Redskins Put Clamps on the Champs, 35-16
By Richard Justice
With heroes coming from almost every corner of their locker room, from familiar names like Mark Rypien and Art Monk and from new ones like Reggie Brooks and Pat Eilers, the Washington Redskins opened a new era in stunningly easy fashion last night by dominating the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, 35-16, before 56,345 at raucous RFK Stadium.
Richie Petitbon's coaching debut began with a deafening cheer inside a rocking stadium and ended with Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson sprinting cross-field to offer a congratulatory handshake. In between, the Redskins were blueprint perfect for their new coach as they forced three turnovers, controlled the ball for 35 minutes and got three touchdown passes from a razor-sharp Rypien.
That's one more touchdown pass than he threw in his best game last season, and in Rod Dowhower's new offense that emphasizes the short passing game, he looked completely comfortable in completing 22 of 34 for 164 yards. He completed his first 11 passes of the second half as the Redskins controlled the ball for almost 13 minutes and put together scoring drives of 78 and 99 yards to take charge of the game.
"That was very, very nice," Petitbon said nonchalantly. "I wish I had longer to enjoy this one because this is one I'd really enjoy. We came in here feeling good about ourselves. We made enough mistakes in the first half to lose, but we played well enough to overcome them in the second half."
Rypien's three scoring passes went to wide receiver Ricky Sanders for 15 yards in the first half and tight end Ron Middleton for one and Monk for 15 in a dominating third quarter. The completion to Monk was his 100th touchdown pass. Running back Brian Mitchell finished the scoring with a 29-yard touchdown run with 2:12 remaining in the game.
The Cowboys hadn't allowed five touchdowns in a regular season game since 1989. And quarterback Troy Aikman and his offense showed that they missed two-time National Football League rushing champion Emmitt Smith, who is involved in a contract dispute with team owner Jerry Jones. With Smith in Florida, the Cowboys rushed for only 91 yards. His replacement, rookie Derrick Lassic, rushed 16 times for 75 yards.
"We still have a chance to have a good football team," Johnson said. "But we can't play like we did tonight and have a good football team. We've got our work cut out for us. Every week it'll be like that."
Monk showed his best days may not be behind him as he caught three passes for 58 yards. He has now caught at least one in 149 straight games and has 850 for a career that was shoved on the backburner during the offseason, when the Redskins decided they would try some younger players. Monk's touchdown catch finished a crushing 99-yard drive that opened up a 15-point lead at the end of the third quarter.
Those younger players didn't do badly either, as Mitchell, in his first game as the primary runner, gained 116 yards on 21 carries to take the NFL lead after one week. Rookie Reggie Brooks added 53 yards on 11 carries.
"I think the Cowboys are seeing now what we went through last season," Mitchell said. "Jimmy Johnson said they'd come up here and beat us with or without Emmitt Smith. He gave us no respect at all. You can't start talking and boasting like that. All we heard all week was Emmitt Smith, Emmitt Smith, Emmitt Smith. If you've got any self pride, you're going to want people to notice you. It was like we didn't even exist."
The Redskins' special teams also got two turnovers, and new safety Pat Eilers recovered both of them.
Dowhower had promised to spread the ball around and he did that. Mitchell and Brooks combined for 32 carries and six different Redskins caught passes. Sanders, running back Earnest Byner and Middleton caught five apiece as Rypien excelled at the short routes.
"It's a great start," Rypien said. "We were a little off in the beginning, but that 99-yard drive turned it around. We had a good game plan and threw a lot of formations at them. I think they weren't able to get a bead on what we were doing, and that was the key."
The Redskins opened with a dominating first half of defense and led 14-6 at intermission after a pair of second-quarter touchdowns. The Cowboys left the field with 196 yards, but 80 of those came in one blown assignment when the Redskins allowed Alvin Harper to get wide open in the secondary for an easy score.
Both teams blew early scoring chances. Kelly Goodburn's 24-yard punt set the Cowboys up at the Redskins 44, but on fourth and two at the 36, Darrell Green nailed Lassic for no gain. The Redskins then got a chance when Johnny Thomas flashed in front of rookie Kevin Williams as he was about to receive a punt. Williams glanced at Thomas, dropped the ball and Eilers recovered at the Dallas 16. But nothing came of it because Chip Lohmiller missed a 32-yard field goal attempt.
Four plays later, the Cowboys struck first. On third and 10 at the Dallas 20, A.J. Johnson and Danny Copeland both allowed Harper to run past them, with each believing someone else had deep responsibility. The result was that Harper ended up 20 yards open in the secondary and Aikman hit him in stride for an 80-yard score. It was only six points when kicker Lin Elliott missed the conversion.
"Just a blown coverage," Petitbon said. "It happens."
The Redskins came right back with a grind-it-out, 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:15. Sanders scored on a 15-yard loft into the corner from Rypien, but Brooks got the Redskins into position for the touchdown, carrying eight times for 48 yards.
After opening in the two-back offense, the Redskins went back to their familiar two-tight end formation and got the running game going. Brooks picked up seven, three and six yards on his first three carries. He carried Dallas lineman Tony Tolbert four yards for a five-yard gain and broke outside for gains of 15 and seven.
Rypien did his part in hitting a pair of third-down passes. The first came on the last play of the first quarter as he hit Byner for seven on third and five. Then on third and five at the 15, Sanders got behind James Washington and cornerback Kevin Smith in the right corner of the end zone, and Rypien hit him in stride.
The Redskins got their second score after another Dallas mistake. It came when first-year punter John Jett shanked a 27-yarder thanks to a big rush. The Redskins got the ball at the Dallas 45 with 3:41 left in the half, but they couldn't score. The Cowboys, however, made another mistake.
Goodburn hit another bad punt, and as it bounced around, it hit Washington in the leg and Eilers fell on it at the Dallas 17 with 2:14 left.
The Redskins drove for the score in four plays. Rypien hit Mitchell for nine on a screen. Mitchell picked up gains of five and two yards, and on second and goal at the 1 he swept behind Jim Riggs and James Jenkins for a 14-6 lead with 40 seconds left in the half.
After intermission, the Redskins put together a playbook-perfect drive, going 78 yards in nine plays. Middleton scored the touchdown on a one-yard play-action pass from Rypien, but almost everyone had a hand in it, including Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown, who was called for 36-yard pass interference penalty against Sanders.
They also got big yardage between the tackles as Mitchell carried five times for 26 yards. Rypien hit Sanders for gains of four and 12 before the touchdown throw to Middleton that made it 21-6 with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
The Cowboys responded in an instant, going 80 yards in five plays to make it 21-13 with 7:22 left in the period. Aikman made it look simple. He threw to Irvin for 16. Lassic ran for 15. He threw to Irvin for 17. Harper than ran a slant against A.J. Johnson and caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in stride.
"I felt two inches tall," Mitchell said.
The Redskins took control of the game for good by driving 99 yards in 13 plays and seven minutes. Monk got the touchdown on a 15-yard strike from Rypien with six seconds left in the third for 28-13.