WASHINGTON — The Washington Redskins were down to dreaming of a miracle to keep their playoff hopes alive when they got one.
On a bizarre play, Danny Copeland recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown with 3:14 remaining Sunday to give the Redskins a 20-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
"I was sitting there daydreaming (of) getting a fumble and scoring a touchdown," said Washington defensive end Charles Mann, whose dream came two plays before Copeland's recovery.
The Redskins (9-5), outplayed for most of the game, kept the Cowboys (11-3) from clinching their first NFC East title in seven years.
Copeland's touchdown came 22 seconds after Dallas' third goal-line stand, when Gary Clark couldn't catch Mark Rypien's pass in the end zone on fourth down.
Aikman lost the ball when he was sacked in the end zone by Jason Buck. It was ruled a fumble--even though it appeared Aikman was in the process of throwing the ball. Emmitt Smith picked up the ball and tossed the ball forward as he was hit by Copeland, who jumped into a pile and wound up with the ball.
"Just before the play, Jason Buck comes up to me and taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Hey man, I'm going to cause a fumble and you're going to score a touchdown,' " Mann said. "I said, 'Man, I was just thinking about that.' After the play, I stood there and said, 'Hey, man, (the ball) was supposed to come to me.' "
It was the third fumble the Cowboys' lost in the game, equaling their total for the first 13 games of the season.
Smith said he was trying to throw a pass when he shoveled the ball forward, hoping the officials would call it incomplete.
"I didn't know if it was a fumble or not," he said. "I saw Alfredo Roberts standing there and I tried to toss it to him."
Aikman, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 245 yards, threw two five-yard touchdown passes to tight end Jay Novacek in the first half as Dallas took a 17-7 lead.
Then the Cowboys held the Redskins to two field goals by Chip Lohmiller on three drives inside the Dallas 10--one that started with a first and goal at the one.
But they were finally undone by their turnovers, including an interception thrown by Aikman from the Washington two-yard line that was returned 59 yards by Andre Collins with Dallas holding a 17-10 lead.
"It's frustrating," Aikman said. "We felt like we had the ballgame and we let it get away from us."
The interception led to a 22-yard field goal by Lohmiller that cut the lead to 17-13.
"It was Andre's interception that really turned things around for us," Copeland said.
Washington (9-5) trailed, 10-7, until nine seconds before halftime when Aikman connected with Novacek on his second five-yard scoring pass.
It came after a 42-yard drive in seven plays and two major Washington mistakes--a holding penalty on Jim Lachey that negated a first down just before the two-minute warning, and a roughing call on Wilber Marshall after Smith was thrown for a six-yard loss.
"We didn't do much off our offense today," said Smith, whose 99 yards in 25 carries ended a string of four consecutive 100-yard games he'd had against Washington. "We turned the ball over on a number of occasions. Our offense put the defense in a bad situation."
The Redskins cut a 10-0 Cowboy lead to 10-7 after Kelly Goodburn's punt hit Dallas' Kelvin Martin, who was trying to get out of the way. Guy Bingham recovered on the Dallas 41, and on the next play running back Earnest Byner took a pitchout and found Terry Orr all alone on an option pass for a 41-yard touchdown pass play.
Rypien was 12 of 29 for 144 yards.