ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins may share the same record, but they are organizations moving in totally different directions. And if you had any doubt which way the Cowboys were headed, they answered with another pathetic performance in a 38-31 loss at home in which they led the world in empty numbers.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III toyed with the Cowboys for two possessions and actually spotted them a 3-0 lead. Then he shredded them for three touchdown passes – 68, 59 and 6 yards – in staking his team to a 28-3 halftime lead.
Cue the Sean Payton-to-Dallas talk because Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s team once again looked clueless in digging itself an enormous hole. And that’s saying something when you consider how awful the Cowboys have played at home this season.
Chants of “RG3” broke out inside Cowboys Stadium as Griffin displayed the same accuracy and poise that helped him win a Heisman trophy 100 miles down the road at Baylor. It’s hard to imagine either of these teams making a serious run at the playoffs this season, but you get the sense Griffin will soon have the Redskins in that discussion on an annual basis.
It’s only been 18 days since Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan basically conceded the 2012 season after a loss to the Panthers dropped his team to 3-6 heading into the bye. With two straight wins, the Redskins are in a tie with the Cowboys for second place in the NFC East. And if the Giants lose to the Packers on Sunday, the Redskins would only trail them by one game heading into their head-to-head matchup. Technically, the Cowboys are tied with the Redskins, but how could anyone who watched the first half Thursday think Garrett’s team has any shot at the playoffs? The biggest storyline the rest of the season will revolve around Jason Garrett’s employment. He needed to take advantage of an allegedly soft schedule that had the Cowboys hosting three consecutive home games against losing games. They needed overtime to beat a 2-7 Cleveland team and were overwhelmed by Griffin and the Redskins on Thursday.
With his team trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, Griffin faked a handoff to Alfred Morris and then launched a pass to former SMU star Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard touchdown. Cowboys safety Danny McCray and cornerback Brandon Carr were at least 15 yards clear of the Redskins wide receiver.
On the Cowboys’ next possession, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson used his helmet to dislodge the ball from Dez Bryant following a short catch. The Skins took over at the Cowboys’ 49-yard line and Griffin quickly led another scoring drive that was highlighted by a third-and-2 play on which he whistled a pass between two diving defenders into the hands of Santana Moss for a 9-yard gain. Some Cowboys mentioned how difficult it was to prepare for Griffin on a short week, but that’s just another lame excuse from a team that specializes in that sort of thing.
In his 11th game as a starter in the NFL, Griffin was the best player on the field – by a longshot. By the end of the first half, you could hear a collective groan from Cowboys fans every time he dropped back to pass. And even after the game, he said returning to Texas didn’t change his mindset.
“He’s kind of like Cool Hand Luke,” said Shanahan after the game, referring to the classic 1967 film starring Paul Newman. “He just handles himself and goes about his business. Works extremely hard to prepare for a game. He knows how to avoid distractions. He focuses on his job and doesn’t seem to let anything bother him.”
Told that Shanahan had compared him to Cool Hand Luke, Griffin smiled and said, “He must be pretty cool.”
He then delivered that goofy, high-pitched laugh and said, “I don’t know who that is.”
At halftime Thursday, Griffin finished a remarkable stretch in which he completed 25-of-29 passes for 408 yards and seven touchdowns over the span of six quarters. He finally reminded everyone he was human when he threw an interception with nine minutes left in the game that allowed the Cowboys to pull within 35-28. But on second-and-11 from his 19-yard line, Griffin rifled a pass across the middle to Santana Moss for 23 yards. The play seemed to calm things down for the Redskins as they moved into position to kick a game-clinching field goal.
“I told the guys that it was probably the drive that saved our season,” said Griffin. “You have a huge lead and the other team is roaring back. They had all the momentum and then you go out there and convert third down after third down to get into field-goal range.”
The Cowboys were exposed for exactly what they are: a team that’s built on hype instead of substance. They have a defensive coordinator who likes to tell everyone how great he is. But whatever plan he rolled out Thursday failed miserably in front of 90,166 fans. Good luck getting all those folks to return for a game against the pitiful Eagles in 10 days. For a rivalry to flourish, at least one of the teams needs to have a pulse.
Suddenly, the Redskins are the hottest team in the NFC East. And they have 10 days to prepare for a Giants team that has been reeling after a quick start. Griffin performed brilliantly in a last-minute loss to the Giants in the Meadowlands last month. And now he believes the Redskins are capable of stacking some wins.
“I feel as if something is building,” he said. “Being 3-6, the character of your team is tested. I experienced playing on some teams that had tough years. But it’s how they respond to those losses. So, you’re sitting at 3-6. If you don’t beat the Eagles, now you’re 3-7 and you’re likely to kill your season or the morale of your team. We come out on Thanksgiving and dominate the game, let them back into it and close it out. Hey, we might have thought we could do it. Now, we know we can do it and it’s in our hands.”
The Cowboys continue to waste their quarterback’s prime. But with Griffin, the Redskins have a much different trajectory.