They’re playing the 125th edition of “America’s Rivalry” on national television again on Sunday night, but this chapter of the Redskins versus the Cowboys is lacking a little something.
That little something is the teams’ records. Washington is 1-3. Dallas is 2-3. Each trails upstart Philadelphia in the NFC Least although the Cowboys do so only because the Eagles are 2-0 in the division, having beaten the Redskins and the stunningly hapless 0-5 New York Giants.
Although Washington and Dallas — powerhouses for much of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s — have combined to win just three playoff games over the last 16 years, Sunday’s matchup has only been exceeded for combined incompetence once during the last nine seasons. That was in their second meeting in 2010 when the 4-9 Cowboys beat the 5-8 Redskins.
“I definitely wouldn’t have believed it,” said Washington defensive end Stephen Bowen, who won the division in 2009, the fourth of his five seasons with the Cowboys, and with the Redskins last year. “Every year is different, but the way [the division is] going, it’s going to come down to the end again. It seems like it always comes out that way.”
Receiver Santana Moss, the senior Redskin after nine seasons in Washington, admitted that his team is “fortunate” to be in the mix after such a horrendous start.
Indeed, Washington would be a whopping three and a half games behind in the NFC South and AFC West (two teams) and two and a half games in arrears in the NFC West, AFC East and AFC South. But in a division which is 2-10 against the rest of the league after Dallas’ 51-48 loss to Denver last Sunday, a 1-3 record is competitive.
So the Redskins haven’t lost hope despite their worst start since 2004, coincidentally the last year that the NFC Least had a repeat champion After all, they have five games left against their division rivals against whom they went 5-1 last year to win the NFC Least for the first time since 1999 while becoming the fourth team to finish first in four years.
“There’s always a lot of parity,” said defensive tackle Barry Cofield, a Giant from 2006-10 before coming to Washington in 2011. “You never feel like you have an easy week in this division. It’s early. It’s not about how you start. It’s about how you finish and we’re ready to get rolling.”
The Redskins haven’t lost confidence despite getting strafed by the Eagles and Green Bay the first two weeks and surprised by visiting Detroit the following Sunday before rallying from a two-touchdown deficit to win at Oakland 24-14 in Week 4 before last week’s bye.
“This team is confident despite the way we started,” said co-captain Cofield. “We trust the plan that we have. We have a lot of faith in our coaches. We have a lot of faith in our front office. We love our locker room and feel like we have a lot of high-character guys that we can rely on. Whenever you have that type of mindset, you’re very reluctant to crumble and you’re very reluctant to lose confidence.”
While Dallas and Washington both rank in the top 10 on offense, their defenses stink. The Redskins have allowed the most yards in the NFL while the Cowboys sank to fifth-worst after getting torched by Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
“We understand the talent that Dallas has,” said defensive end Kedric Golston, who has been in Washington longer than any Redskin except Moss. “We understand the stresses they put on us. It’s up to us to execute.”
That also goes for Washington’s inconsistent offense.
“We did not expect to start out the year 0-3,” said second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, adding that he wasn’t surprised that he has struggled in his return from major knee surgery in January. “You have to work through those growing pains. For us, it’s not really about the other team. It’s about us. I feel good about what we were able to do from a groundwork standpoint, building up each game. Now it’s time for us to break through.”
If Griffin, hard-charging running back Alfred Morris, hot receiver Pierre Garcon and Co. do break through and outscore Tony Romo, Dez Bryant et al, the Redskins would actually wake up on Monday atop the NFC Least if the Eagles lose at winless Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a huge rivalry, an NFC East game and one that’s going to help us get to our first goal: to win the NFC East,” Golston said of Sunday’s showdown in Texas. “That’s the goal, to control our own destiny, and we don’t want to let this opportunity slip through our hands. And Sunday Night Football always puts a little electricity in the air.”
A matchup of teams with a combined 3-6 record could certainly use some of that old Redskins’ George Allen and The Over The Hill Gang versus the Cowboys’ Tom Landry and America’s Team electricity.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.