After a four-day break that finished their bye week, the Washington Redskins resumed practice yesterday with their minds on ending their three-game losing streak.
Standing in their way is rival Dallas, fresh off a comeback win at Carolina on Sunday night.
"For the most part, guys are pretty refreshed and ready to get back to work," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "We're 2-5. Regardless of who it is or where it is, we need a win. Of course, [the Cowboys] are a very good team that played well the other night, so we have a big challenge ahead of us. We're going to be rested, and a lot of guys will be healed up."
Dallas (4-3) trailed 14-0 Sunday night before rallying to win 35-14 in quarterback Tony Romo's first start. Romo, who replaced Drew Bledsoe at halftime Oct. 23, threw for 270 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He proved more mobile than his veteran predecessor, rushing for 18 yards on four carries.
"The switch surprised me because they weren't doing badly on offense, but it's what the fans wanted more than anything," said defensive end Phillip Daniels, who tied a Redskins record by sacking Bledsoe four times in December. "Romo is getting better. Bledsoe holds the ball a little longer than [Romo] does. He gets it out pretty fast."
Romo has rushed for 27 yards and three first downs in his six quarters since replacing Bledsoe, who had thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 16 times this season. Like Denver's Jake Plummer, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, Romo can create plays downfield with his mobility.
"He's one of these athletic, young quarterbacks," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "He was able to move the chains. That rests the defense and gives the offense more plays. One or two first downs can make a difference between a win and a loss."
Dallas entered Sunday night having lost two of its last three games, with both losses coming to NFC East opponents. Bledsoe, who threw costly interceptions at the goal line against Philadelphia on Oct. 8 and in the first half against New York on Oct. 23, was criticized for his poor play and caused Dallas coach Bill Parcells to make a rare in-game quarterback switch.
A quarterback change like Dallas', according to Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn, often can be an elixir to a team's problems.
"Sometimes you just need something new, a changeup, a little bit of a spark," Wynn said. "Romo brings some new energy, gives them a better chance to be successful. His first time certainly worked out well for him, and it will continue to build confidence in him and his team. He's still learning, but he does get out of the pocket. He made four first downs with his legs [against the Panthers].
"It was a risk, but it looks good for them right now."
The Redskins, meanwhile, are standing behind starter Mark Brunell. Asked whether the team might get a similar lift by benching Brunell for second-year quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Santana Moss remained supportive of the 36-year-old veteran.
"I have 150 percent confidence in the guy throwing the ball," Moss said. "It's not something we need to get riled about."
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs reiterated yesterday he has no plans to follow Parcells' example, but he knows his team is far from perfect.
"We certainly had a lot to work on," Gibbs said. "When you get a break, it allows you to sit back and analyze things a little bit because you're not spending every minute trying to get ready for the next opponent. When you have time to do that, there are things that jump at you that you wouldn't have maybe picked up on if you had been trying to get ready for the next opponent. We've had three good days of work, but what matters is how we play. How we're going to be measured as a team is our won-loss record and how we play. That's the way it should be. That's the way you want it."
The Redskins enter the second half of the season aware of several problems. But Daniels, the most upset in recent postgame locker rooms, was upbeat yesterday about the team's future, particularly on defense.
"We know we haven't played a good game as a whole [defense] up to this point," he said. "We just have to play solid and have everybody do their jobs, and we'll be OK. We got some much-needed rest. I feel better about our chances now. Everybody knows we need a win. If we come out with a win, I think there will be some good things down the road for us."
Still, the Redskins can't afford another loss if they are going to repeat as a playoff team. They have not made the playoffs in back to back seasons since 1991-92, the final two seasons of Gibbs' first tenure.
"If we get a couple of wins, you can say we started fresh [out of the bye]," tight end Chris Cooley said. "We're not in a good situation right now. We really need a win. We need to string together five or six wins to hopefully make the playoffs."