LANDOVER, Md. -- In the back corner of the Washington Redskins' locker room late Sunday night, a dry-erase board told part of the story. Someone had left three words for the defensive backs to remember as they took the field against the Dallas Cowboys: "Tackle and Strip."
And with the help of one of the most bone-headed play calls since Barry Switzer called "Load Left" against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins' defense made its first signature play of the Mike Shanahan era in a heart-stopping 13-7 win over the Cowboys. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett spent all of organized team activities and training camp placing emphasis on stripping the ball. He taped footballs to blocking dummies so that players could practice swiping at the ball as they made tackles.
And with 4 seconds left in the first half, opportunity came knocking in the form of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett temporarily losing his mind. Trailing 3-0, the prudent thing would've been for the Cowboys to take a knee and limp to the locker room. Instead, they lined up at their 36-yard line with three receivers to one side and Tony Romo delivered one of his patented shovel passes to running back Tashard Choice.
As Choice fought for extra yards for no reason, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall reached in and pulled desperately at the ball. When outside linebacker Andre Carter arrived to finish things off, the ball squirted free and Hall took it to the house for a 32-yard touchdown that he punctuated with a front somersault. Who needs Donovan McNabb when you have Garrett calling plays on the opposite sideline?
"I still have to see it on film, but the guys told me I came in there and pushed the ball out," said Carter. "We've been practicing that day in and day out. We do it in every team period and then we get together and talk about it afterwards."
This is a Redskins team that lost all six of its division games last season, so players lingered in the locker room and relived the game-deciding plays. Shanahan credited a raucous crowd of more than 90,000 for causing Cowboys penalties, although I'm not sure if right tackle Alex Barron can use that excuse.
At halftime, Haslett had the good sense to move Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to Barron's side. On the game's final play, Barron left nothing to chance as he reached from behind and hooked Orakpo with his arm. Haslett has told his players that drawing holding calls is just as good as a sack, and Orakpo took that to heart. He acknowledged that the Redskins wanted to take advantage of Marc Colombo's absence at right tackle.
"That's called game planning," said the former University of Texas star. "We knew Colombo wasn't in there and we had to exploit their weakness. I was freestyling out there on him because I knew we were in good shape with that matchup."
Orakpo had to leave the game briefly with cramps in the second half, but he raced back onto the field after missing a few plays. And even when Barron grabbed his jersey, Orakpo kept chasing Romo.
"I looked back and saw that yellow flag and knew it was game, set, match," said Orakpo. "Romo tried to tell me earlier in the game that those weren't holds, but I didn't hear from him after that last play."
Shanahan said he didn't even bother to watch Roy Williams catch the ball in the end zone. He saw the hold immediately and knew the game was over.
"I saw it when Tony started scrambling," he said. "I saw it right away. I didn't even take a look at the play. I thought we had a lot of pressure during the four-man rush, and even in that situation, you've got to find a way to get plays."
Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said that Shanahan was all business after his first victory with the Redskins.
"Everything about him said, 'Been there, done that,'" said Alexander. "He's ready to move on to next week."