IRVING, Texas —Jim Zorn will go down in history as the only Washington Redskins coach with a perfect regular-season record at Texas Stadium.
Better yet, the Redskins are going into October as a legitimate contender in the NFC East.
Jason Campbell threw two touchdown passes and Clinton Portis ran for 121 yards, leading Washington to a 26-24 victory Sunday that gave the Dallas Cowboys their first loss and made the toughest division in the NFL even more interesting.
The Redskins came in with consecutive wins since a lousy performance in the opener, but there were still questions about how good they were. Going on the road to beat one of the most talented teams in football certainly improves their perception. For now, at least, Washington has turned the NFC East into a four-team race.
“It feels good watching our players take these strides,” Zorn said. “The football team believes in what we’re doing and that feels good.”
A few weeks ago, there was doubt whether Zorn was the right guy to replace Joe Gibbs. Now, he’s off to a great start, including being 1-0 against Washington’s biggest rival and ending a 1-for-12 skid at Texas Stadium. With Dallas moving to a new stadium next season, the only way he’ll coach here again is if it’s in the playoffs.
“I’ve always said this is going to be a process,” he said. “We have to maintain our composure after this win, too. We’re not going to the Super Bowl next week.”
The Cowboys of course weren’t either if they had won, but with a soft October schedule, fans saw this as a gateway to an 8-0 start and an early November showdown with the New York Giants. Now, Dallas has to fix a running game held to 44 yards, a passing game that worked hard to get big plays out of Terrell Owens and a defense that had too many players on the field during a critical play midway through the fourth quarter.
“The reality of it is, you have the opportunity to go 16-0 every year in the regular season, but that’s not realistic,” said quarterback Tony Romo, 1-3 against Washington and 22-6 against everyone else. “We’re a confident bunch. I think we’ll come back next week with a lot to prove.”
Romo was 28-of-47 for 300 yards with three touchdowns, but wasn’t able to move Dallas (3-1) as well as the stats suggest. Two of his best drives came in 2-minute drills, with the second—an eight-play, 82-yard march that ended with an 11-yard touchdown to Miles Austin—giving the Cowboys a chance for a stirring rally.
A field goal away from the lead, Dallas went for an onside kick with 1:42 left. The ball came up high and catchable for receiver Sam Hurd but he wasn’t able to hold it, losing the ball out of bounds. The Cowboys were out of timeouts, so the game was effectively over, causing team owner Jerry Jones to grimace on the sideline; wherever Redskins owner Dan Snyder was, he was certainly celebrating.
“Everybody has to look at the Redskins in a different light now,” running back Ladell Betts said. “This is a great team. We can beat anybody. We can play with anybody. We proved that right now.”
Campbell was 20-of-31 for 231 yards, Santana Moss caught eight passes for 145 yards and the Redskins made it four straight games without a turnover on offense. Shaun Suisham was 4-for-4 on field goals, none longer than 33 yards.
Washington’s defense held what had been the NFL’s most-explosive offense to its fewest yards and points of the season. Marion Barber ran for only 26 yards on eight carries and Owens had seven catches for 71 yards, but none longer than 18. He did have a 10-yard touchdown catch that tied it at 17 early in the third quarter.
“It’s no secret, when I get involved, we move the chains. When I don’t, we’re more stagnant in our offense,” Owens said.
Campbell turned a 7-0 deficit into a 17-7 lead by picking on Dallas cornerback Terence Newman for a 3-yard touchdown pass to James Thrash, a 2-yard touchdown to Antwaan Randle El and a 53-yard strike to Moss that led to a field goal after Moss landed out of bounds on a third-down fade.
After Dallas tied it, Washington scored two touchdowns on its next series— yes, two—and neither counted because of penalties, both on center Casey Rabach. The Redskins wound up with another field goal, then Romo threw an interception, leading to yet another Washington field goal and a 23-17 lead.
Aiming for a go-ahead touchdown, Romo instead threw three straight incompletions to Owens on the next drive. Then Dallas’ defense made a big third-down stop, but it didn’t count because there were 12 men on the field. The Redskins again got a field goal, the one that put the lead out of reach.
“It’s a reality check,” Dallas cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “Truly, I think we needed it as a team. … It will all work out at the end of the year.”