Cowboys' Starters Are Not Much Help

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2007

With just more than six minutes remaining in the Washington Redskins' 27-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday at FedEx Field, Dallas starting running back Julius Jones took a handoff on his 27-yard line and was pounded into the ground for no gain by a slew of defenders.

Jones's continued participation for a team with nothing to play for, in a game with the result seemingly decided, was in line with a Dallas game plan that had quarterback Tony Romo and other starters play for more than two and a half quarters.

Despite the extended playing time and that play-to-win philosophy on the part of Dallas, the Redskins dominated.

Romo completed 7 of 16 passes for 86 yards and an interception.

Meantime, running backs Marion Barber III and Jones combined for just one yard rushing.

"The word for us was 'uninspired,' " Dallas Coach Wade Phillips said. "It shows you when one team's fired up and ready to play and the other one isn't. Basically, I didn't get our team ready to play."

Dallas entered with the NFC's No. 1 seed locked up and seemed to lack motivation throughout the contest. Offensively, Romo struggled to find any sort of rhythm, sometimes throwing short and behind his receivers, and the Redskins' defensive line dominated in the run game. Defensively, Dallas was unable to stop the Redskins from moving the ball either through the air or on the ground. Quarterback Todd Collins threw for 244 yards and a touchdown and running back Clinton Portis rushed for 104 yards and two scores.

In the Cowboys' locker room, players said they did not feel there was any lack of desire to win and expressed disappointment with the team's performance.

"I think guys were trying to play hard, you learn though you just can't turn a switch on," tight end Jason Witten said. "They were an inspired team and all that goes along with that. I was hoping that we'd come out and play well the half that we were going to play but it didn't turn out that way."

Linebacker Akin Ayodele agreed.

"We wanted to play with pride and for them it's just human nature when you have a lot to play for and your back's to the wall, usually you play inspired football and they did," he said. "We played hard out there. I give them credit, they definitely played inspired football. They played with a lot of emotion."

Phillips's decision to play his starters deep into the third quarter in a steady rain with the threat of injury, and with his team trailing by 17 points, seemed risky. After the game, Phillips faced questions about his decision not to rest starters as other division leaders did around the league.

"Yeah we did, yeah we did [rest them]," Phillips said. "We rested them either mentally or physically, both cases. We played what we thought we ought to play with our guys. We substituted who we need to substitute at certain times."

Phillips and Romo both said the main goal had been to finish the game without any major injuries, which they accomplished. Dallas safety Keith Davis did leave the game with an injured knee but said he would "be right there on opening kickoff" for the playoff game in two weeks.

Players said that they would be able to move past the loss and will use the bye week to "remember what got us here," safety Roy Williams said.

And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the loss provides the perfect opportunity for his team to step back and evaluate its performance.

"You've just got to remember that these teams that you're playing are made up of outstanding players and any one of them can beat you, like tonight," Jones said. "If anything good comes from this it is the ability to look in the mirror and re-evaluate ourselves."

Phillips was the most staunch in his belief that the loss was not indicative of how the Cowboys can play or how they will play in the playoffs. The coach pointed to the results of the last three NFC champions, all of whom lost their regular season finale, as evidence that Dallas will be able to respond, and promised his team would be prepared for any opponent.

"They're going to be ready," he said. "I guarantee you that."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company