Two years and 30 games into his return, Joe Gibbs finally got a complete victory.
Yesterday, in must-win No. 3 for the Washington Redskins, Gibbs saw his offense score 21 points off turnovers, his defense post seven sacks and his special teams win the battle for field position.
The result -- Redskins 35, Cowboys 7 -- was Washington's largest margin of victory in the storied rivalry against Dallas and kept its postseason hopes alive.
"It was one of those nights you dream about," Gibbs said. "The last two years, I can't remember coming close to this. It was great preparation on both sides and special teams, and it was one of those nights where things went our way."
If a dominating win over the Redskins' biggest rivals wasn't enough, there was even better news: With Atlanta's loss at Chicago last night, the Falcons fell into a tie with the Redskins, Dallas and Minnesota for the final wild card spot (all at 8-6). The Redskins hold the tiebreaker because of their 8-2 NFC record.
The Redskins trail the New York Giants by two games in the NFC East, and the teams play Saturday.
"Dallas said it was a fluke that we beat them [14-13 in Week 2], and we came out with the mindset of proving them wrong," H-back Mike Sellers said. "I think we proved our point."
The Redskins swept Dallas for the first time since 1995. The Cowboys entered the season having won 14 of the past 15 meetings.
"We just couldn't do anything well," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "We lost our poise and played poorly. We were awful."
The Redskins were anything but awful, and several individuals had career days:
A week after throwing three first-half interceptions against Arizona, Mark Brunell tied his career high with four touchdown passes (all in the first half), becoming the first Redskins quarterback to do so since Brad Johnson six years ago.
Chris Cooley, without a multi-touchdown game in his two-year career, caught three touchdown passes -- 8, 2 and 30 yards -- in the first half as the Redskins built a 28-0 lead.
"Coming in, it was the biggest game I had ever played in, and to play like I did feels great," he said. "I'll be on a high all week."
Phillip Daniels, who entered with three sacks in 18 games with the Redskins, set a personal high and tied a team record with four sacks. The Redskins posted a season-high seven sacks, giving them 15 in their last four games.
"They max-protected a whole lot when we played them the last time, and it was 100 degrees," Daniels said. "Today was our weather [44 degrees]. They stayed pretty honest for the most part, and we were able to get there."
Cornelius Griffin and Marcus Washington had their first interceptions of the season. Griffin's first career pick came off a Daniels deflection on Dallas' first offensive play and led to the Redskins' first touchdown.
Washington's pick, his first of the season, also was on a deflection, and he returned it 42 yards with 29 seconds left in the first half. Two plays later, Cooley's 30-yard catch and run gave the Redskins a 28-0 halftime lead.
Parcells saw Cooley's play, on which he ran over a pathetic tackle attempt by cornerback Terence Newman, as the final straw. Washington's interception came when the Cowboys were at the Redskins 25.
"I thought maybe we could make a game of it," Parcells said. "But they turned it to 28-0 instead of 21-7, and that was the only real hope we ever had."
Turning takeaways into points was a point of emphasis for the Redskins after they had managed only 10 points off their last nine takeaways.
Against Dallas, the Redskins scored three touchdowns off four takeaways.
"You give any offense in the league a short field to work with, and they'll look like the best in the league," defensive tackle Joe Salave'a said. "For them to turn the turnovers into points really fueled our motors on defense."
Said Gibbs: "Defense leads you up here, and they've played extremely well for two years. I'm proud of the fact we took advantage of the mistakes that were made by them."
Following Griffin's interception, the Redskins drove 21 yards on four plays to take a 7-0 lead when Cooley made a diving catch for an 8-yard score.
In the second quarter, the Redskins moved 75 yards on eight plays, capped by a 2-yard, Brunell-to-Cooley connection on third-and-goal. The touchdown was set up by a 42-yard Santana Moss catch, his longest since Week 6 against San Francisco.
Two touchdowns in the final 1:25 of the first half -- a 3-yard touchdown catch by Mike Sellers and Cooley's 30-yard run-and-catch -- and Ladell Betts' 1-yard run on the Redskins' first possession of the third quarter turned the game into a laugher.
The Redskins' work isn't over, though. The first-place Giants are up next, followed by a trip to Philadelphia.
"This was a crucial game, and we stepped up," Gibbs said. "But that's what it is: one step. We have a big game next against a team that really did a number on us [36-0 in Week 8] the first time around."
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