Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scalped: Was 26, Dal 24

As my father reminded me several times this weekend, unpredictability is the norm when the Cowboys and Redskins play.  When the Cowboys went 1-15 in 1989, their lone win came against rival Washington.  Each time has several amazing comebacks against the other.  The Cowboys and Longley on Thanksgiving.  The Redskins in the Monday Night comeback.  So today when the last-place Redskins (and by last-place, I mean 2-1 with the only loss coming against the defending champion Giants) visited undefeated Dallas for today's game, I shouldn't have been shocked in the outcome.

Washington 26. Dallas 24.

But the Redskins and blossoming quarterback Jason Campbell used the national stage to let the country know that all the talk about "the big bad NFC East" isn't just talk.  Not only did Campbell display great maturity and poise compared to years past (think Eli Manning from '05 to '06), but he's showing an understanding of Jim Zorn's offense that now puts the 'Skins on par with the rest of the division.

Some thoughts from a game that brought back the reality of just how difficult the regular season is -- especially for a team in the NFC East...

Campbell (20/31 for 231, 2 TD, 0 INT) is four weeks into the season and has yet to throw an interception.  Last season, he'd already throw three through two games.  The former first round pick in 2005 is off to a great start.  With Santana Moss out wide and Cooley underneath along with Clinton Portis in the backfield, Campbell - like Romo - has solid weapons around him to succeed greatly in the NFL.

It helps that Campbell played against a defense that is averse to taking the ball away.  In 2008, the Cowboys are so far into the red in the turnover margin, it's not shocking that they lost on Sunday.  It's shocking it was only their first loss on Sunday.  Dallas is one of four teams that has yet to intercept a ball in 2008 (the others are Seattle, St. Louis and Detroit - a combined 1-9).  The Cowboys have also forced only two fumbles this season, ranking the bottom third in the league.  If Dallas doesn't start taking the ball away - not even frequently, just ever - then this season could once again end is disappointment.

The front seven once again terrorized an offensive line and quarterback.  Campbell's day wasn't a complete Sunday stroll.  One sack each for DeMarcus Ware and Chris Canty.  Plenty of pressure early in the game, but it seemed like the pressure faded as the game went along.

Jason Garrett and the offense did a great job of finding a way to get the ball into TO's hands.  After the Redskins were able to limit Owens to a fourth-stringers role in the first half (1 catch, 7 yards), Tony Romo used the third quarter to reconnect with the standout receiver.  Owens finished the game with seven catches for 71 yards and a TD, his fourth on the season.

Patrick Crayton reemerged on the scene after a quiet start to the season.  Seven receptions for 87 yards.  Good to see him back in the fold.  If the Cowboys offense is going to continue to be the driving force behind this team's success, it will be guys like Crayton and Miles Austin (3 rec, 45 yards, 1 TD on Sunday) who make the difference.  Role players.  Owens, Jason Witten, Marion Barber are expected to make things happen for Dallas.  Crayton and Austin will provide the extra spark.

After the Eagles' loss to the Bears, they sit at the bottom of the NFC East at 2-2.  The Cowboys and Redskins are now each 3-1, a half-game behind the idle Giants at 3-0.  Philly's loss against Chicago was the first loss by an NFC East team to a team outside the division.  The NFC South is the only other division without a team with a losing record so far this season.

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