Emotions high for 'Skins, Cowboys

Meeting with playoff implications stokes fires of old rivalry

December 18, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

The feeling is mutual.

The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys can't stand each other. At 7-6 and 8-5, respectively, the Redskins and Cowboys feel that they are on the cusp of potentially making the playoffs. And they realize that today's 4:15 p.m. game at FedEx Field may be the most important in their respective seasons.

"I've never liked Dallas," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "Right now, it's all on the line. We've got to win out."

Said Cowboys defensive end Greg Ellis: "The rivalry has always been there, but the things that have been riding on the game haven't been there for the last couple of years. A lot is riding on this."

Indeed, today's contest marks the revival of a hate-hate relationship that featured a few dummies hanged in effigy, a banner unfurled at Texas Stadium that read, "Washington Slept Here" and a funeral wreath tossed by Harvey Martin into the Redskins' locker room after a Dallas victory in 1979.

The last time Washington and the Cowboys met in a game with playoff implications this late in the season was Dec. 13, 1992, when the Redskins beat Dallas, 20-17, at RFK Stadium. Both teams made the playoffs, but it was the Cowboys who moved on to capture their first of three Vince Lombardi trophies in four years.

Today's game has similar undertones, with Dallas in the driver's seat for the sixth and final NFC playoff berth and Washington three spots behind.

That could all change, however, if the Redskins win today. A victory - paired with a 14-13 triumph Sept. 19 - would give the franchise only its fourth season sweep in the 45-year history of this series and the tiebreaker by virtue of head-to-head wins.

How Washington left Dallas with a victory in Week 2 was perhaps more surprising than the Redskins winning for only the second time in 16 meetings.

Two Mark Brunell-to-Santana Moss touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards in the final four minutes wiped out a 13-0 deficit and sent a surge of confidence through the team.

"For us to get that win was big, and we enjoyed it," said Brunell, who was 15-for-24 for 138 yards, sacked four times and threw an interception before connecting with Moss. "But at the same time, nothing we did that last time we played is going to affect this game because really for 3 1/2 quarters, they shut us down."

Washington can expect the Cowboys to roll over a safety to double down on Moss, borrowing the defensive plan that the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers used this season.

The Redskins can counter with running back Clinton Portis, who has rushed for 241 yards and three touchdowns in his past two games and watched the Kansas City Chiefs' Larry Johnson post 143 yards and three touchdowns last week against a Dallas defense that is 13th in the league against the run.

The question on the other side of the ball is which Cowboys offense will appear. Dallas' two most productive games came in a 33-10 demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles in October and a 31-28 win against the Chiefs last week when coach Bill Parcells opted to let Drew Bledsoe air it out to wide receivers Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson and tight end Jason Witten.

But Johnson cautioned against typecasting the Cowboys' offense, saying: "We don't go into a game saying we're going to throw every single down or we're going to run every single down. We go into a game with a game plan in place for certain downs and distances and parts of the field. When we get into those positions, we try to pull from that stack of plays the things that work the best."

So can Washington fans expect another fantastic finish? Coach Joe Gibbs isn't sure, but he does know that for the first time in a long time, the excitement surrounding a Redskins-Cowboys matchup has been heightened.

"I think this one means something, a lot to both teams," Gibbs said. "From that standpoint, it's a big game, and it's fun to be playing a big game at this time of the year."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Keys to the game

Call on Portis

Dallas has allowed an opposing running back to rush for at least 98 yards in the past three contests, two of which the Cowboys lost. Clinton Portis, who only rushed for 52 yards in the first meeting with Dallas in Week 2, has six 100-yard games this season and should get the call often.

Beware of trick play

Drew Bledsoe has connected on two flea-flicker plays for touchdowns with Terry Glenn - one against Washington and another last week against Kansas City. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who called a halfback pass for a touchdown against the Redskins last season, loves to mix it up.

Pressure the pocket

Offensive tackles Torrin Tucker, in his third year, and Rob Petitti, in his rookie season, have had a tough time stopping any pressure off the edge. If Washington can force Bledsoe - who has been sacked 32 times, tied for the third-worst mark in the league - to move his feet and sprint out of the pocket, that will make it difficult for him to locate his receivers.

Prediction

Dallas uses a two-pronged ground game of Julius Jones and Marion Barber, but the league's 13th-ranked offense lives and dies on Bledsoe's arm. The Redskins' ninth-ranked defense might force some mistakes but can also give up some yardage. The offense didn't do much against the Cowboys in the first meeting, and Dallas will roll its coverage to shut down Santana Moss. Cowboys 20, Redskins 13.

[Edward Lee]

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