Beating also-rans, too, will be ultimate Cowboys' challenge

September 09, 1992|By Thomas George | Thomas George,N.Y. Times News Service

It is amazing what one victory during prime time on national television can do for a team's reputation and psyche.

That's what happened with the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

They throttled the Washington Redskins, 23-10, in the season opener for both teams and the next day the talk runs rampant. Doesn't Dallas look like a lock in the NFC East? Weren't the Cowboys so much faster and stronger than the Redskins? How about that Dallas "D"?

Get those Super Bowl tickets, the ones with bright blue stars, printed.

Let's catch our breath here.

Sure, there is plenty to marvel about when you look at what Dallas accomplished against Washington. The Cowboys' victory was so complete in every phase of the game. The most impressive aspects were holding Washington's vaunted rushing attack to 75 yards, and, only 24 of those coming in the second half; their ability to create and maintain pass-rushing lanes on quarterback Mark Rypien; and the excellent preparation by the Dallas staff, led by coach Jimmy Johnson.

But the real key with the Cowboys at this stage of their impressive resurgence is not how they handle the Washingtons but how they respond to the lowlies like Seattle.

They are a very young team that is acquiring a taste for supremacy in the NFL. The Cowboys do not enter a game emotionally charged because of their opponent, but rather they enter each contest insistent on establishing their own standard of excellence.

This will be the true measuring test for Dallas.

It is a trait not attained in one night.

For the Cowboys, this is something they appear to have at least pondered.

Listen to Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin following Monday night's game: "Hey, guys, it's one win, a big win, but one win. The encouraging thing is that we've taken room to grow, but we've got to keep growing. We've got 15 more games. It's a long way from now till December."

And just as long a way from Dallas to the Super Bowl.

The Cowboys were 11-5 last year and made the playoffs, so they have already established some consistency. What makes Super Bowl champions is a level of consistency that does not waver. School is still very much in session for the Cowboys in that respect.

Everybody talks about how shoddy the Redskins looked, how out of sync their offense was, but the crowd noise in Texas Stadium was so severe that Washington's timing was noticeably off.

Redskins tackle Jim Lachey said: "You couldn't hear a thing. So, you watched the defensive guy and when he made his move, you made yours. In our system, where timing is everything, that's a tough way to play football. They've got too many talented guys to have that much of an edge on you at the snap."

It's something the Redskins have enjoyed at home for years. It's usually something they handle on the road much better, but not on Monday night.

Charles Haley, the new Dallas defensive end acquired late in the preseason from San Francisco, had plenty to do with Washington's confusion. He was a magnificent addition for the Dallas defense. But this Dallas secondary still features many of the faces who were ripped by run-and-shoot teams last season, especially by the Detroit Lions in the playoffs. There are still many questions about that bunch.

Overall, there aren't any questions about Dallas' big-play people and their concepts on both sides of the line of scrimmage. When you have outcoached the Redskins, you have outcoached the NFL's best, and that's what Dallas did Monday night. There were simply too many plays where Washington was in the wrong defense on the Dallas play called and too many times where Rypien rolled left and right and smack into Dallas' defense. This was accomplished by Dallas without defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who missed the game due to a dislocated toe.

Johnson had all the nuances on his side.

"We've been preparing for the Redskins for a long time," said Kelvin Martin, who scored on a 79-yard punt return. "Even up until game time, we were preparing."

Linebacker Robert Jones said: "Coach Johnson is a great inspiration, a great motivator. He talked to us about being aware of every situation and that the Redskins would be ready to play. He got us ready to play."

That's the catch for Dallas; getting charged for the long haul rather than the short one, dominating 4-12 teams like they did the defending Super Bowl champions Monday night.

It is not easy. Dallas, and everyone else, will be reminded of that Sunday when the Cowboys lose at Giants Stadium. Then reality settles in, and that reality is that the Cowboys are and will be key players in the winding and twisting season. Sure, they'll help to shape the lyrics of this NFL season.

But, remember this: It is a song with quite a bit more left in the chorus.

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