IRVING (AP) — Terrell Owens’ first big catch pulled the Dallas Cowboys out of an ugly funk and set up his first touchdown. His second touchdown put them ahead for the first time.
His third touchdown was downright fun. The fourth? It marked a personal best, plus tied a team record.
Yet T.O. still had one thing left to do.
Playing the last line of defense on a game-ending Hail Mary, the ball found Owens in the end zone again. Instead of going for a glitzy interception, he followed orders and swatted it away, preserving a 28-23 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Owens’ TD catches of 4, 31, 46 and 52 yards was all the scoring the Cowboys needed to get to 9-1 for the first time since 1983. With Green Bay also winning Sunday, the teams remain tied atop the NFC with one game left before they meet at Texas Stadium a week from Thursday.
Dallas has won four straight since losing to New England, and Owens is a huge reason for it, producing at least 100 yards receiving and one touchdown each game.
This one, though, topped them all — and most others in a 12-year career filled with remarkable performances.
“This is one of the greatest games, really, that I feel like I’ve played in, just me coming through in the clutch,” Owens said. “I pride myself in trying to make plays for the team. When my number’s called and opportunities are there for us to make plays, I know that’s my job.”
Even on defense?
“My assignment was to knock the ball down and I knocked the ball down,” Owens said. “Interceptions are not going to do me any good. If that’s a drop, that’s a drop.”
Yes, he was laughing when he said that. Besides, it still went down as the first pass breakup of his career.
Without T.O.’s big day, this might have been a huge victory for Jason Campbell and the Redskins (5-5).
Washington led 10-7 late in the third quarter and appeared poised to add to it following an interception return to the Dallas 3. But the play was wiped out on replay.
“I’m just curious how close it was,” Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. “I want to see it myself.”
The Cowboys went deep on the next play, moving 51 yards on a pass-interference penalty. Then they really broke things open, getting three touchdowns on their next 13 snaps.
Owens was practically uncovered on the go-ahead score, which also was the 124th of his career, passing Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison for No. 3 on the career list. The next two were long balls, the first coming down the middle of the field — with a dunk over the crossbar in celebration, followed by chants of “T! O!” from the crowd — and the second coming on the right sideline after eluding a defender around the 25.
His first score came in the second quarter and was set up by a 23-yarder on third-and-15 when Dallas was really sputtering. He finished with eight grabs for 173 yards.
“What can you say about a receiver who catches eight passes, four for TDs?” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said.
The only other Cowboys receiver to have a four-TD game was Bob Hayes, in 1970. With 12 touchdowns on the season, Owens tied New England’s Randy Moss for the NFL lead — until Moss caught four in the first half Sunday night.
Dallas has matched last season’s win total and put itself in great shape to win the NFC East. The Cowboys are 4-0 in division play and hold the tiebreaker over the New York Giants, the only other club that can still finish with four division wins.
The Redskins showed how close they are to being a contender by rallying from a 28-16 deficit to make things interesting until time expired. Before T.O.’s game-ending play, Campbell got Washington inside the Dallas 20 but blew it with an interception right into the belly of Terence Newman with 1:39 left.
“A loss is a loss,” center Casey Rabach. “Until we learn how to make the big plays it won’t do us any good.”