By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007
IRVING, Tex., Nov. 18 -- Tears formed in Shawn Springs's eyes as he walked slowly onto the field at Texas Stadium for pregame warmups with the Washington Redskins on Sunday. The home field of the Dallas Cowboys had once been a playground for Springs, whose father, Ron, was a standout fullback for the Cowboys from 1979 to 1984.
Springs, and the children of other Cowboys, played on the field before and after games, and Springs figured it would be difficult to come back for the first time since his father slipped into a coma at a nearby hospital. He struggled with his emotions as he envisioned he would, though at times he played well in a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys in front of a crowd of 63,706.
The Redskins often assigned Springs, considered their best defender in man-to-man coverage, to shadow wide receiver Terrell Owens, who led the Cowboys with eight catches for 173 yards (a 21.6 yard average) and four touchdowns. Many of Owens's big plays occurred while the Redskins experienced breakdowns in zone defense in their first game without safety Sean Taylor, who sprained a knee in the previous game against Philadelphia and is expected to miss at least another two weeks.
It was a difficult day for Springs and the Redskins' secondary, and it couldn't end fast enough for them.
"This has been one of the hardest trips for me in my life," Springs said after the Redskins' loss. "I grew up coming to this stadium and seeing my father, Tony Dorsett and Everson Walls, and all those guys. I had tears coming out of the locker room. It was tough in warmups. I'm just keeping prayers for my family. It's tough."
Ron Springs has been in a coma since having surgery to remove a cyst from his elbow Oct. 13. With Coach Joe Gibbs's permission, Springs left the team to be with his family in Dallas the week of an Oct. 21 game against Arizona. Springs has been excused from team activities Monday and Tuesday of every week since, traveling to Dallas in support of his family and returning in time for practice.
In February, Ron Springs underwent a kidney transplant, receiving a kidney from Walls, a teammate of his with the Cowboys and a close friend. Ron Springs has had diabetes for 16 years, requiring dialysis three times a week, and awaited a transplant for several years. He rejected his son's offer to be tested for a possible transplant match.
As Ron Springs struggled to become healthy enough for a transplant, potential matches with other family members failed to materialize, prompting Walls to volunteer to help his friend, who uses a wheelchair because of the amputation of a foot.
Springs says the field is "his sanctuary," and he has continued to play through his family's ordeal while focusing on his job. Owens, however, made his job more difficult Sunday.
"We were in man coverages, and [Owens] got away from us, and then they moved him around," Springs said. "They put us in zone a little bit, and we just broke down."
With the Cowboys trailing 7-0 late in the second quarter, quarterback Tony Romo found Owens near the left sideline in the end zone, beating Springs on a four-yard play. On third and 15 earlier in the drive, Owens had a 23-yard reception with Springs in coverage.
With 2 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Dallas took its first lead, 14-10, when Romo and Owens combined on a 31-yard touchdown against Washington's three-deep zone. Owens also had 46- and 52-yard touchdown receptions as safeties Reed Doughty, who made his first career start in place of Taylor, LaRon Landry and Pierson Prioleau made costly mistakes in coverage.
"We were doing a pretty good job of containing him, and then we just kind of let him get away from us in our zone coverages," cornerback Leigh Torrence said. "We definitely had some plays we wanted back; we've got to step up in those moments and make those plays. We let him get away from us.
"We just need to do a little bit better keying on him; find out where he's lined up, wide or in the slot, and put a little extra attention on him. You know he's a guy they're going to try to get the ball to."
How could the Redskins lose track of Owens?
"Some things got away from us," Landry said. "It wasn't anything they went out and did. We just got displaced in our zone. Romo did a great job of finding soft spot in our zone."
Owens doesn't need help to shine, the Redskins said, and their mistakes created opportunities for him. Of course, the Redskins were playing without Taylor, the deep anchor in the base Cover-2 defense.
"In the second half, [Owens] and Tony Romo hooked up for some big plays down the middle in our zone coverage," Springs said. "They found a crease and exploited us when we were in zone. In my four years in Washington under Gregg Williams [assistant head coach-defense], that never happened to us. . . . It makes a huge difference when you have Sean Taylor missing. When you have an all-pro safety back there, it makes a difference whether you can throw bombs."