- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

IRVING, Texas — Facing a rugged defense and an anemic offense, the Dallas Cowboys were content to wait and wait and wait.

Patience was the Cowboys’ game plan last night at Texas Stadium. And with the Redskins on the other side of the ball, why not?

And it worked — to a point. But though it staked Dallas to a seemingly comfortable 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys’ patient plan also allowed the Redskins to stay close enough to turn an evening of futility into a 14-13 win with two big plays.

At first glance, the concept seemed sound. The Redskins’ feeble offense averaged a mere 15 points a game last season and failed to score a touchdown in their season-opening victory over Chicago. Their defense, on the other hand, is sterling, ranking third in the NFL last season and second after one week this year.

Knowing, then, that they wouldn’t need to score much to win, and that Washington’s killer defense was poised to take advantage of any mistakes, the Cowboys simply decided not to risk making any.

The result was a half of the most conservative football possible. The Cowboys barely even looked down the field. Nearly every pass was a low-yardage, high percentage throw. They ran from three-wide receiver formations, and when they lined up with five wides and no backs, quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw a quick screen to Peerless Price — that was promptly stopped for a loss.

At halftime, the Cowboys had more pass attempts (16) than rushes (14), but Bledsoe had only 57 yards passing and was averaging 3.6 yards an attempt. Dallas held the ball more than 16 minutes in the first half, but went into the locker room with a slim 3-0 lead.

If the Cowboys had played their cards any closer to the vest, they would have been inside it.

For much of the night, the strategy worked perfectly. By the third quarter, the Cowboys’ cautious “attack” had drawn the Washington defense toward the line of scrimmage, awaiting the inside runs and quick passes. On the first play after halftime, they were ready — at last — to strike.

After a holding penalty put Dallas at first-and-20 from their own 30, Bledsoe gave the ball to running back Julius Jones on a straightforward lead draw. But Jones stopped, wheeled and pitched it back to Bledsoe, who fired deep down the field for Terry Glenn, who beat the drawn-in secondary for a 70-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

That, it seemed, would be all the points the Cowboys would need, and they seemed content to play the rest of the game that way. They took one more shot down the field when Bledsoe hit Glenn for 43 yards down the right sideline early in the fourth quarter, which led to a 41-yard field goal by Jose Cortez, but for the most part, they simply tried to keep the clock moving, relying on a defense that sacked Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell five times and held running back Clinton Portis to 52 yards on 17 rushes.

But the plan was blown to pieces by a pair of bombs. Just when it seemed the Cowboys would cruise to victory with a 13-0 lead in the final four minutes, Brunell found Santana Moss on a deep post behind Cowboys safety Roy Williams for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 3:46 left. Just over a minute later, Moss got behind Williams on the post again, this time for a 70-yard scoring play with 2:35 to go.

Just like that, Dallas’ patient, conservative plan was transformed from genius to lunacy. And, suddenly desperate, they couldn’t muster a big play when they needed one to get them into range for a game-winning field goal.

Indeed, on fourth-and-4 from the Redskins’ 42, Bledsoe completed an underneath crossing route to Glenn, the sort of play he had lived on for three-plus quarters. This time, Walt Harris stopped Glenn for a 3-yard gain, short of the first down, ending Dallas’ last real threat.

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