- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

America's Team is in crisis.

Without a playoff victory since 1996 and fresh off an 8-8 season that ended with a postseason loss to Minnesota, Dallas opened this season by being pounded at home by Philadelphia and then blew a 24-13 lead and lost to Arizona 32-31 last Sunday.

So the Cowboys come to Washington on Monday night at 0-2 for the first time since 1993. But those 1993 defeats minus holdout All-Pro halfback Emmitt Smith were by Washington and Buffalo, which had been a collective 24-14 the previous season. In contrast, the Eagles and Cardinals were a combined 11-21 last year.

"Right now, they're dealing with 'Uh-oh, this ain't the old Cowboys,' " said ESPN Radio's Nate Newton, a Cowboys guard from 1986 to 1998. "The media has accepted that. After that, it didn't take the fans that long. And now it has filtered down to the players."

The Cowboys, who won three Super Bowls from 1992 to 1995, have won just one playoff game since. Dallas, 5-11 in its last 16 games overall, has lost nine in a row on the road dating back to last year's opener at Washington.

"I've told our team and I've told the defense for a number of years, 'They remember what you do last,' " said coach Dave Campo, who moved up from defensive coordinator when Chan Gailey was fired in January after two seasons. "There's no question we've got to be hungry. We weren't hungry enough last year. I don't think teams fear the Cowboys. But I do believe that they get ready for the Cowboys. I still think the mystique is there in some way. We haven't lived up to that in playoff situations. But I do believe we [still] get everybody's best effort on Sunday. Our guys have to understand that."

There still is a reservoir of experience and confidence in Dallas that few teams can match. Seven Cowboys (six starters) and four coaches remain from the three championship teams, with three more players (two starters) and three coaches having been on one or two of the Super Bowl winners. Dallas also is the only NFC team besides Minnesota to make the playoffs the past two seasons.

The veteran offense, which replaced retired sure Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin with Seattle speedster Joey Galloway this offseason, lost Galloway for the year with a knee injury, and star quarterback Troy Aikman sustained a concussion in the shocking 41-14 loss to the Eagles. In the NFC, only Detroit and Green Bay have generated fewer yards.

The defense, young despite returning seven starters, was shredded by the Eagles for a franchise-record 306 rushing yards. Only dreadful San Francisco has allowed more points than Dallas' 73, and only the 49ers and St. Louis are giving up more yards in the NFC.

"I'm actually more concerned with our defense than our offense because our offense is new," Campo said about a scheme installed by Jack Reilly, who has returned after serving as quarterbacks coach during the Cowboys' 6-10 season of 1997 that got coach Barry Switzer fired. "We should be better there each week. We had problems rushing the passer in preseason, so a few guys decided they wanted to rush the passer on run downs [in the opener]. We've shored that up a little."

And now the visiting Cowboys get the NFC East champion Redskins, who figure to be angry after being upset Sunday by Detroit. Aikman, just 11-8 lifetime against Washington, might start if he suffers no ill effects from his return to practice yesterday. But Aikman, who has suffered three of his 10 concussions during his past 10 starts, can't catch the ball or tackle the opposition. And Aikman, a Pro Bowl quarterback from 1991 to 1996, is just 21-23 since.

"I want our number one quarterback on the field, but Troy's health is the number one factor," Campo said. "It's also a longevity thing for him and the team. We would like to think Troy will be our quarterback for a few more years. Troy would play immediately. He's tough. If everything fits right, he'll step in there and do an excellent job."

Halfback Emmitt Smith, Aikman's teammate for 11 years, agreed.

"If Troy's not worried, there's no need for me to be worried," Smith said. "He's going to do what's best for him. If he's on the field, it will be because he feels he can get the job done."

But can the Cowboys?

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