The confident talk of the Washington Redskins players last week gave way today to angry postgame words from their bosses. The Redskins wasted an opportunity to put an early-season stranglehold on the NFC East race, instead being thoroughly outplayed and soundly whipped by the Dallas Cowboys today at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys' 38-20 victory left the teams tied for first place and sent Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder out of the stadium seething and promising to make changes--at least in his club's attitude--on Monday. Meanwhile, Coach Norv Turner didn't rule out the possibility of cutting players for today's transgressions.
"This team is going to be focused," a hoarse Snyder said immediately following an approximately half-hour meeting with Turner in the locker room after the game. "I'm flying home. I'm going to get my voice fixed, and then I'm going to use it."
Turner said: "We're all going to be accountable. That's going to make us better. . . . We'll look at every possible reason we didn't get it done. We'll try to fix the reason we didn't get it done. Maybe next time we're in this situation, we'll handle it better. . . . If there's a player change, it will be based on what we see when we look at the films" Monday.
In losing to the Cowboys for the second time this season, the Redskins (4-2) had their four-game winning streak ended and squandered a chance to build a two-game lead in the division. Dallas (4-2) ended its two-game losing streak, during which it had totaled 20 points.
The Cowboys sprinted to a 17-0 second-quarter lead today, giving them 44 consecutive points against the Redskins beginning with their fourth-quarter comeback from a 21-point deficit and overtime win in the season opener. They have scored 79 points against the Redskins this season and didn't even have wide receiver Michael Irvin in the lineup today.
Dallas cornerback Deion Sanders set the tone on the first two plays of the game, when he flew into the backfield and tackled Redskins running back Stephen Davis for a four-yard loss and elbowed wide receiver Albert Connell in the jaw away from the ball. Sanders suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Redskins long snapper Dan Turk on a first-quarter punt return, but came back to give the Cowboys their final points on a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.
In between, the Cowboys got two touchdown passes and a touchdown run by quarterback Troy Aikman, and a rushing touchdown from running back Emmitt Smith. The Cowboys got 23 first downs today to the Redskins' 14, won the yardage battle 352 to 272 and had the ball nearly 10 more minutes than Washington.
Still, the Redskins had closed to 24-20 on a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brad Johnson to Connell late in the third quarter. But the Cowboys responded with a 93-yard touchdown drive, aided early on by a pass-interference penalty against Redskins nickel cornerback Darryl Pounds on a third-and-19 play.
"They played good," Johnson said. "We played average."
Said Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook: "The first game, I thought we were better than they were until they came back. This game, it looked like they played harder than us. That's how it looked to me."
Sanders, who didn't play in the teams' first meeting this season because of a toe injury, and Aikman said the Cowboys were motivated by comments made by Redskins players last week. Connell, in particular, was outspoken, saying on Wednesday he didn't think Sanders could cover him.
"If you're going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk," Sanders said. "These guys will learn. They're young, and they have a ways to go."
The Redskins were upset that Sanders's elbow to Connell's face following the second play of the game didn't draw a penalty.
"That was a cheap shot on their part," Johnson said. "That was a terrible miscall."
Sanders hugged Connell on the field following the game, and Connell said later: "He told me he loves me. Ain't no love here. When you take cheap shots and you claim you're a man of God--God don't like ugly."
Connell said that Sanders wasn't the difference in the game.
"Not at all," said Connell, who was limited to two receptions. "We weren't clicking. Deion wasn't a factor."
The Redskins' biggest problems continued to come on defense. On the Cowboys' first eight offensive possessions, they got four touchdowns and a field goal.
"It's very frustrating," Redskins defensive end Marco Coleman said. "We're giving effort, but we're not making the plays necessary to get it done."
After the Redskins failed to get a first down on their initial possession, the Cowboys got on the scoreboard when wide receiver Raghib Ismail beat cornerback Darrell Green on a fade pattern and caught Aikman's lob for a 13-yard touchdown. Turk's knockdown of Sanders came after the Redskins again failed to move the ball, but the Cowboys made it 10-0 on Richie Cunningham's 32-yard field goal.
The Redskins finally got a first down on their third possession but punted once more, and Smith capped a 12-play drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
"I have absolutely no idea why we were as flat as we were early in the ballgame," said fullback Larry Centers. "I just know you can't spot a good team 17 points like that. . . . I've said all along our biggest enemy was overconfidence. I don't know if we were overconfident, but maybe our people didn't understand how big a game it was for us. It was huge."
A drive ending with a 33-yard catch and run by tight end Mike Sellers got the Redskins to 17-7. Linebacker Shawn Barber stripped the ball from Ismail and Redskins safety Matt Stevens recovered the fumble, and Brett Conway's 36-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half made it 17-10. Conway's 24-yard field goal 4 1/2 minutes into the third quarter trimmed the Cowboys' advantage to 17-13, but Dallas responded with Aikman's four-yard touchdown pass to tight end David LaFleur.
Connell caught the 44-yard touchdown pass that made it 24-20. But Pounds extended Dallas's drive by grabbing wide receiver Alvin Harper, and Aikman beat linebacker Twan Russell and defensive end Kenard Lang to the corner of the end zone.
The Redskins' offense went three plays and out, and Brian Hansen, subbing for the injured Matt Turk, punted. Sanders caught the ball on the left side of the field at the Dallas 30. He found a seam, beat Hansen to the right sideline and was gone.
"We had a chance to come in here and win a game and be in first place," Turner said. "We didn't get it done. That's very disappointing."