Defense Leads Quick Turnaround

Cowboys linebacker Al Singleton looked around at his defensive teammates a couple of days ago. Looking back at him was a dangerous cocktail of gloom, fatigue and doubt. They had lost two games in a row and had been playing like garbage.

Coach Bill Parcells was spewing vitriol daily. Nobody was having fun.

So Singleton invited the defense to dinner. Not that he was cooking. He and 26 of his teammates journeyed to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Thursday for juicy steaks, a bill almost as big as the Marlins' payroll and a bonding experience that was worth every penny.

"Defensively, we wanted to get together and not talk about that," safety Darren Woodson said. "I'm not saying we were going at each other, but there has been tension amongst ourselves because we hadn't been playing that well. Al wanted us to get away because it has been pressure-filled at practice."

Singleton looks like a genius after Sunday's 27-0 victory against the Redskins. Not only did the Cowboys' defense force five turnovers -- Dallas picked up a sixth turnover on a punt -- but they recorded their first shutout since blanking Miami in 1999. And they shut the Redskins out for the first time in 32 years. And they were the first defense to completely blank a Steve Spurrier-coached team since 1987, when he coached Duke.

It's a lot of "ands," especially for a defense that had allowed 76 points in its previous two outings.

"We might have to make (dinner) a ritual," Singleton said, pausing to contemplate a suggestion that rookie cornerback Terence Newman and his $10 million signing bonus grab this week's bill since Newman seemed to benefit more than anybody from relaxing and having fun.

"Nah," Singleton finally decided. "We'll stick with the routine since it went so well."

"Well" does not begin to do justice to the game Newman had Sunday. His responsibility, Redskins 1,000-yard receiver Laveranues Coles, did not have a catch. In fact, Newman caught as many Tim Hasselbeck passes as any Redskins receiver, finishing with three interceptions. And he slapped himself into the Cowboys' record book with his three-peat, a feat achieved only three previous times, most recently by Dennis Thurman in 1981.

Not even Deion Sanders has that on his resume.

"Is that right? I don't know what to say to that. They were interceptions. That is my job," said Newman, a diehard Deion fan in his younger days. "What is good is to have a shutout. It's always good to have a shutout, but losing in the fashion that we had been, it's about time."

The Cowboys' defense had, in the words of defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, been getting their teeth kicked in. They did the kicking Sunday.

Cornerback Pete Hunter had an interception, in addition to two fumble recoveries on special teams. Linebacker Dat Nguyen caused a fumble, and Woodson recovered. Woodson also had an interception erased by a penalty.

And, of course, Newman broke an interception-less streak that dated to his last pick, in Week 2. All of which, when added together, equaled a 0.0 quarterback rating for Hasselbeck and a goose egg for Spurrier Ball as well.

"You don't go through this league without having a couple of games when you are not right," Parcells said when asked about his defense. "It just got away from us a little last week." Last week's 36-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was, by far, the most demoralizing and dangerous of the season.

It was the first time the Cowboys had lost two games in a row. It was the first time their confidence was shaken; Parcells admitted as much.

It was also the first time they needed picking up. Or, as Singleton discovered, taking out.

Steaks so rare they were practically bleeding and Parcells stories so plentiful that players barely stopped laughing. That did what another "Let's Go" speech or "Playoff" pep talk could not. It introduced the players to whom they were playing for, whom they were sacrificing for, whom they were getting yelled at by Parcells for.

Each other.

"We didn't talk a whole lot of football. We just joked on each other," Singleton said. "You know how it is going to go when a guy walks in and they are laughing at you. It's like they know you. It's more fun."

-- RB Troy Hambrick hasn't had the most consistent season, but he turned in a performance for the ages Sunday, rushing for 189 yards, the third-highest single-game total in Cowboys history. Hambrick's 33 carries also ranked third all-time. Hambrick not only had his longest run of the season - 42 yards in the fourth quarter - but his 5.7-yard average was his season high.

-- FB Richie Anderson is sharing playing time with Jamar Martin but is still the Cowboys' most consistent offensive player. Against the Redskins, Anderson led the team with five catches for 51 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown on a nifty run with a short dump pass over the middle. That was Anderson's third touchdown in three games, and marks the sixth game this season the fullback has either tied or led the team in receptions.

--WR Joey Galloway has now gone two consecutive games without a reception, and has just 30 catches and two touchdowns this season. In the last five weeks, Galloway has just six catches for 83 yards and one touchdown.

-- P Tobin Gowin had, maybe, his best game this season. He averaged 41 yards on six punts.

His biggest, in distance and importance, came midway through the second quarter. The Cowboys were pinned deep when Gowin nailed a 56-yard punt, leaving the Redskins at their 20. Terence Newman then intercepted a pass, leading to Quincy Carter's 3-yard touchdown run.

"It's not like I'm doing something different that I haven't done the last few weeks," Gowin said. "I just went out and, like I said, I still have some improvement to do. But it was nice to change field position like that." -- CB Pete Hunter had his best game of the season against the Redskins, which is great considering the bad luck he's had. He had an uncanny knack for being at the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.

"Something good had to happen," Hunter said. "I was terrible in the slot at the beginning of the year, so my luck had to change." It not only changed Sunday, it did a 180-degree turn. Not only did Hunter have his first interception of the season, but he also recovered two fumbles. Both came on special teams. He recovered a fumbled punt by the Redskins' Chad Morton, and covered a fumble by the Cowboys' Zuriel Smith.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe we could put some mud at Texas Stadium. He looked pretty good on that bad field. That's a good thing for a running back to be able to do." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on running back Troy Hambrick's 189 yards rushing in the mud and ice at FedEx Field.

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