- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Once upon a time, you would have called the conditions at FedEx Field yesterday “Redskins weather.” Joe Gibbs’ clubs were Lords of the Low Pressure System, built for the meteorological mayhem one tends to encounter in the NFC East — especially late in the season when playoff berths are on the line. Joe Theismann would put the ball in the belly of John Riggins (or Mark Rypien would give it to Earnest Byner), and the Hogs would take care of the rest.

Alas, the current Redskins aren’t designed for rain, cold and soggy fields. They’re designed to play Pitch ‘n’ Catch, with a few runs mixed in — a reflection of their funnin’, gunnin’ coach, Steve Spurrier, formerly of sunny Florida. All you had to do was look out the window yesterday to know it was going to be a long afternoon for the home team. This wasn’t Redskins weather, not any more; if anything, it was Bill Parcells weather. The Cowboys’ coach has spent his Hall of Fame career putting together all-temperature teams in New York and New England, and he knows as well as anyone how to deal with inconvenience.

The strategy is pretty simple, really.

No. 1: Get ahead early (because you’re never going to be any drier — and the turf is never going to be any firmer — than in the first quarter).

No. 2: Wait for your opponent to make a mistake that puts him in an even bigger hole.

No. 3: Sit on the lead by running the ball and playing dogged defense.

Dallas did all those things to perfection in its 27-0 dismantling of the Redskins. Which is why they’re a victory away from the postseason — while the Redskins are headed into another winter of What Went Wrong? The Cowboys drove 74 yards for a touchdown the first time they had the ball, made it 14-0 late in the half following their second interception of Tim Hasselbeck and rode the legs of Troy Hambrick (33 carries, 189 yards) thereafter. It was a textbook example of how to win a game under adverse circumstances.

Spurrier, who claims he’s “not very good at making excuses,” came up with a doozy afterward. “The conditions,” he said, “were probably no worse than last week up in the Meadowlands, when we played with no turnovers. But we had six tonight.”

No worse? Is he kiddin’ me? The conditions were twice as bad, at least — as evidenced by their quarterback’s six completions (and four INTs) in 26 attempts. At Giants Stadium, it was windy and cold; at FedEx, it was wet and cold, which is usually much more problematical. After all, it wasn’t just the Redskins who struggled throwing the ball yesterday; the Cowboys hit only 10 passes in 24 tries themselves, half of them to running back Richie Anderson.

“It was a tough day to pass,” Parcells said. So it was crucial, he went on, to score first. “That opening drive was very important to us.” Spurrier, it seems, still hasn’t come to grips with that, with a league in which a TD in the first six minutes is so significant.

The game reminded us once again how ill equipped this Redskins club is to deal with the week-in, week-out demands of the NFL. You’re just not going to beat a good team — on a miserable day — with an offense built around the forward pass, an offense that has 5-7 Rock Cartwright and 5-8 Chad Morton as its main runner threats (or Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts, had they been available, for that matter). Barring a bunch of turnovers by the opposition, you’ve got virtually no chance. And Parcells’ clubs have never been known for their charity.

“When I saw the weather was going to be bad,” Dallas tight end Dan Campbell said, “I said, ‘Awright!’ I knew we’d have a chance to pound the ball on ‘em. And if you can score on a team early, like we did, and start running the ball with some success, you can crack ‘em quick. Physically, it starts to wear on ‘em — and that’s what happened today across the board.”

Indeed it did. Hambrick piled up 129 of his yards in the second half, often running through gaping holes. On his biggest gain, a 42-yarder to the Washington 2 near the end, “I don’t think No.41 [Matt Bowen] wanted to hit me anymore,” he said. “So I stuck that right [foot] in the ground and cut back against the grain” — and left Bowen grasping for air.”

And let’s not forget: It could have been worse. Carter fumbled inside the Washington 15 in the second quarter, depriving the Cowboys of at least three points. The Redskins, meanwhile, never even managed a field goal attempt (and their longest drive, to the Dallas 27, would have been another three-and-out if they hadn’t surprised the Cowboys with their first fake punt in two seasons).

It was over almost as soon as it started. The only issue was the final score. “It was tough out there,” Carter said, “but at the same time, this is what football is all about.” Unfortunately for the Redskins, their coach hasn’t figured that out yet.

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