redskins seemed to be on the rise, the Dallas Cowboys had the look of an aging dynasty. In 1998, the Cowboys won the NFC East under first year head coach Chan Gailey but were stunned at home by the Arizona Cardinals 20-7 in their Wild Card playoff game.

Dallas had major off-the-field issues during the offseason as offensive tackle Mark Tuinei died of a drug overdose and defensive tackle Leon Lett was suspended for the entire season because of drug use.

Not only did Dallas not have Lett going into the Washington game, they did not have Deion Sanders who was still recovering from toe surgery and two other defensive starters out due to injury.

With the home field advantage and a depleted Cowboy defense, the Redskins were favorites to win the season opener.

The victory over Washington was the last great game for the Dallas triplets.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-3 lead as they scored touchdowns on their opening two possessions of the game.

On their opening drive, the Cowboys drove 80 yards on nine plays, finishing with a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Troy Aikman to David LaFleur, the first time Dallas had scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the game.

After the Redskins cut the lead to 7-3 on a 25-yard field goal by Brett Conway, the Cowboys drove 82 yards for another touchdown, ending again with a touchdown pass from Aikman to LaFleur, this time for 14 yards to increase the Dallas lead to 14-3 early in the second quarter.

The Redskins drove the ball effectively on the depleted Dallas defense in the second quarter but could only come away with one touchdown, a 41-yard pass from Johnson to Michael Westbrook, as they fumbled the ball twice inside the Dallas’ 10-yard line which was recovered by the Cowboys to preserve a 14-13 at halftime.

But the Redskins would eliminate the mistakes in the third quarter as they would outscore the Cowboys 22-0 in the quarter.

Washington’s dominance of the third quarter started when their first round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, cornerback Champ Bailey intercepted an Aikman pass which lead to a 3-yard touchdown run by Stephen Davis and a successful two-point conversion as Davis ran to give the Redskins their first lead of the game at 21-14.

Davis would add a 7-yard touchdown with 2:59 left in the quarter to increase the lead to 28-14, which was followed by a 50-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Connell that gave the Redskins a seemingly insmountable 35-14 lead with 1:05 left in the third quarter.

On the possession following the Connell touchdown, the Cowboys drove 70 yards mostly behind the legs of Smith as he scored a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:43 left in regulation to trim the Redskins’ lead to 35-21.

Still needing two touchdowns and unable to stop the Redskins offense, Gailey decided to go for the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.

Dallas recovered the onside kick to get the ball back to their offense but they turned it over on downs after failing to convert a 4th-and-13 at the Redskins’ 28-yard-line.

When Dan Snyder became owner of the Redskins in 1999, Norv Turner was in his sixth season as head coach.

However, the exhausted Cowboy defense rose up and forced a three-and-out giving the Cowboys the ball back at their own 34-yard-line.

A few plays later, Aikman would find Irvin for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 35-28 with less than four minutes to play in regulation.

After a 31-yard catch by Westbrook on their first play of their next drive, the Redskins were forced to punt again, giving the Cowboys the ball at their 10 yard-line with 3:01 remaining and no timeouts.

But aided by four offside committed by the Redskins defense, the Cowboys quickly drove down the field, ending when Aikman found Irvin for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:46 to play.   Kicker Richie Cunningham added drama to the extra point as his kick bounced off the left upright but went through for the game-tying extra point.

Despite the fourth quarter meltdown, the Redskins had one last chance to win the game in regulation when a pass interference call on Mathis gave Washington the ball at the Dallas’ 23 with a chance for a 41-yard field goal with three seconds left.

But holder Matt Turk mishandled his brother Dan’s slightly high snap, and a kick never materialized as regulation ended with the two teams tied 35-35.

Washington won the overtime coin toss and drove the ball into Dallas territory before a sack on third-and-five forced a punt, which pinned the Cowboys at their own 5.

Four plays later, the Cowboys were faced with a 3rd-and-2 at their 24-yard-line.

The game ended suddenly with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Aikman to Rocket Ismail in overtime.

With the Redskin defense bunched up to stop the run, Aikman faked a handoff to Smith and launched a deep pass for Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, who was all alone at the Washington 40-yard line where he caught the pass and raced down the field for a 76-yard touchdown pass to give the Dallas a remarkable 41-35, four minutes and seven seconds into overtime.

After he crossed the end zone, Ismail was mobbed by his teammates as he had redeemed himself for dropping a would-be 54-yard touchdown pass on the very same play in the first quarter.

“I acted like a 5-year old girl after that catch,” said Cowboys safety Darren Woodson. “The feeling was like we had won the Super Bowl.”

The dramatic comeback seemed to get the Cowboys off and running as they opened the 1999 season with a 3-0 start.  But in a week 4 loss to the last place Philadelphia Eagles, Irvin suffered a spinal cord injury that ended his season and his career.

The Cowboys limped to an 8-8 record but made it to the playoffs only to lose to the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in the Wild Card Round.

A few days after the game, Gailey was fired after only two seasons as head coach.

While the Cowboys struggled during the 1999 season, the Redskins surged as they finished with a 10-6 record and the NFC East division title.  Washington would defeat the Detroit Lions 27-13 in their first round playoff game but lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13 in the divisional round.

It still marks the only time the Redskins have won the NFC East with Snyder as owner of the team.

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