Dallas. Until Sunday the Cowboys hadn't lost since their toothless 10-7 effort in Buffalo on Sept. 22. They were coming off a vintage 29-10 win in Miami, where quarterback Troy Aikman threw for 363 yards. But the revival of Dallas, after a 1-3 start while Irvin was serving a five-game suspension, has as much to do with swagger as it does with performance, and it will be interesting to see how much bounce the Cowboys have in their step. "We'll be all right," says guard Nate Newton. "We've just got to go through the back door now."
Blind optimism? It could well be if the Cowboys don't revive their running game, which ranks 21st in the league, and if Aikman's blind-side bodyguard, left tackle Mark Tuinei, can't continue to play on a partially torn knee ligament.
Washington. Often during the first half of the season, Redskins coach Norv Turner heard the refrain: You haven't beaten anybody. Turner, whose club lost to Buffalo 38-13 on Sunday, admits as much: "We haven't done anything yet, and every player on this team knows it. But they also know they can play better. That's why I have high hopes."
Washington has beaten teams like New England and the Indianapolis Colts by riding back Terry Allen (852 rushing yards), turning the ball over a league-low eight times, scoring on all 23 chances in the red zone and getting production from pass-rushing tackle Sean Gilbert. The brutal three-game, 12-day stretch lies ahead, but so do games against the Arizona Cardinals (twice) and the Tampa Bay Bucs. A 10-win season is within reach.
Still, Washington is vulnerable if Allen, playing on two reconstructed knees, crumbles or if its 28th-ranked defense continues to make the offense win a track meet every week. The Skins got run over in Buffalo—Darick Holmes and Thurman Thomas both rushed for more than 100 yards—but give Washington one mulligan. However, there are no mulligans in the playoffs, so the Skins had better improve defensively or they'll go one and out.
The Packers are a rare bunch in this era of professional sports because they don't let their egos get in the way of the team's goal. On Sunday tight end Mark Chmura, a Pro Bowl player in '95, continued a pedestrian receiving season, catching two balls for 28 yards. Yet he seemed perfectly happy. "Today there was a play where I was the first option for Brett," Chmura said. "But it was a play I knew Keith Jackson runs better than I do. So I came out and told him, 'You're in.' He caught the pass and gained about 20 yards. That's how it is here. Guys realize the bowl we want is the Super Bowl, not the Pro Bowl."
So Green Bay enters the brutal stretch of the season as our NFC favorite to play in New Orleans. As for the AFC? We like the Broncos. But the NFL doesn't hand out its trophy for being the best team on Nov. 4. It goes to the team that survives the war of attrition, and that war begins in earnest this weekend.
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