For the Redskins, their offense was needed a court order to get into the end zone lately, their collective body is battered and their defensive mind may well be sidelined today. Which means, of course, that they have the Dallas Cowboys right where they want them.
Well, not quite. The popular scenario had Dallas giving the Redskins a helpful lift two weeks ago by beating the Cardinals and then - looking over the Washington Monument toward the playoffs - ripe for an upset today. The Cards and Steelers have shredded that script.
What we have today is that Dallas-Washington rarity, a rematch actually significant to both teams. With a two-game losing streak, the Cowboys, according to Drew Pearson, "got to start whipping up on some people."
And the Redskins? The word is that George Allen, who scouts the sun, had a well especially constructed and shipped into the practice playpen this week so the players could rub their backs against it. Yes, it's that time again.
In truth, it is much more important. These final four games will decide such galactic items as where Allen works next year, whether assorted veteran players return and Joe Theismann's status as the Redskin quarterback - for the present and future.
Although the Redskins have won three of the four games Theismann has started, it has not necessarily been because of his arm or legs. A winning performance today, against a fine team, would silence those who suggest he talks a better game than he plays.
How can that happen? Logic insists that it can't, that the Redskin weaknesses, both the offensive and defensive lines, will be matched against two of the Cowboy strengths, that Theismann will be unable to expose soft spots at linebacker and the secondary.
But these are times the Redskins often defy logic - and the rest of the NFC has cooperated marvelously in their drive for the playoffs. Any team with four losses and injuries to men such team with four losses and injuries to men such as Chris Hanburger and Jake Scott and has a bit of a "cushion" for the wild-card spot is among a whole bunch of mediocrities.
The Redskins have history on their side today - neither team has won both of the Cowboy-Redskin games in the seven Allen years in Washington. And history offers one interesting point: the Cowboys are younger but not that much younger than the Redskins.
Consider the apex of the Allen era, the 26-3 victory over Dallas for the NFC championship here in 1972. If Hanburger is absent, the Redskins still have four starters from that game: Len Hauss, Terry Hermeling, Ron McDole and Diron Talbert. So do the Cowboys: Roger Staubach, Ralph Neely, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris.
So great players last a long time. The Cowboys still have 10 players from that game on the active roster. The Redskins only have 12. Calvin Hill and Jean Fugett, the Cowboys turned Redskins, are not included.
Still, the Cowboys do have 13 starters who started against the Steelers in Super Bowl 10 two years - and another if Preston Pearson opens in place of the injured Tony Dorsett at halfback. And they are anxious to return to that game, to atone for the sins of a year ago.
At almost this exact moment last season, the Cowboys started a slide from which they never recovered. Winners of nine of their first 10 games, the Cowboys lost two of their final four - and the first-round playoff, to the Rams in Dallas.
They ought to be even better this year, with Randy White in his natural habitat and Dorsett at halfback. Their uncertainty is what Tex Schramm calls "maturity," the flair of winning the games they need to win. And whether they have decent doses of that might well become known today.
Staubach is not throwing especially well, and today he is likely to be visited by some unfamiliar faces, such as those of Brad Dusek and Mike Curtis, and perhaps ever Eddie Brown.
"The Redskins' defense these days is nothing like the George Allen defenses of the past," said a Green Bay Packer coach after Monday's 10-9 game. "They used to sit in that 4-3 and dare you to come at 'em.
"Now they blitz from everywhere. But they do it so intelligently. They come from one place, and just when you think you've got them set up they cover there and come from somewhere else."
Of course, when the Redskins tried an all-out blitz in Dallas, Staubach simply motioned Drew Pearson toward an all-out sprint for the end zone, the line held and a 59-yard touchdown pass resulted.
So Staubach is wiser, but perhaps less accurate; the Cowboys are more talented, but perhaps less intense. The Redskins have players in important positions who have not provedd themselves in this annual war - but a tradition of somehow finding a way to survive until the playoffs.