For 'Skins, Cowboys, Monday night game is no laughing matter

0-4 records don't temper rivalry, they say

Banks keeps focus vs. old team

Pro Football

October 15, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Whoa, Nellie! You know a game is going to be bad when even Keith Jackson disses it.

In promoting tonight's Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game the other day, ABC's longtime college football announcer advised Monday Night Football commentator and occasional comedian Dennis Miller to have plenty of comedic material on hand.

To hear the talk-radio hosts and pundits put it, the Cowboys and Redskins, both 0-4, are more than capable of providing their own punch lines with their play, with or without Miller.

"We hate it [the talk]," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We know what's being said. If we were on the outside, we would say the same thing. We have to do better. We know we're not as bad as everybody says we are, but we have to prove it. If we don't, then we're just proving them right."

The Redskins, who dropped a 23-9 decision to the New York Giants last Sunday, approached practice as if this would be the week for their breakthrough, mostly because of what they have and what the Cowboys don't.

Specifically, the Redskins feel they have defensive stability, even with both starting defensive ends - Bruce Smith (shoulder) and Marco Coleman (elbow) - and linebacker Shawn Barber (knee) out for tonight.

Washington held the Giants to one offensive touchdown and just over 300 total yards, an important step forward for a unit that had given up 30 points or more in each of its first three games.

The Redskins will face Dallas backup quarterback Anthony Wright, a three-year veteran who came off the bench last week for injured starter Quincy Carter (hamstring) and went 14-for-22, throwing for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys' 28-21 loss at Oakland.

Beyond Wright, the Redskins' defense, which has allowed four different rushers to run for at least 90 yards, will have its hands full with Emmitt Smith, the NFL's second all-time leading rusher. Smith, who has 208 yards this season, has run for nearly 2,100 of his career 15,374 yards against Washington, 233 of them last year.

"I'm sure he's a little frustrated right now, because we have not been able to push defenses off enough with the passing game to get them off him," Dallas coach Dave Campo said. "We've been dealing with eight-man fronts and blitzing and played against probably four of the better defenses in the National Football League. We haven't gotten off early. We have to start quicker and get things going and give him a chance to do some running."

Offensively, the Redskins, with just one touchdown all season, need to be efficient, starting with quarterback Tony Banks, who signed with Washington two days after being cut by the Cowboys during training camp.

Banks has completed only 43 percent of his attempts, but will have extra incentive against Dallas, admitting that he was "heartbroken" and "shellshocked" when the Cowboys released him.

"A lot has been made of my previous Cowboy experience, but I'm trying to put as much of that behind me as I can," Banks said. "When I get out there on the field [tonight], maybe some of it might register a little more, but right now, I'm trying to game plan for the Cowboys and trying to get this offense started."

The records of the Redskins and Cowboys cast a pall over the renewal of the series, perhaps the NFL's most intense.

The two teams, playing for the 12th time on Monday Night Football, have staged a rivalry loaded with moments of high drama, including Washington safety Ken Houston standing up Dallas fullback Walt Garrison just short of the goal line to preserve a 14-7 victory in 1973, and Cowboys reserve quarterback Clint Longley coming off the bench on Thanksgiving Day in 1974 to hit Drew Pearson with a late touchdown pass to win, 24-23.

The Cowboys have won seven straight in the series.

"I guarantee you the ratings will still be great, because it's a Dallas-Redskins game," said Washington cornerback Darrell Green, a Texas native playing at Texas Stadium for the final time in his 19-year career. "It's an important game for both teams. Neither team is out of it and we expect it to be just as exciting from a fan's perspective, and certainly from our perspective as well."

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