Walters: Swept Away
All the water cooler talk during the five work days preceding kickoff centered on exactly which Redskins team would show up Sunday to face the hated Cowboys in a game Washington needed worse than crops need the rain. Would it be the solid, hard-driving bunch that had steamrolled through the 49ers and had given Denver all they could handle at Mile High? Or would the fans of the Burgundy and Gold be treated to the hapless horde of underachievers that inexplicably blew a 13-3 halftime lead to Norville’s next former team? The Redskins answered this city-wide query with perhaps their most complete performance of the millennium.
In what was most likely the biggest regular season game in the brief history of FedEx Field, the Redskins answered the bell like they hadn’t done in nearly a generation. Washington was in command from the opening drive, though their maiden possession did prove fruitless when the Dallas defense was able to momentarily postpone the upcoming onslaught. Just one Dallas play later, a Cornelius Griffin interception off of a tipped pass, and the Redskins were on their way to their largest margin of victory in the history of football’s most notorious rivalry.
The story of Washington’s second 2005 meeting with the Cowboys somehow managed to exceed the legend of the first. Any notion of a fluke victory back in September should be tossed aside after Sunday afternoon. In the first game, the Redskins staged an impressive 71 second offensive outburst leading to their 14-13 triumph in the house the Hershel Walker trade built. But when the two teams met again in mid-December, the story was indeed different, but the result was not.
The Redskins’ 35-7 dismantling of Plastic Jerry’s gang also had something that late-season Redskins football hadn’t had since Bill Clinton was hiding berets from Hillary; context. Sure, Washington swept the Cowboys for the first time in ten years while at the same time validating their Week 2 win. It is also true that the Redskins assured themselves of at least their first non-losing season since Marty Ball was the way of the Redskins world. But more importantly they vaulted themselves from playoff window shopper right into the sixth and final NFC playoff berth. They no longer need outside help, nor must they rely on some ill-contrived and comically unlikely series of events to sneak in through the back door. All that is left now is to win their final two games and Joe Gibbs will have restored pride to a franchise whose stores had been depleted by year after year of futility.
In fact, Washington’s dominant performance Sunday left many wondering just exactly where that particular version of the Redskins had been hiding all season. The defense recorded seven sacks against an admittedly depleted Dallas offensive line, but this is the same type of advantage that so many Redskins teams in the past have failed to capitalize upon. Gregg Williams’ boys just seemed to be rocketing off of the ball as if they were the only ones that could see the snap. Even when things appeared to be breaking down – like at the end of the first half – the defense remained virtually impenetrable. Marcus Washington’s key interception as halftime neared effectively transformed a game that could have been a manageable 21-7 deficit for the Cowboys going into the intermission into a 28-0 hole that all of Michael Irvin’s drug paraphernalia couldn’t fill.
The game ball this week goes to perhaps the brightest light in a game as replete with bright lights as your average Christmas tree (a comparison that made despite haughty ACLU objections). Phillip Daniels has had his ups and downs as a Redskin, but his four sack performance Sunday will forever live in Redskins lore as one of the best examples of a player stepping up to meet the moment in a big game. Daniels was also responsible for the interception by Cornelius Griffin on Dallas’ first possession. He became a living nightmare for Cowboys tackle Torrin Tucker, who had been forced into action by an injury to starter Flozell Adams. Daniels’ performance Sunday was the finest submitted by a Redskins defensive lineman in more years than most fans can count. Many more performances like this one from the veteran defensive lineman and the calls for a bona fide pass rusher will subside, if only for a few weeks anyway.
In contemporary terms, what the 35-7 thrashing of Dallas did more than anything was to continue keeping hope alive for the post-season. As it now stands, and as any Redskins fan worth his salt can now attest, the Redskins are sixth in the NFC, and therefore would make the playoffs if the season were to end today. The victory over Dallas also further elevates the upcoming showdown with the Giants into celestial heights of importance exceeding those of even its predecessor.
Unlike the Cowboys, who dropped their initial contest with the Redskins, the Giants completely dominated Washington earlier in the season on the heels of the death of their owner Wellington Mara. This time, though, it would seem as if momentum is on Washington’s side. Taking the divisional or playoff implications away from the game, when a team gets blown out earlier in the season and then gets a chance to avenge that defeat, often times they are hyped for that game on the strength of revenge if nothing else. Washington should be focused on winning the game not only for their playoff lives, but for their pride as well. Aside from the debacle versus the Raiders, the first Giants game was the lowest point of a season which has began, and is ending, in redemption. A victory in the rematch would perhaps be as sweet as the first game was sour.
In the interest of blind loyalty, it also bears mentioning that the division championship is still not out of the question. Granted, it is a long shot at this point, but the very fact that it is still a possibility is a tribute to the Redskins’ turnaround. Provided the Redskins topple the Giants Saturday at FedEx and then take care of business the following week at Philadelphia, a Giants loss in Oakland would give the division to the Redskins by virtue of the tiebreaker. Most anyone with good common sense would think that the Raiders would coast into their final game under Norville on fumes and that the Giants could easily mow down Oakland in their own backyard. However, when you consider that Peyton’s little brother has won only two road games (one if you don’t count the victory over the CFL’s San Francisco 49ers), then it at least raises a curious eyebrow.
In each of the first three games of the five Washington must win down the stretch, Joe Gibbs and his staff have managed to focus the team solely on the task at hand, rather than on the big picture. It is no different this week, though with the likelihood of a post-season future much more realistic that may be a more trying task this week. As big as the victory over Dallas was, a victory over the Giants would be all the more important due in large part to the implications on the post-season, if not simply for revenge.
Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas (again, boldly defying the ACLU) to all Redskins fans, and in the spirit of the season, to fans of all other teams as well. Check back in next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!
Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
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