Michael Wilbon: Desperate Cowboys Need to Make Their Move Against Redskins
It's as it should be, Jerry Jones was saying the other day: Prime time, national television, Redskins hopeful, Cowboys desperate, star players on both teams fighting injuries, playoff chase looming, reputations on the line. "It's probably appropriate," the owner of the Dallas Cowboys said, "that here we are at this juncture of the season, standing in each other's way. It's good for our game, don't you think?"
Other rivalries, notably Colts vs. Patriots, have become more important in recent years in determining the champion, but of course Jones is right. Of course Cowboys-Redskins with something at stake is great for professional football. What's also good for the NFL is a Cowboys team that isn't sputtering and underachieving. They're nearly as vital to the NFL as the Yankees are to Major League Baseball, as the Lakers are to the NBA. You can't help the league running last in the NFC East past the midpoint of the season. It's time for the Cowboys to make their move. They know it. Jerry Jones knows it.
Told that from a national perspective the Cowboys have more at stake tonight than the Redskins, Jones said: "I'd agree with that. We put ourselves behind the eight ball in terms of our record and as far as our play. The reality is we're playing on the road. But I'm very positive."
The pressure is on the Cowboys because they began the season as highly regarded as any team in the NFL, again, and because this is supposed to be the season they play like the Cowboys used to play. It's been awhile -- 12 years, to be exact, since the Cowboys won a playoff game. They've lost five straight playoff games, the longest drought in club history. Twenty-four teams have won playoff games since the Cowboys last won one. Dallas started the decade of the 1990s by winning 12 of 14 playoff games, with 11 of those coming by 10 or more points. Since then? Nothing. The Cardinals have more playoff wins than the Cowboys the past dozen years.
"I'm shocked by that," Jones said. "I'd have bet the franchise we'd have won at least one playoff game in that time. I wouldn't have dreamed that could happen. Our decisions are made to get to the Super Bowl, not just to have a winning record. I know my decisions involve risk . . . sometimes they're feast or famine. Would I take back some of the decisions I made in putting a team together? Yes, I would take back a decision, but not the philosophy. I wouldn't be afraid to take the risk."
Jones knows he shares that spirit with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and even said of Snyder: "I like him. We're friends. I've got a really good and genuine feeling for Dan. Affection despite the rivalry? That's a good way to state it. Look, it's real cool right about now. There's nothing warm about the relationship when we're getting ready to play each other, but besides then I have a real respect and admiration for him. We need 15 more [NFL owners] just like him. All he wants to do is win. I'm really surprised Dan hasn't won [a Super Bowl] yet. I'm really, really surprised he hasn't. Very surprised."
Don't think that Jones, just because he owns the rival Cowboys, walks around cursing the Redskins. He doesn't. In fact, Jones was so liked by the late Jack Kent Cooke that the Cooke family asked Jones to speak to the media following Cooke's funeral. "I've got a great respect and passion for the rivalry," Jones said. "It's such a rivalry. Some of the finest and some of the roughest times we've had [in the nearly 20 years he has owned the Cowboys] have involved the Redskins. Our only win in my first season was against the Redskins. And two years later we beat that great Redskins team that Joe Gibbs led to the Super Bowl . It was a watershed game that turned us around."
The Cowboys, again, are looking for a victory over the Redskins to turn them around. When healthy, they're loaded, though opposing players wonder if these Cowboys are simply a collection of talented players more than they are a team. Tony Romo has passed for 300 yards or more in four of the six games in which he has played this season. The Cowboys can run the ball, they can get to the quarterback. They look, on paper, like a champ. Yet, their season increasingly has been dominated by talk of Adam "Pacman" Jones, of Wade Phillips's coaching competence, of the new stadium.
Yet the Cowboys are now on red alert, in need of a victory over a stubborn rival to get the season back on track. Jones has three Super Bowl trophies. By any reasonable measure he's one of the best owners in professional sports. But it has been so long, Jones is itching to be part of the big action again. Romo will be back to help get the Cowboys there. If Clinton Portis and Santana Moss can't play for the Redskins, or are a greatly reduced by injuries, the Cowboys will be in good shape. "We both have the quarterbacks, we both have the teams to go a long way," Jones said. "We think the Redskins are good enough to be world champs. We do. We're going to need to be real good, be what we know we can be."