- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

— IRVING, Texas | With a quarter of their season complete, the Washington Redskins proved Sunday, against tall odds, that they belong in the NFC East discussion.

Double-digit underdogs, the Redskins handed the Dallas Cowboys their first setback with a 26-24 victory in the final regular-season game of the rivalry at Texas Stadium. The victory proved home wins over Arizona and New Orleans were relevant, the maligned secondary knows how to make game-altering plays and quarterback Jason Campbell’s toughness and patience always will give his team a chance.

The Redskins have a 3-1 record, leaving them a half-game behind the undefeated New York Giants (3-0). More importantly, they’re 1-1 in division road games, with their only loss coming in the opener to the Giants.

“This division is unbelievable, and all four teams can’t make it - that’s impossible,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “Beating a team like this is a huge step for us.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the game

It was a particularly huge step for Campbell, who has won three consecutive starts for the first time in his career, and a giant leap for a young secondary that played most of the fourth quarter without injured cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot.

And it was a huge sign of progress for the entire operation, especially the rookie coach.

“What feels even better is having the team believe in what we’re doing and the direction we’re going,” coach Jim Zorn said. “That part feels good - they’re responding to this style of leadership.”

The Redskins’ last win in Dallas came via a miracle finish in 2005. This win was more complete.

When Dallas put together a quick rally to tie the score at 17-17 early in the third quarter, the Redskins responded by getting field goals of 33, 33 and 29 yards from Shaun Suisham and not letting Dallas sniff the end zone until the final two minutes.

“It felt like we were in charge of the game all day,” Cooley said. “Offensively we did what we wanted, and defensively they made some huge plays. It was just a lot of fun for us.”

Victory wasn’t secure until 1:42 remained. After Suisham’s third field goal of the half pushed the lead to nine points, Dallas moved 87 yards in 1:40 to make it a two-point game on Miles Austin’s 11-yard touchdown catch.

On Nick Folk’s onside kick, the Cowboys’ Sam Hurd jumped and got both hands on the football, but it deflected out of bounds.

“The Cowboys are regarded as one of the top elite teams in the NFL, and to be able to come into their place and beat them definitely bodes well for us,” right tackle Jon Jansen said.

Each phase played a hand in the victory.

Dallas entered averaging 440 yards and 32 points a game, but the Cowboys managed just 344 (153 coming on two hurry-up scoring drives) yards Sunday. And late in the third quarter, safety Chris Horton intercepted Tony Romo, leading to a Redskins field goal and a 23-17 lead.

The Redskins got standout offensive games from Campbell (20-for-31 for 231 yards and two touchdowns), Santana Moss (eight catches for 145 yards) and Clinton Portis (21 carries for 121 yards).

While the offense had all hands on deck, the Redskins’ defense kept losing bodies. Already without defensive end Jason Taylor, Springs (calf strain) left in the third quarter and didn’t return, and Smoot missed most of the final quarter.

“We were scrambling, and the coaches did a great job getting the guys schooled up,” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “They told me, ‘You can call this, this, this and this, and as long as you call that, we’re good.’ So I went with that, and we got it done.”

Terrell Owens, Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten each finished with seven catches, and Romo threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but it was nowhere near the aerial abuse that plagued the Redskins’ in last year’s defeat at Dallas.

Witten’s touchdown - a 21-yard reception late in the first quarter - opened the scoring. Lined up on the left side, he used an out-and-up move to glide by linebacker Marcus Washington.

The Redskins scored the next 17 points. Campbell was 6-for-7 for 60 yards on a drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown to James Thrash, who took advantage of Terence Newman’s stumble before the snap. Moss’ 28-yard reception set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Antwaan Randle El, and a 53-yard reception by Moss down the right sideline ended with a 20-yard field goal by Suisham with 1:53 left in the first half.

Dallas cut the lead to 17-10 with a 36-yard field goal by Folk as the first half expired and tied the game when Romo threw 10 yards to Owens early in the third quarter.

A potential turning point came midway through the third quarter when two Redskins touchdowns were erased by penalties on Casey Rabach for holding and illegal man downfield. The Redskins again had to settle for a field goal.

“Anytime you get [close] and put the ball in the end zone and they take it back, you think it might come back to haunt you,” Jansen said.

Late in the third quarter, Dallas had moved to its own 37, but Horton, sprinting from midfield, stepped in front of Austin at the 47 and picked off Romo for his fourth takeaway of the season.

While Romo threw a key pick, Campbell remained turnover-free for the season. He held on to the ball when he was sacked and otherwise under duress by the Cowboys’ defense.

“What I thought he was great at and where Jason shined is that he stayed concentrated during difficult situations against a tremendous defense,” Zorn said. “He didn’t have the ups and downs and sways of emotion. I always talk to him about bearing down - about gritting your teeth to get through situations.”

With a marquee win over one of the NFL’s marquee teams, the Redskins land squarely in the spotlight.

“We have to stay humble because teams will start to eye us more, and we have to be like, ‘We can’t start listening to the praise we’re being given,’” Campbell said. “We have to still understand we’re the team people talked bad about a few weeks ago, and we have to keep that in our mind and continue fighting.”

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