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Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins.
This game is a pivotal moment for the Washington Redskins, for two reasons.
First, the Redskins need to continue to win against the mass of mediocrity in the NFL and the Cowboys are firmly in that group. A team can do quite well winning the games it should win and Washington needs to establish itself as one that does that with regularity.
The second reason revolves around the numbers .176 and .071. Those represent the Redskins winning percentage in the division in the last three years and against the Cowboys in their last 14 meetings. Certainly, the latter is a major factor in the former. The Redskins have to prove that they can beat the Cowboys if they are to become the team that they and their fans expect them to be. If you start off your season by penciling in two losses to a division rival, especially one that often is on or below your level, you’re in a serious hole.
This one seems simple. Both teams are 5-9 but seem to headed in very different directions. The Redskins are dead set on finishing their season on a high note. They have a lot of the pieces for 2005 in place already and want to build some momentum and energy for next year. Their playoff hopes are slim, but that is keeping them motivated as well.
Dallas has even longer odds of making the postseason and they aren’t using that as any kind of motivation. They don’t quite know who among them will be around for 2005 as many positions, especially quarterback, are in various states between flux and turmoil. Bill Parcells have spent the virtually the whole season telling his team how dumb they are and how poorly they are playing. It appears that they are beginning to believe him.
In the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, columnist Randy Galloway sums up the differences between the two teams quite nicely:
The Gibbs bashing will come to a sudden end next season.
While both he and Parcells share blame at the moment for their teams' miserable years, the NFL of today is all about sudden turnarounds.
Depending on Ramsey, the Redskins have the people in place to totally flip things next season.
This can be a good team in '05. Real good.
And Gibbs is now giving his young quarterback the learning room.
Of course, that optimism for the future is the fork in the road when it comes to the current plight of Gibbs and Parcells.
What exactly is the Cowboys' future?
What about the defense? What about the quarterback?
The best guess six months ago was that Parcells was loading up for '05, and using this season to identify his key pieces and needs.
If that was actually the case, we now know the needs far outweigh the pieces.
Both stellar coaches today at Texas Stadium have a 5-9 record.
But there's a difference; a big difference.
So, it’s an easy Redskins win, right? Not so fast. Among those 13 losses in the last 14 games were quite a few where Washington seemed to have the upper hand. In 1999, the Redskins took the NFC East title despite two losses to an 8-8 Dallas team. In 2001, the Redskins were streaking, having won their last five and the Cowboys were reeling. At FedEx Field, it was Dallas 20, Washington 14. I’m sure it’s not necessary to go through the whole litany, you get the idea.
It’s just very difficult to get a feeling for one of these games because things rarely unfold as think they will, or even as it appears they will as the game progresses. That goes back to Clint Longley and ’79 in Texas Stadium. But here’s a stab at it.
- One of the pieces of the puzzle that the Cowboys know will be in place next year is rookie running back Julius Jones, who has been impressive after returning from a shoulder injury four games ago. He had three straight 100-yard performances before being held to 80 against the Eagles last week. Look for him to get about half that against the Redskins defense, the best in the NFC against the run.
- The last time the two teams met, Vinny Testaverde was a hot quarterback. Now he’s contemplating retirement. He passed for 214 yards in the first meeting this year. To give you an indication as to how unimpressive a performance that was, Mark Brunell passed for 111 yards more than that. Still, he was the winning quarterback that Monday night and he is always dangerous. He’ll get his couple of hundred passing but I think he’ll face a bit more pressure and will take a couple of sacks and throw an interception or two.
- Patrick Ramsey will continue to progress as he looks to being the unquestioned starter from the first minicamp of 2005. Pencil him in for an efficient but not spectacular performance, say a QB rating of 95.
- Clinton Portis needs 217 yards to become the first NFL player ever to rush for 1,500 yards or more in each of his first three seasons and 148 to become the team’s single-season record holder for rushing yards in a season. He’ll get about halfway to the first record and will be on the doorstep on the second one when this game is over.
As has been the case all year, the defense will take care of business. The offense will get enough done to win:
Redskins 24, Cowboys 14
Yes, I know I said earlier this year that I wouldn’t pick the Redskins to beat the Cowboys until they actually did it. But that was my own rule and I’m entitled to break it!