The Dallas Cowboys are catching the Washington Redskins off a bye week at AT&T Stadium this Sunday, and the ‘Skins are hoping they can duplicate the post-bye success they enjoyed a year ago.
Last season the Redskins entered the bye at 3-6 amid talk of blowing up the roster and using the remainder of the season to evaluate talent. Instead, the next week they blew up the Philadelphia Eagles 31-7 and rattled off seven straight wins on their way to the NFC East title.
This year the ‘Skins entered the bye a comparatively dismal 1-3, having dropped home games to Philadelphia and Detroit and getting blowing out on the road in Green Bay. Their lone win was a 24-14 walk at Oakland in Week 4. They shut the Raiders out the final three quarters, a good sign for a defense that had given up an average of 33 points per game in starting the season 0-3.
The players sound undaunted, and why shouldn’t they be? They learned first-hand last year that a 3-6 start couldn’t prevent them from winning the division. And this year the East appears even more wide open – they may be 1-3, but the ‘Skins are just a game back from the co-leaders and there appears to be no quick fix for the awful 0-6 New York Giants.
“We’re really right in the thick of things in the NFC East, which is kind of bizarre the way we’ve played the first couple games,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan told The Washington Post during the bye. “But luckily that’s the way it’s kind of shaken out.”
The point is, this isn’t some 1-3 dog limping into town. The Redskins are defending division champions. They’re coming off a road win and a bye week. They’re getting healthier with the likely return of linebacker Brandon Jenkins and the continuing progress of quarterback Robert Griffin, who gets a little more game-ready each week that passes.
More important, these Redskins understand they’re very much in this race, they believe they have the team to compete, and they expect to win.
Mike Shanahan’s teams have been a more than respectable 11-6 after the bye in his 17 years as a head coach, including a 3-1 record on the road.
Jason Garrett’s 2012 Cowboys were 2-0 against teams coming off the bye, edging the 1-4 Panthers in Carolina and a 2-7 Cleveland team at home by a combined 8 points.
But the stats and the records have never mattered in this rivalry. Didn’t matter in 1989 when the Cowboys’ were the worst team in football and their lone win came at RFK. Didn’t matter in 1995 when the 6-10 ‘Skins swept the season series and the Cowboys won the Superbowl.
This is as “must-win” as a Week 6 matchup can get, which is to say it’s not really must-win, but it’s pretty important. The Redskins can ill afford to sink to 1-4 – not with Chicago and Denver looming the next two weeks. The Cowboys will make a tough road tougher if they drop two straight at home – particularly with upcoming road games in Philadelphia and Detroit.
Expect playoff-caliber intensity at AT&T Stadium this Sunday. Expect a good old-fashioned NFC East brawl. And hope the bye week magic of a year ago is all used up.