- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

— IRVING, Texas

For one glorious stretch in the second quarter Sunday, the Redskins were the team of their dreams. I ask you: Have they ever in recent years looked so unstoppable - on the road - against a Certified League Power? It was almost scary the way they pushed around the Cowboys and quieted their rowdy fans.

On offense, the Redskins passed Dallas dizzy, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal in that highlight-film quarter. On defense, they fought the Cowboys for every yard, and Shawn Springs challenged everything thrown in Terrell Owens’ direction. Their kickoff coverage team, meanwhile, stopped phenom Felix Jones in his tracks at the 9-yard line and made another tackle at the 15.

It didn’t last, of course. Almost nobody in the NFL plays at such a ridiculously high level for very long. But it hinted at things to come. It suggested that in this increasingly wide open race for the Lombardi Trophy, the Redskins could very well be in the mix, depending on how the breaks and broken ankles fall.

Those 13 or so minutes of near perfection were the difference, it says here, in the Snydermen’s stunning 26-24 victory over Dallas. And really, who saw it coming? Oh, the Redskins had their moments in wins over the Saints and Cardinals, but nothing that indicated they had this kind of game in them.

After all, Tony Romo and Co. were leading the league in offense (440 yards a game) and the conference in scoring (32 points). They seemed to have too many weapons to stop, especially considering the Washington ‘D’ was without playmaking end Jason Taylor. How could the Redskins pressure Romo consistently? And how could they attend to all those receivers - T.O., Jason Witten, emerging Miles Austin and the rest - and contain sledgehammer back Marion Barber at the same time?

The oddsmakers, in their irrational exuberance, had Dallas as a double-digit favorite. But even if that was a bit extreme, the Cowboys, playing the Redskins for the final time (maybe) at Texas Stadium, figured to have enough going for them to improve their record to 4-0 - and open a two-game lead over their blood rival.

Obviously, though, we’ve underestimated these Redskins - and forgotten that they’ve played the Cowboys pretty tough the past few seasons. Heck, they came close to winning here last year even with Owens scoring four TDs, and they absolutely annihilated nothing-to-play-for Dallas in the regular-season finale at FedEx Field.

Besides, the more you see this team, the more you realize how mature it is now, how settled. It takes a great deal to unnerve the Redskins, to send them into panic mode. They’re certainly not going to get thrown off stride by a first-quarter Cowboys touchdown and an early 7-0 deficit, as was the case Sunday. Been there, done that - many, many times.

“We try not to let bad plays affect us,” said Jason Campbell, not that he’s had many of them in this turnover-free season.

Nor are the Redskins going to lose their composure if, as also happened in this game, they see a 17-7 lead disappear while the home crowd cranks up the volume. They simply answer with another inspired stretch, driving for one field goal (after a touchdown was called back twice because of a penalty), picking off a pass (the latest contribution of eye-opening rookie Chris Horton) and then marching for two more three-pointers to take a 26-17 lead with 3:22 left.

Doing much of the heavy lifting in the three scoring possessions was Clinton Portis, who rushed for 85 of his 121 yards in the second half. As he put it, “The Cowboys have a great defense. But when your DBs have had to chase Santana [Moss] and [Antwaan] Randle El all day and your linebackers have been chasing Chris Cooley, it takes something out of you. Coach keeps us fresh enough [in the first half] so that in the game we can pound it.”

When it was over, when the Redskins had withstood a late Dallas TD and sweated out the subsequent unsuccessful onside kick, Jim Zorn smiled and said, “I don’t know if I had a headache from calling the plays or watching the clock. It was a very difficult game to watch at the end there.” Or rather, it was until, as has become his custom, Campbell began kneeling down to kill the remaining time.

Going into the season, the NFC East looked to be a Cowboys-Eagles-Giants world. The Redskins, on paper, didn’t appear to be quite in the same class, not with a first-year coach, a new defensive coordinator and a young quarterback on whom the jury was still out. But could it be, after Joe Gibbs’ four-year stabilization program, the team has finally arrived? Could it be they’re ready, at long last, to make a deep playoff run?

They definitely gave that impression Sunday. With Zorn calling plays like Coach Joe in his prime, Campbell running the offense like Joe Theismann circa 1982, Portis slashing between the tackles a la Earnest Byner and Moss doing a convincing imitation of Gary Clark, the Redskins rolled up 381 yards (with a telling 38:09 time of possession) on a defense packed with Pro Bowl players.

As for Greg Blache’s marauders, they again played with attitude - attitude with a capital “A.” So far, at least, Blache has been much more aggressive in his approach than cautious, calculating Gregg Williams. Even when Springs was sidelined by a calf pull and Fred Smoot got dinged, the secondary hunkered down and continued to contest every Romo throw. Guess the Redskins have some depth after all.

This wasn’t the Dolphins going to Foxborough and catching the Patriots unawares with a bunch of single-wing plays. This was the Redskins going to Dallas, running the stuff they’ve been running all season and outplaying the Cowboys at every turn. This was a game that … changes everything.

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