Jul 3, 2009, 6:31 AM EDT
The scenarios were simple going into the last game of the 1976 regular season. The Redskins needed a win to secure a playoff spot. The Cowboys needed a win to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In a classic battle, the Redskins prevailed.
From the pages of my upcoming book The Redskins Chronicle:
Texas Stadium 12/12/1976—The Redskins moved past the Cowboys and into the NFL playoffs by scoring 14 points in a 50-second span in the fourth quarter.
Washington held a 10-7 halftime lead, but that evaporated less than three minutes into the second half. Roger Staubach hit Butch Johnson with a 43-yard touchdown pass to put Dallas up 14-10. That was largely the extent of Staubach’s contributions to his team’s effort; thanks to constant pressure by the Redskins defense, he completed just five of 22 passes on the day for 91 yards.
The visitors edged closer on Mark Moseley’s 27-yard field goal about five minutes later. The Cowboys was still clinging to its 14-13 lead when they punted to Washington with 7:24 left in the game. Starting from midfield, a nine-yard reception by Mike Thomas and John Riggins’ three-yard run earned a first down at the 38. After two straight incompletions, the Redskins faced third and ten. Then came what Billy Kilmer called “the play of the game.”
Dallas came with an all-out blitz and safety Cliff Harris joined those rushing towards Kilmer. The quarterback barely got off a wobbly pass, but it found Thomas, who had snuck into the area over the middle that Harris had vacated, at the 10 yard line. He was tackled at the four.
A couple of penalties pushed the Redskins back to the 15 where they faced second and goal. Ex-Cowboy Calvin Hill followed Riggins around left end and swept in for the go-ahead score with 4:34 left.
Certainly, it was not yet time to celebrate, but that would come soon enough. On first down from the 21, Ron McDole sacked Staubach for a loss of twelve. On the next play, Diron Talbert swatted Staubach’s pass into the air. It bounced off of Dallas center John Fitzgerald and possibly one other player before it fell into the arms of defensive end Dennis Johnson at the three. The game and the playoff spot were secured when Riggins took advantage of some brutal blocking that allowed him to score the clincher untouched.