The Redskins blew it. Not that anyone imagined they would go the rest of the season without a loss. No one was that blinded by the winning streak, were they?
And to Dallas?
Anyone got the number to Sports Illustrated? What, there wasn't a swimsuit model they could have put on the cover instead? But there's no such thing as a jinx, right? That would be foolish. That would be immature. But what else could it be?
How else can someone explain nine straight losses to the Cowboys. Especially when Dallas is in a down period?
The Redskins haven't defeated Dallas since Dan Snyder took over. Maybe he shouldn't have been so cocky three years ago when he ate dinner with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones the night before a game in Dallas, predicting big things the next day. Instead, the Redskins lost and Snyder chewed out his coach in the locker room.
There's just bad kharma in this rivalry. They also haven't defeated the Cowboys since the book, America's Rivalry: The 20 Greatest Redskins-Cowboys Games! was published. What knuckleheads wrote that one? Oh, myself and Rick Snider and David Elfin. Thanks, guys, for boosting book sales. In truth, the Redskins had the luxury of one more loss. Maybe two. But they wasted it against a bad team. A loss to Philadelphia or Chicago or even at New Orleans could have been stomached. And at least those teams are playoff contenders.
The Cowboys might not even be playoff contenders next season. OK, that's a bit harsh. After all Dallas does have a defense to build around and it still has one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Cowboys also have two excellent receivers and a solid running game. Still. Dallas was 2-8 for a reason. And its quarterback, Quincy Carter, was making his first start in nearly two months. He's a rookie who had struggled earlier in the season only to look composed against Washington. The Cowboys coaches deserve credit for how he was used. When Carter needed to make a big throw, they'd often roll him out, cutting down on what he needed to read. It worked. And the running game took pressure off Carter, who was rarely asked to make a big play.
Thing is, Washington lost this game by playing the opposite of the way it had throughout its five-game winning streak. The Redskins did not give Stephen Davis the ball enough times in the first half. Then again, the passing game failed to help, as did the defense, enabling Dallas to hog the ball. Davis also didn't touch the ball in the fourth quarter, save for recovering a fumble. That can't happen. And the defense couldn't stop the run, after doing such a good job against it the past several games.
The linebackers overpursued, the linemen didn't hold up the offensive line and the secondary failed to help much on the outside against the run. Everything they did well during their winning streak. Corner Champ Bailey played like one of the game's best corners throughout the winning streak. Not so against Dallas. In reality he only made one bad play, but it happened to be the biggest play of the game.
Quarterback Tony Banks has played the way Marty Schottenheimer likes, but that wasn't true Sunday. He fumbled a snap, was pressured into a bad throw leading to an interception and he didn't win.
What Banks has shown is that no one really knows if he's still the best quarterback for the Redskins. We don't want to blame this loss on him. Not when the run defense fails to show up. But Banks still needs to show more if he wants to return as a strong Number One quarterback. Or if he wants to get a decent contract. Certainly he's improved. And one game shouldn't spoil a decent stretch for him. It's just that no one really knows which way Banks will go.
Still, the Redskins aren't dead. Climbing out of an 0-5 hole is treacherous and teams have to be perfect. Washington isn't. Thing is, it's easy to imagine the Redskins winning their next five games. They've already done it, haven't they? Washington has developed a toughness and resiliency. That's why the Redskins recovered from the dreadful start. That's why they're fighting for a playoff spot. It's also why, regardless of whether or not Washington makes the playoffs, there is hope for the future. (And it's also why there should be no stories questioning Marty Schottenheimer's return. Please.).
At least there's not gloom and doom following this loss to Dallas like there was after the first loss. Back then, it was near impossible to see Washington winning five straight, let alone five games. But this loss reminds us that the Redskins don't have much margin for error. And just when you think they're headed one way, they turn around and head the other.
They showed championship traits against Philadelphia. They looked like the best team in a mediocre division. Then they did a 180 and lost to the worst team in the NFC East. And now they're just another team fighting for the playoffs rather than one of the hottest teams in the NFC.
But they've put themselves in a position where every game is now a must win one. That means no slipups in Arizona, which is now a formidable opponent. That means beating the Eagles for the second time in four weeks. And that means defeating the NFL's luckiest team in the Bears. Then going to New Orleans and winning. It will be tough for Washington to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The Redskins already have four losses in the NFC, making it difficult to win a tiebreaker. And there are too many teams likely to end up at 9-7 for the Redskins to have an edge. But the loss to Dallas changes things because now the flaws are evident.
Good teams don't lose to such teams at home, not when they're facing must-win games, which this most definitely was. Good teams don't let a bad team beat it nine straight times, either. The Redskins had a chance to change everything. They could have remained one game behind Philly. They could have ended that annoying streak. They could have done a lot. But they didn't. Now they have to do a lot more.