Redskins open with a win against the Cowboys that would have been a loss in recent seasons

The scene in and around FedEx Field as Washington hosts archrival Dallas in Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb's first game with the Redskins.
By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010; 12:51 AM

It's exactly the kind of game the Washington Redskins have been mostly unable to win over the past dozen years. Nobody ran the ball with any authority. Donovan McNabb had, for him, a very sub-par passing night. The Redskins didn't do anything to set the world afire on special teams, and they lost the battles of time of possession and yards gained by a lot.

What they did was play defense, convert field goal chances and let the other guy make stupid mistakes, right down to the very last drop. (Yes, of course it was holding on Cowboys tackle Alex Barron; he had a sleeper hold on Brian Orakpo, who was coming to get Tony Romo.) It's just the formula teams have used to beat the Redskins for a decade or so - especially the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys.

McNabb, who had completed only half his passes deep into the fourth quarter, recognized a save situation when he saw one and completed the throws that sealed the game. Two of them converted third downs in the final few minutes on a drive that produced the all-important second field goal.

It was a fitting beginning for the Redskins, given the drama of the last few months. Albert Haynesworth went on and off the field without an oxygen tank and apparently without a sideline blowup with Mike Shanahan. McNabb, maybe the biggest acquisition in the entire NFL this offseason, had a clean sheet. And the Redskins' defensive secondary, which ought to be a strength of the team given the personnel, played like it for the most part, though it needed some good fortune to survive a couple of blown assignments over the final minutes of the game.

(And if you think the Redskins were lucky in getting that Romo touchdown pass negated by a penalty, that was nothing compared to what the NFL did, by rule apparently, to the Detroit Lions, who had a victorious touchdown pass called incomplete. It's only the stupidest rule in the history of pro football.)

Anyway, the Redskins had to be snickering when they left the yard, having snookered the Cowboys with their C-minus game. It also should be at least a little uplifting to have already guaranteed a split with the team everybody and his mother has picked to win the NFC East.

Except . . .

The Dallas Cowboys could be the single most overrated team in football . . . maybe the single most overrated team in all of professional sports in America. The franchise has won one playoff game since 1996. Every acquisition they make, every game they win is overstated. Their players are overly praised. They haven't mattered in a decade nearly as much as the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts or even the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles in their own division.

Every single thing about the Cowboys, in recent years anyway, has been overdone. They come into every season being picked to win something between a division and the Super Bowl but limp out to great disappointment annually.

This season the hype has been attached, most specifically, to the Cowboys' offense, to the supposed damage Romo and Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones are going to do, blah, blah, blah. Yet, the Cowboys looked like a bunch of stumblebums in the preseason, and pretty much the same through three quarters of the regular season opener Sunday night.

And no part of the evening was more humiliating for Dallas than the final play of the second quarter, the one that gift-wrapped a 10-0 lead for the Redskins, a play that should never, ever happen beyond high school.

With four seconds left before halftime, and what should have been a rather insignificant 3-0 deficit, the Cowboys for some dumb reason had Romo drop back and attempt a pass from his own 28. That, in and of itself, is unwise because Romo wasn't far enough up the field to heave the ball into the end zone. The professional thing to do would have been to have Romo take a knee and end the half . . . or perhaps hand the ball off to run out the clock . . . or perhaps run a legitimate downfield play for the rookie Bryant, just to get him the feel for being in a big-time ballgame.

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