- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

As much as Washington Redskins fans would like to believe their long-standing rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys is back in full swing, there’s one key piece missing from the puzzle:

Equal competition.

For the last seven years, Dallas has dominated this annual home-and-home series, and neither the presence of Joe Gibbs on the sideline nor a record crowd of 90,367 at FedEx Field could reverse that trend last night.

The Cowboys and Bill Parcells took it to Gibbs and the Redskins, hanging on to earn a 21-18 victory and their 13th win in the last 14 meetings between the two NFC East foes.

Vinny Testaverde threw one touchdown pass, running back Richie Anderson threw one of his own and Dallas’ defense took advantage of a Washington offense that looked inept until a late flurry.

Mark Brunell, returning to start one week after straining his hamstring in New York, was all over the place. The veteran quarterback had all kinds of trouble connecting with his receivers for most of the night, though he did come around late in the fourth quarter to turn a rout into a game again.

Washington (1-2) looked dead, trailing 21-10 with less than five minutes to play. But Brunell (25-for-43, 325 yards) quickly hit his new favorite receiver, Rod Gardner, on a pretty 49-yard pass. The two hooked up again, with Brunell sidestepping Dallas pass-rusher La’Roi Glover and finding Gardner in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.

A Brunell-to-Taylor Jacobs two-point conversion made it 21-18 with 4:30 to go and brought the once-silent crowd back to life.

“Mark fought his guts out like the team did,” Gibbs said. “I thought he scrambled and played hard.”

Ultimately, it was too little offense too late for the Redskins, who could not overcome their first-half miscues and the Cowboys’ quick-strike offense.

Stifled for most of the night, Dallas (2-1) finally struck in the fourth quarter — on a trick play, of all things. Anderson took a pitch from Testaverde, rolled left and found Terry Glenn in the back of the end zone. Glenn, who beat seldom-used safety Ryan Clark and Sean Taylor (who came over to help) on the play, gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead and left the Redskins scrambling to recover.

Washington had one last chance, taking over at its 24 with 21 seconds left. But despite a 46-yard rainbow from Brunell to Gardner (10 catches, 167 yards, two touchdowns), the Redskins could do nothing but watch the final seconds tick away and Parcells notch his seventh straight victory over coaching rival Gibbs.

Gibbs also can’t reverse Washington’s abysmal record against NFC East opposition. Just three weeks into the season, the Hall of Fame coach finds himself 0-2 in the division.

“Those are always big, when you lose a division game,” Gibbs said. “It’s early. We have to find a way to battle back out of this.”

Last night’s record crowd greeted the Redskins with a thunderous roar, but it didn’t take long for the assembled masses to start showing signs of discontent. Washington’s abysmal early offensive performance gave them plenty to grumble about.

Brunell was downright awful in the early going, completing just two of his first 11 passes for a measly 21 yards. His second pass of the game — an underthrown bomb intended for Laveranues Coles — appeared to be intercepted by Dallas’ Pete Hunter, but Gibbs successfully challenged and the replay showed the ball hit the ground.

All that did was prolong the drive and give Brunell and Coles multiple opportunities to mis-connect on pass after pass after pass. If Brunell wasn’t throwing the ball too high, Coles was dropping them.

During one painful stretch, Brunell threw to Coles on seven straight plays, completing just one (a poorly thrown pass that required a circus catch along the sideline).

The Cowboys’ offense wasn’t that impressive either in the first half but made the most of its one real scoring opportunity and took a 7-0 lead. On third-and-8 at the Redskins 42, Testaverde threw incomplete deep to Glenn, but Washington nickelback Walt Harris was flagged for a borderline pass interference penalty.

Much to the dismay of the crowd, the officials placed the ball on the 1, and Eddie George immediately stomped into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.

Brunell finally started moving the Redskins’ offense late in the first half, engineering a 15-play, 91-yard drive that chewed up more than seven minutes. Three failed plays from the 1, though, forced John Hall to come out and kick a 19-yard field goal and send Washington to the locker room trailing 7-3.

As well as the Redskins’ defense played for most of the night, the unit suffered a brief-yet-disastrous meltdown early in the third quarter.

On three successive plays, Testaverde threw 48 yards to Antonio Bryant, 23 yards to Keyshawn Johnson and 10 yards to tight end Jason Witten for a touchdown. Witten’s score, in which he juked linebacker Antonio Pierce and broke for the corner of the end zone, gave Dallas a 14-3 lead and left Washington in a hole too deep to climb out of.

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