Let me preface by saying there is little more satisfying for Washington Redskins fans than beating the Dallas Cowboys. The rivalry has been downplayed for the past few years because it was so one-sided; the Cowboys had won 14 of 15 contests from 1997 to 2004, including an embarrassing 10 game winning streak. Credit to my short memory, but last I checked the Redskins had won 3 of the past 4 games. Feels great.
What a game this was. I've never turned away from a W, but I have to admit we won this ugly. There were so many ways we could have lost this game: Terrell Owens learns to catch, Troy Vincent gets blocked before swatting down a Vanderjagt FG, or even the facemask penalty that put us into FG range is treated as 5 yarder and not a 15.
The stats tell of a loss -- the Cowgirls out gained us in total yards, they won the turnover battle, Red Zone and Goal-to-go %s, and third down conversions. Dallas was an efficient 10 of 16 on 3rd down, compared to our underachieving 5 of 13. Yet despite all that, and missing our best wide receiver Santana Moss, Your Washington Redskins found a way to win this game.
The defense played significantly better than it had in the first game. They were still susceptible to the big play, as four Cowboys receivers had 20+ yard receptions. That doesn't count Owens' aforementioned dropped pass, which would have been a long touchdown. But they came up big when it mattered early and late. Lemar Marshall recorded a safety to put the Redskins on the scoreboard, and later inconsistent Kenny Wright (who did play better than normal) broke up a 2-point conversion that could have decided the game.
Hogs Haven Gameballs:
Offense -- This was a tough call, as I'm split between Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley. Ultimately it came down to a dropped pass by Cooley that sold me on Clinton Portis. I give huge props to Cooley for making an amazing catch, but it was Clinton Portis' 38 yard touchdown sprint that earns the offensive honors this week.
Defense -- I have to give this to Lemar Marshall for his safety tackle on Julius Jones. The play came shortly after a disappointing 4 straight stuffed plays on 1st and goal. Our desperate and failed attempt to plug the ball in on 1st and 2, 2nd and 1, 3rd and 1, and 4th and 1 was a potential momentum changer in this game. Shortly afterwards, though, Lemar Marshall broke through the Dallas line and tackled Julius Jones in the endzone, putting the Redskins on the scoreboard and getting back possession. On the ensuing drive we would put up 3 more points with a Nick Novak field goal.
Special Teams -- Troy Vincent, without question. As much criticism as the Redskins have (rightfully) received for their bumbling personnel decisions, how fitting that the recently acquired Troy Vincent saves the game. Props to Sean Taylor for having the presence of mind to pick the ball up and carry far enough down the field to ultimately set up a field goal.
What we need to do differently:
Defensively we have to keep receivers in front of us. Terrell Owens had this team beat in the 3rd quarter and simply dropped a perfectly placed Tony Romo catch. If he makes that the score is 26-12 and potentially out of reach. Still, the secondary (with a healthy Shawn Springs) looked much better than it had earlier in the year. The replacement of Adam Archuleta with Troy Vincent worked out as predicted.
Offensively I was very pleased that we passed to the middle of the field. What flustered me was the missed opportunity early in the game to push the ball into the endzone in short yardage. Four consecutive stuffed plays with just a yard to go is totally unacceptable. Why did we trade away draft picks to bring in bruising back TJ Duckett just so we could refuse to use him... again?
Bah, forget dwelling on the bad. The Redskins are one game out of .500 and more in control of their own fate than we were just a few weeks ago. We are one game shy of second place in the NFC East with two division games against Philly in front of us. We found a way to beat a division rival without Santana Moss. Our defense looked much more like the one we grew to love last year than the one we've learned to hate in 2006.
And we beat the Dallas Cowboys. For now, nothing else really matters.