"Gosh," the Hall of Fame coach said, "I don't know if I've experienced anything like that."
"It's a short walk from the outhouse to the penthouse," Novak said. "This is what a kicker dreams about. There are ups and downs, and this was the up."
Between Novak's low and high, Dallas kicker Mike Vanderjagt 's chance to win it -- a 35-yarder with 6 seconds left -- was blocked by Troy Vincent. The ball bounced around until Sean Taylor picked it up and made a weaving, tackle-busting return into Dallas territory as time expired. Dallas' Kyle Kosier was flagged for a facemask penalty on the return, tacking on another 15 yards -- and meaning regulation would continue for one more play.
Novak came through this time, sneaking the ball inside the right upright. With his arms up, Novak ran about 50 yards back downfield, and several of his teammates piled on top of him, led by Vincent.
"A win is a win," Vincent said, "and it's good to get back in the win column."
The Redskins (3-5) snapped a three-game losing streak and dropped Dallas (4-4) into a second-place tie in the NFC East with idle Philadelphia.
In many ways, the Cowboys could only blame themselves, with all kinds of miscues and, perhaps, errors in judgment: a safety on their first offensive possession; a failed 2-point conversion early in the second quarter ("I go by the chart," coach Bill Parcells said); and plenty more errors that wasted another fine performance by quarterback Tony Romo in his second NFL start.
"When you've got that much going for you, and you screw it up like that, it's how you end up 4-4," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
There was, of course, the flubbed field goal by Vanderjagt, who came in 5 for 5 in the fourth quarter this season. And that key flag on Kosier, one of 11 times Dallas was penalized for 153 yards. Without that penalty, the game would have gone to overtime.
"It's a heartbreaker," Parcells said, "and I really don't have too much to say."
Another flag came on Terrell Owens for excessive celebration: He pretended to take a nap by using the football as a pillow after his 4-yard touchdown catch from Romo put the Cowboys ahead 19-12 in the third quarter.
Later in that quarter, a wide-open Owens dropped a long pass when he was behind the defense and seemed certain to give Dallas a two-touchdown lead.
"I owe this one to the team," Owens said. "I let the team down. Honestly, I think it was a lack of concentration."
So when beleaguered Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell connected with Chris Cooley on an 18-yard score on the third play of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 19.
The Redskins came off their bye week knowing they needed a victory to make the rest of the season meaningful, and Gibbs vowed to revamp the playbook. There was only one significant personnel change, though: inserting Vincent as a starting safety in place of free-agent disappointment Adam Archuleta.
Still, Romo went 24 for 36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. He repeatedly bought time by scrambling away from pressure and settled down after a rough start: Dallas gained 4 yards on its first two possessions, then totaled 235 with two TDs and two field goals on its next four drives.
But given these teams are coached by men who've won a total of five Super Bowls, there was an awful lot of sloppy or ineffective play.
The Redskins failed to score on their opening possession, despite starting seven plays inside the 5. Dallas' first possession ended with a safety, when Lemar Marshall dragged down Julius Jones in the end zone.
Washington's first possession of the second half began with a holding penalty, 3-yard run, a loss of 9 on DeMarcus Ware 's sack, and a gain of 8 on third-and-26. That was enough to draw boos.
By game's end, there was nothing but cheers.
As Novak walked off the field, his helmet aloft in his hand, he was smiling, the kick he'd missed moments earlier a distant memory.