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SNYDER: Redskins-Cowboys rivalry has a bit more juice this time around

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

With exceedingly low expectations from the national punditry entering the season, the Redskins have their second showcase game in three weeks to prove they're much better than anticipated. The first step, against the New York Giants in the season-opener, drew Fox's No. 1 announcing crew and was broadcast to much of the nation as the late doubleheader game. Now comes the Monday Night Football stage in Dallas, where the Redskins again are fortuitous in facing a banged-up foe. But with an opportunity to go 3-0 for the first time since 2005, Washington doesn't care who suits up for the Cowboys as long there's redemption for last year's showing on MNF.

You might recall that game against Philadelphia at FedEx Field, the same day that embattled quarterback Donovan McNabb signed a five-year contract that supposedly ended questions about his future. But the Redskins' aspirations were the only things put to rest once the Eagles were done. Philadelphia led 35-0 with nine seconds elapsed in the second quarter, en route to a 59-28 shellacking as the nation looked on.

The loss dropped Washington to 4-5 and it won just two more games the rest of the season, making Year 1 of the Mike Shanahan Era an abominable failure.

Much has changed in the nine games since that Monday Night Massacre, namely half the roster and the entire atmosphere at Redskin Park. The surprising 2-0 start has put observers on notice that Shanahan is indeed having a positive impact on Dan Snyder's team, albeit a year later than the owner anticipated. In their only scheduled prime time appearance this season, the new-look Redskins have a great opportunity to advance the story.

It couldn't come against a better opponent than the hated Cowboys, winners of four of the past five games against the Redskins. The rivalry has a bit more juice now after drying out some lately, as Washington posted one winning record in the past five years. Meanwhile, Dallas had winning records in every season of that span until last year, when Tony Romo was lost for good in Week 7.

Romo's health has been a big storyline entering Monday's game, with Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall vowing to target the quarterbacks fractured rib while issuing plenty of bulletin-board comments about bad blood between the franchises. Washington's start and Romo's status were enough to make the matchup more enticing, but there's nothing like some good old-fashioned trash talk to make us reminisce about the heyday.

"I don't think the rivalry is any different," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Those teams were awfully good in the '90s on both sides, with Washington coming off the Super Bowls and the Cowboys going into a stretch where they won three Super Bowls. So they were outstanding football teams competing against each other.

"To me, that has not a whole lot to do with the rivalry. The rivalry exists, and has existed, throughout the history of these franchises. It's been one of the great rivalries in the National Football League, and it's been fun to be a part of it both as a player and now as a coach."

Garrett, in his first full year as head coach, is trying to build his name, and he'll have plenty of opportunities to impress a national audience with the high-profile Cowboys. Dallas was on Sunday Night Football in Week 1 and returns there in Week 8. There is also a Saturday night game on the NFL Network, the annual Thanksgiving game and possibly a flexible scheduling change in their future.

Shanahan already has built his name, but he's trying to restore it after a lackluster end to his career in Denver and last year's 6-10 debacle with Washington. The Redskins don't get nearly as much national love from the networks, so Shanahan has to take advantage of these chances when they arise. A win Monday night for a 3-0 start would keep Washington in the discussion along with Buffalo and Detroit as teams changing their losing ways.

"If you can't get up for games like this, then you shouldn't be in this profession," Shanahan said. "From a coaching standpoint or a player's perspective, Monday night — especially in Dallas — it's just a great venue. This, to me, is why you're in this game."

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