Redskins, Cowboys ready for 90th meeting

Teams' recent mediocrity hasn't dampened rivalry

each has shot at playoffs

Pro Football

December 26, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

In the week leading up to today's game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, one room at Redskins Park has been off limits to the players: the training room.

"The training room is closed," linebacker Marcus Washington said, implying that every Redskin - healthy or otherwise - will play in today's game at Texas Stadium at 4:15 p.m. "We don't want to see anyone in the training room. It's Dallas week."

If there's any week that Washington players and fans drool over, it's the week preceding a meeting with the hated Cowboys.

The teams have faced each other 89 times since 1960.

The fact the two teams are both in the NFC East and meet twice a season certainly fuels the intensity. Adding the mathematical possibility of one of these 5-9 teams grabbing the sixth and final NFC playoff spot only enhances the fireworks.

The Redskins' Web site posted a poll asking visitors to decide what would be the most meaningful aspect of the Redskins' winning their last two games and finishing 7-9. Beating Dallas garnered 27.2 percent of 15,456 votes, finishing a close third behind possibly making the playoffs (32.2 percent) and positive momentum for next season (30.2 percent).

The histrionics are alive and strong in Dallas, too, where linebacker Dexter Coakley equated the Cowboys' effort against Washington to "trying to rid the world of crime."

"It's one of those situations where regardless of records, the teams are going to come out and play," Coakley said during a conference call with Washington media. "Trust me, those guys are coming out wanting to win this football game, and we want to keep the streak alive as well."

Dallas, which leads the series 53-34-2, has won 13 of the past 14 meetings, and the average margin in those victories has been almost 11 points.

Throw in the Redskins' 21-18 Monday night loss to Dallas on Sept. 27, and the stretch begins to prompt the question whether the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry really is one.

Even Washington coach Joe Gibbs recognizes the trouble with calling the series a rivalry.

"It's hard to have a rivalry when the other team is winning all the games," said Gibbs, who is 12-13 against Dallas. "All we're focused on is Dallas. We know that's a big deal for us, and it's a big deal for them."

It doesn't even matter if the Cowboys have a poorer record than the Redskins. Between 1999 and 2002, Dallas was 23-41, a mark that included three consecutive 5-11 seasons. Meanwhile, Washington posted only one losing season between 1999 and 2002 and enjoyed a 33-31 record.

But during that span, the Redskins lost seven of eight meetings with the Cowboys. Washington's only victory - a 20-14 win at FedEx Field on Dec. 29, 2002 - happens to double as the most recent Redskins victory over Dallas.

Even newcomers like cornerback Shawn Springs, who was signed by the Redskins this past offseason, has begun to understand the swell of emotions riding on each Washington-Dallas meeting.

"It's big," said Springs, whose father, Ron, played running back for the Cowboys from 1979 to 1984. "I know the history of the rivalry. So I'm excited about it."

Added quarterback Patrick Ramsey: "Even guys who come in for one year or one game, you can kind of pick up on it. I know in my first year I did. The game is played with a lot more intensity and a lot more emotion just because it is that team."

Dallas will start Vinny Testaverde, 41, at quarterback. Rookie running back Julius Jones is averaging 119.4 yards in each of the past five games and has more rushing touchdowns (six) than the Redskins' Clinton Portis (five).

The Cowboys' 22nd-ranked defense is a shadow of last season's top-ranked unit, but Dallas limited Philadelphia, which scores 26.4 points a game, to 12 last week.

Gibbs said he expects nothing but a hard-fought battle from the Cowboys.

"They won up here," he said. "We'll have to play the game of our life down there."

THE KEYS

TO VICTORY

GO TO PORTIS EARLY: Although Dallas' 12th-ranked run defense has allowed just two 100-yard rushers this season, giving the ball to Clinton Portis will keep the Cowboys linebackers from dropping into coverage. That should allow the Redskins to get their passing game untracked.

AIR IT OUT: If Mark Brunell can pass for 325 yards against Dallas as he did in the team's first meeting on Sept. 27, Patrick Ramsey should be able to enjoy similar success against the league's 24th-ranked pass defense.

CHASE TESTAVERDE: At 41, Vinny Testaverde doesn't have the legs to scramble out of the pocket and make plays. Washington, which sacked him just once in September, has to keep the heat on the aging quarterback and force him to make mistakes.

The pick

The Cowboys will lean on running back Julius Jones, but the rookie won't be able to solve the Redskins' second-ranked defense. Joe Gibbs & Co. will do just enough to pull out a victory and end the jinx in Dallas. Redskins 14, Cowboys 13.

The game

Matchup: Redskins (5-9) vs. Dallas Cowboys (5-9)

Site: Texas Stadium, Irving

When: Today, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Redskins by 2

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