Mickey Spagnola - Email
September 28, 2008 10:15 PM
IRVING, Texas - Well, they're human after all.
In fact, on this sticky Sunday afternoon here at Texas Stadium, where the Washington Redskins arrived dead set on proving they not only belong in the NFC East race, but the NFC race, too, the Dallas Cowboys were very pedestrian - at least for them.
And when playing in the NFC East, whose members have now accounted for four of the Cowboys last five overall losses, pedestrian just isn't going to get it. They found that out last year at the end of the season against Philadelphia and Washington, and then the point was hammered home by the New York Giants one last time in the playoffs.
Now this: Redskins 26, Ordinary Cowboys 24.
There will be no undefeated season, and this team so many were proclaiming untouchable, was wrapped up in a gigantic bear hug by the Redskins, so tight there would be no miracles saving the Cowboys in the end as they were saved last year at Buffalo and at Detroit.
As head coach Wade Phillips said, "You can't count on miracle plays at the end of the game," and without a game-saving miracle, the Cowboys now are in the same 3-1 boat as the Redskins, no better, no worse.
No, maybe the football gods help those who help themselves, too, and far too many times the Cowboys hurt themselves, like with the penalty for having 12-men on the field, not only costing them 3 minutes, 32 seconds on the game clock, but allowing Washington kicker Shaun Suisham to attempt a much more makeable 29-yard field goal for what turned out to be the game-winning points, rather than the 49-yarder he would have been attempting without the five-yard penalty giving the Redskins a first down.
Or like only being able to run for 44 yards, which actually is 43 more than they ran for in the 2007 season finale against these same Skins. Or like on attempting to run 11 times, their fewest rushing attempts since 1990 against the Giants because they simply couldn't, and only one more than the club's all-time low of 10 when such activity was futile in their 1989 season opener against the Saints, a foreboding day to the 1-15 season.
Or like being unable to stop the run, Clinton Portis gaining 121 yards, becoming the only running back to rush for 100 yards against the Cowboys - he did so in the year-ender last year, too - since Brian Westbrook did so in Game 15 of the 2006 season. Not coincidently, the Cowboys lost all three of those games.
Or like not being able to cover Santana Moss - again - the Washington wide receiver catching eight passes for 145 yards, including a 53-yarder. Hey, at least they kept the dude out of the end zone.
You want more pedestrian? How about only possessing the ball for 21:51, their lowest time of possession since the 21:45 last year against New England, and worse, just 9:40 in the entire second half? How about scoring a season-low 24 points? How about still no takeaways and suffering yet another interception?
At least the head coach was realistic after the Cowboys finished what most thought would be a grueling first month of the season at 3-1, and maybe the most sobering thought might be this: Had Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb not mishandled that handoff while preparing to put the Cowboys away here two weeks ago, the once-thought invincible Cowboys could be 2-2.
"I thought they outplayed our offense," Phillips said. "They outplayed our defense. They outplayed our special teams and our coaches. Take your pick."
And as he would eventually get to, "I don't have excuses and I'm not making excuses. They played better than us."
Now, hey, I understand the perception out there. That is never supposed to happen, not to the Dallas Cowboys. If they lose, as every team in the National Football League has at least once every year over the past 35 seasons with the exception of Miami in 1972 and New England last year, there has to be blame.
Now Pat Watkins took the blame for being that 12th guy on the field, only acceptable if you're an Aggie.
Terence Newman took some blame for giving up a few of those big passes to Moss, along with the two-yard touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El.
The defensive line took the blame for the Redskins controlling the ball for a ridiculous 38:09.
And the offense realizes it just didn't make enough plays.
"It was just a tough day, like I said," said Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who threw for a franchise tying 300-yards his 13th time to no avail.
Now some are going to say the Cowboys took the 11-point underdog Redskins lightly.
Some will want to say the Cowboys relaxed after going up 7-0, and then seemingly with ease wiping out a Washington 10-point lead, the largest lead an opponent has held over the Cowboys this season, to tie the game at 17 on the first possession of the third quarter.
Or that they gave up on the run too soon or that they were forcing the ball to Terrell Owens just to keep him happy.
Or . . . look it has to be something. These are the Cowboys, for heaven's sakes.
But as blasphemous as this might sound, you got to tip your cap to the Redskins. They just played better and smarter than the Cowboys. They controlled both lines of scrimmage. They gambled with a lot of man coverage on Owens, Shawn Springs playing his heart out until leaving the game with an injury in the third quarter, although look, LaRon Landry was lurking over the top quite a bit.
And while it might have appeared the Redskins were getting pressure on Romo, really it was the coverage forcing Romo to hold the ball a tick or three longer instead of coming up throwing when his back foot hit on those five-step drops as usual.
Plus, how about those Redskins surviving when playing there at the end of the third quarter with two of their top three cornerbacks on the sideline, Springs and nickel back Fred Smoot knocked out of the game. So Carlos Rogers moved over to take Owens, and when they had to come in with Leigh Torrence at the other corner, the Cowboys immediately went to their three wideout formation.
The Redskins countered with those two corners and then three safeties on their nickel. And I'll be darn, with Austin lined up wide to the right on first-and-10 at the Cowboys 38, Torrence backed off him like 10 yards, baiting him to throw a stop route to Austin. In fact, when they lined up, coming out of my mouth was, "They got an easy 10-yard stop route to Austin."
One problem, the Redskins read Romo's mind. Safety Chris Horton, lining up in the slot, simply ran straight out to his left, undercutting Romo's pass to Austin for an interception with 12 seconds left in the third quarter. The Redskins turned that possession into another Suisham field goal (33 yards) and a 23-17 lead.
"Everybody has to look at the Redskins in a different light right now," said Redskins running back Ladell Betts after they stretched their winning streak to three straight. "This is a great team. We can beat anybody. We can play with anybody."
But come on, it was only a six-point lead. There was time. And after all, these are the Cowboys.
But of all things, the Cowboys went three and out. Still there was time, Washington getting the ball at its 34 with a whole 10:16 left. But the Cowboys allowed Washington to convert two first downs. Yet still there was time, with the Redskins facing third-and-two from the Cowboys 31 with 6:58 remaining.
And there was DeMarcus Ware, who must have chip marks all over his body as many times as the Redskins running backs chipped him on passing plays, stopping Portis for no gain. But alas, once again the Cowboys were far too human, Pat Watkins saying he was the extra guy on the field, giving the Redskins another first down.
What are you going to do?
Still there was enough time, right, the Cowboys getting the ball back trailing by nine after Suisham's chip-shot field goal with 3:16 remaining. Touchdown, recovered onside kick and a Nick Folk 50-yard field goal as time expires, and Cowboys win by one, 27-26.
Right? Went through your mind, didn't it?
Well, the touchdown was rather easy, the Cowboys covering 87 yards in just 1:40, narrowing the score to 26-24 with 1:42 remaining when Austin weaved into the end zone. Yep, still there was time.
And there was the opportunity, Folk drilling the one-hopper high into the air, just as planned, and I'll be darn, here came Sam Hurd, just as he did in Buffalo, leaping into the air with a chance to recover. But as he twisted to catch the ball heading over his back shoulder, the ball grazed off his hands and out of bounds, as it probably does more times than not on those types of plays. Skins ball.
Now there was not enough time.
Not for mere humans.