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One down, two to go

This was the game Joe Gibbs came out of retirement to coach, the game Redskins fans have been anticipating since he came back 23 months ago. It's been 13 long years since a Redskins-Cowboys game meant so much.

But no one, not even the most diehard Redskins rooter, would have believed the Redskins were going to wallop the Cowboys 35-7 for their biggest margin of victory in the 46-year history of the rivalry.

Q: I'm speechless. How did this happen?

A: I'm pretty stunned, too, pal. The mood at Redskin Park was more hope than belief last week. Only a handful of players had played in a bigger game, and several key players weren't sure to play because of injuries. I didn't see this blowout coming.

Q: Why can't the Redskins play like that every week?

A: Emotion is a huge factor in this league, more so than in other sports in which games are played several times a week. The Redskins wanted this game more than the Cowboys. That became more obvious with every Cowboys mistake that the Redskins used to build a huge first-half lead.

Q: So we're playoff-bound for sure, now, right?

A: Hold on a moment, sport. Atlanta's loss last night at Chicago put Washington in the sixth and final NFC playoff spot and in control of its own destiny.

However, too many things can happen with two weeks left. Start with the fact that the Giants, who stop by the Big Ugly by the Beltway on Saturday, crushed the Redskins 36-0 the first time around.

Q: But all signs are positive, aren't they?

A: Well, the Redskins have won three straight games, all in the NFC, to improve to 8-2 in the conference. The only teams with better NFC records are the Seahawks, who could have clinched home-field advantage with a Chicago loss last night, and those Bears. And the Seahawks and Bears had lost in the conference only to the Redskins. Washington holds the tiebreakers against fellow contenders Chicago, Dallas, Carolina, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Q: Mark Brunell threw three interceptions in his first 14 passes last week against the lowly Cardinals. Yesterday, he threw four touchdowns in his first 17 passes against formidable Dallas. How is that possible?

A: Quarterbacks get in a rhythm, and Brunell, hopelessly out of tune in the first half against the Cardinals, was like a Stradivarius in the first half against the Cowboys.

Q: Dallas has a pretty talented secondary with Roy Williams, Terence Newman, Aaron Glenn and Anthony Henry. How come they can't cover Santana Moss?

A: Moss stunned the Cowboys with two long touchdown catches in the final four minutes of Week 2 at Texas Stadium. Moss had just one reception of more than 30 yards in his last seven games, but he had grabs of 42 and 31 yards to set up touchdowns in the first half. Some players just have some teams' number.

Q: I bleed burgundy and gold, but even I admit the Tuna is a terrific coach. So how come he forgot to tell his guys to cover Chris Cooley?

A: That was just pathetic defense. You would think after the first touchdown they would pay attention to No. 47, who came into the game second among NFC tight ends/H-backs in catches and fourth in yards.

Q: Where has that pass rush been all season?

A: The line is the weak link of the Cowboys' offense. And with cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Walt Harris not 100 percent and Carlos Rogers inactive, Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams wisely went after quarterback Drew Bledsoe to try to disrupt his timing. The result was seven sacks and three interceptions.

Q: I might still be celebrating this one Saturday. Will the Redskins?

A: Joe Gibbs will give the players the next two days off to revel in the sweet triumph. But with a short week and the division-leading Giants coming to town, he will have them focused on that even more critical game.

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