Redskins rule Cowboys, showing off NFC East's depth

Alex MarvezCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2008

This article was originally published on Cowboys,-showing-off-NFC-East%27s-depth?WRIPAR&promocode=92908BRRSWRILNKNN" target="_blank" title="Skins rule Cowboys">

IRVING, Texas - As the NFL trade deadline approaches, someone desperately needs to make a deal.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

We're not talking players here. We're talking franchises.

Swap an NFC East club with another from the NFC West. It doesn't matter which ones.

Because as it stands now, an NFC East team will get shafted while a lesser NFC West team heads to the postseason based on the league's playoff format.

The NFC West doesn't have any members with a winning record. The three squads that played Sunday — Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco — lost by a combined margin of 118-66. The Cardinals fell to the Redskins last Sunday; Philadelphia and the New York Giants already have trounced the winless Rams.

The NFL's beasts are in the NFC East. Washington's 26-24 road upset of Dallas is further proof.

Entering Sunday night's Philadelphia-Chicago game, none of the NFC East's four teams had lost outside the division. The Giants — one of the NFL's four remaining undefeated teams — defeated Washington in the season opener. The Cowboys topped Philadelphia the following week. And on Sunday, Dallas fell from the unbeaten ranks at the hands of a Redskins team that has won three straight.

Round and round she goes ...

"It was like this last year, too," Redskins left guard Pete Kendall said. "You could argue that the Eagles might have been the second-hottest team in our division at the end of the season. That's saying something considering the Giants went on a run to reach the Super Bowl, we won four games in a row going into the playoffs and the Cowboys had won 13 (overall)."

Yet there are only two wild-card spots in each conference, which makes rivalry games like Cowboys vs. Redskins even more spirited. After what could be their final game at Texas Stadium, which closes at season's end, Redskins players made it a point to celebrate with their fans. Kick returner Rock Cartwright repeatedly screamed "Way to do!" into the end-zone stands, while safety Chris Horton pumped his helmet up and down as he ran off the field.

Redskins coach Jim Zorn said the contest was a "brawl," an apt description for a game that wasn't decided until Dallas failed to recover an onsides kick with 1:42 remaining.

"The competition every time we play each other is at a high level," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. "You never can rate this game before it starts as one team is going to do such and such.

"These guys are good. Everybody is playing well. You probably will see us (in the playoffs). I'm going to say us and some other (NFC East) guys for sure."

Spears has good reason to believe the Cowboys are playoff-bound. But a second- or third-place NFC East finish awaits if the Cowboys stage more mistake-filled performances.

"They outplayed our offense, defense, special teams and our coaches," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips allowed. "Take your pick."

Phillips isn't blowing smoke. Despite the close score, Washington dominated the game's final three quarters in every area.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo didn't complete a pass longer than 26 yards as wide receiver Terrell Owens was held largely in check by an injury-depleted Redskins secondary. Romo received no help from a rushing attack that produced just 44 yards on 11 carries. Running back Felix Jones, who had scored touchdowns in his first three NFL games, inexplicably was never given an offensive touch.

Defensively, Dallas had no answer for Washington's own version of the Triplets: Running back Clinton Portis (121 rushing yards), wide receiver Santana Moss (eight catches for 145 yards) and a quarterback who engineered the biggest victory of his three-plus NFL seasons.

Jason Campbell shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath yet as fellow NFC East passers Romo, Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb. But after getting sacked on each of the first two series, Campbell settled into a groove that left Cowboys defenders — especially overmatched cornerback Terrence Newman — frustrated. Campbell wasn't taken down again while completing 21 of 30 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Just as impressive, he still hasn't thrown an interception in 93 pass attempts this season.

"He didn't have any ups and downs, these sways of emotion," said Zorn, a first-year head coach whose tutelage of Campbell has clearly paid dividends. "Part of it was the concentration level. He just kept it up the whole game.

"To play in such a pressure-cooker situation I think is tremendous for him. It's another step."

Every NFC East team will take up-and-down steps throughout this season. It's the nature of such a competitive division.

But in the future, NFC East teams won't have to pummel each other twice a season if the NFL expands to 34 franchises. Divisions could be abolished altogether, replaced by 17-team conferences. Squads would reach the playoffs based on records after matchups against every conference foe. Out-of-conference contests could be added if the NFL expands to a 17- or 18-game schedule.

That system would better reflect the NFL's top teams. But it also isn't something that can help the Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles or Giants in 2008.

"It is what it is," Washington center Casey Rabach said. "That's the way the league is set up. Yeah, you could be upset that someone with a worst record than you gets in the playoffs, but that's life. We just need to win this division and let it go from there."

In the NFC East, that's easier said than done.

To read more of Alex Marvez's columns, click here.


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