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  In Closing, Redskins Shut Down Against Cowboys

Redskins Helmet By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 5, 1998; Page C1

With their playoff hopes already faint and Coach Norv Turner's job on shaky ground, the Washington Redskins produced an anemic offensive effort and showed even less fortitude on defense yesterday against the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins fell, 31-10, before a crowd of 72,284 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium as boos and catcalls ushered them off the field once again.

The loss dropped the Redskins to 0-5, tying the dismal opening mark of the 1981 season, and landed the team in what 15-year veteran Darrell Green, the team's usually optimistic cornerback, called "the worst situation I have been in as a Redskin."

The Redskins trail the Cowboys (3-2) by three games in the chase for the NFC East title, which seemed well within reach when the season dawned. And no NFL team has ever made the playoffs after losing its first five games. Making matters worse, the Redskins lost fullback Larry Bowie to a broken bone in his lower left leg.

Turner, who had called the game a "must-win," said he will consider making another change at quarterback after starter Trent Green completed just 13 of 29 throws for 193 yards, including one touchdown and one interception.

"As we do every week, you look at anything that can help you," Turner said. "That's probably one thing we'll look at."

The Redskins continued their pattern of self-destructive behavior against Dallas. Green threw his sixth interception of the season, which Dallas converted into a second-quarter touchdown for a 10-7 lead; the defense gave up 387 yards, including 224 yards to running backs Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren; and the offensive line allowed four sacks of Green, whose scrambling ability prevented a few more.

Meanwhile, Dallas quarterback Jason Garrett, making just his fifth NFL start in relief of the injured Troy Aikman, showed a veteran's poise, completing 14 of 17 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

But mainly, the Redskins lost because they failed to do what Dallas did so effectively: stop the run. Smith carried for 120 yards and a touchdown; Warren added 104 yards and two touchdowns. Dallas brought the afternoon to a humiliating conclusion by driving 96 yards on 11 rushing plays (10 by Warren and one by Smith) for a touchdown with 1 minute 2 seconds to play.

In the somber Redskins locker room afterward, players refused to blame Turner. "We made mistakes, and we messed up," said linebacker Ken Harvey. "We killed ourselves with mistakes."

Cornerback Cris Dishman said the upcoming games against Philadelphia and Minnesota offer a chance to get out of Washington, where players feel besieged by critical media and angry fans.

"Right now we are snake-bit as a team, and somehow we've got to shake that snake off us," Dishman said. "These two road games could not come at a better time, because when you go on the road, you get closer as a team."

Through five games, the Redskins have been outscored 169-74. And their ineffectiveness in the third quarter is only worsening; they have been outscored 63-10 in that period.

Yesterday's game, however, opened on a high note, with Garrett coughing up the first fumble by a Redskins opponent this season. Harvey recovered it near midfield, and four plays later Green hit wide receiver Leslie Shepherd with a 40-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

Dallas answered with a 42-yard field goal on the next series, helped by a 23-yard completion to wide receiver Ernie Mills, whom Dishman wrestled to the ground in a futile attempt to break up the play.

Green's fourth pass of the day was lofted well over tight end Jamie Asher's head and landed neatly in the hands of cornerback Deion Sanders, who returned it 21 yards. With the defense seemingly rattled by the turnover, the Redskins' pass pressure collapsed. Then the run defense evaporated, as Smith ran to the right, then cut back up the middle, where a gaping hole appeared. His next carry, for three yards, took him into the end zone and gave Dallas a 10-7 lead.

The cutback route was something Smith would exploit all afternoon.

A Redskins holding penalty on the punt return doomed their next possession, which was three plays and punt.

Starting the drive at the Redskins 47, Dallas needed just two plays to cash in on its enviable field position. Garrett threw a perfect 43-yard touchdown pass to Mills. Dishman, apparently thinking another player had the coverage, couldn't even get close and Dallas led, 17-7.

Still, the Redskins hung in. On their next possession, they drove the length of the field, only to have another holding penalty wipe out Terry Allen's carry to the Dallas 2. One play later, the Redskins faced third and 11 but gained only one yard on Green's underthrown pass to Brian Mitchell. Boos erupted. And place kicker Cary Blanchard hit a 31-yard field goal to pull to 17-10.

The defense held Dallas on the next series. With two minutes left in the first half, it appeared Washington might tie things up. But the drive sputtered on three failed passing plays -- including dropped balls by running back Brian Mitchell and wide receiver Chris Thomas, and the Redskins were forced to punt again.

During halftime, Cowboys Coach Chan Gailey reminded his players of the Redskins' tendency to give up big plays early in the third quarter. And the Redskins did just that, letting Dallas drive 71 yards in a mere 4:10 on its first drive of the second half. Warren's six-yard touchdown padded the lead to 24-10.

On the Redskins' next possession, a holding penalty once again complicated their task, and they started on the 8-yard line. Allen carried the ball six times and caught a 17-yard pass, but two botched passing plays stalled matters. First, Shepherd was hit so hard by a pair of defenders that his helmet flew off and he had to sit out a series. Then, on third and 13, Green tossed a pass over Thomas's head.

Afterward, Trent Green explained that Dallas's decision to put Sanders on wide receiver Michael Westbrook had come as a surprise and badly disrupted the Redskins' offensive scheme. Shepherd often was double-teamed, Green added, which effectively took away both top receivers. Westbrook, who entered the game leading the NFL in receiving yardage, ended the day with four catches for 42 yards.

The Redskins did not score again. Their last best hope -- a drive late in the third quarter that started on the Dallas 48 -- ended with Sanders nearly intercepting a pass meant for Westbrook.

With roughly eight minutes left in the game, Garrett put the ball in the air for the last time. From there, he began handing off to Warren, who on Dallas's next possession broke loose for a 49-yard gain, stiff-arming Darrell Green before being brought down by Dishman at the 6. Warren got his second touchdown with a six-yard sweep around the left end of the Redskins line.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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