He doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about....
The Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills bestride the narrow world of the NFL like colossi, casting huge shadows over the opening of the playoffs, as lesser men peep about, and we are left to wonder, Who can challenge these monsters? Is their meeting in Super Bowl XXVI a foregone conclusion? Are the playoffs themselves mere appetizers before that grand main course in Minneapolis on Jan. 26, or are there genuine contenders out there, foes worthy enough to think of upsetting the 13-3 Bills in freezing, snowy Buffalo or the 14-2 Redskins in noisy, raucous Washington?
Well, yes, of course there are teams out there with the ability to slay these giants, but it'll be difficult for them to do so. In his 11 years as the Redskins' coach, Joe Gibbs has feasted on three of the teams that are potential playoff opponents for Washington. He is 8-0 lifetime against the Detroit Lions, including this year's 45-0 drubbing in the season opener, when the Lions were minus Barry Sanders. Gibbs's teams are 5-1 against the Atlanta Falcons, including a 56-17 walloping on Nov. 10, and 5-0 against the New Orleans Saints, whom they didn't face this season. The Chicago Bears have posed more of a threat—Mike Ditka's Bears had beaten Gibbs's Skins three times in eight meetings—but on Oct. 6 Washington put the Bears away in Chicago 20-7.
Which leaves...let's see now...the Dallas Cowboys. There's the joker in the NFC deck.
"I know the Cowboys can beat them because I saw it myself," says CBS analyst John Madden, who worked the Nov. 24 game at RFK Stadium in which Dallas upset the Redskins 24-21. " Washington tried to establish the run and didn't. They didn't get the ball. Jimmy Johnson did a great job of coaching. He just kept the Skins on their heels. He went for it on fourth down and made it, he onside kicked after a touchdown, he pulled out all the stuff, and it worked for him. He frustrated the Redskins, plus the Cowboys played a near perfect game."
The rivalry has taken strange twists recently. Johnson is 3-3 against Gibbs, with two of those wins coming in Washington. The Cowboys are too young to understand that NFL teams are not supposed to win on the road. In 1989, Johnson's first season in Dallas, the Cowboys' only win of the season was in Washington. They hold the Redskins in little awe. "We realize we can beat them because we've already done it, and that's a big thing," Johnson says. "If you look at the record, you'll notice that we usually play the run well against them, and when you stop the Redskins' running, you've got a shot."
In their last 42 games, counting playoffs, the Redskins have been held to 50 yards or less on the ground only four times. Johnson's Cowboys have accomplished the feat three of those times. The Skins gained only 50 yards against Dallas in this year's loss.
"It's hard to tell why we've been so effective against their running," says Cowboy defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. "There's confidence that we can do it, but there were times when we just got lucky. I mean situations where Washington had everybody blocked, and a cornerback came in and made a shoestring tackle, stuff like that. I guess it's what you'd call desire."
It sure looks as if Dallas has a chance against the Skins—except for one thing: The Cowboys may never get a shot. While Washington is enjoying its first-round bye when the playoffs start this weekend, Dallas, a wild-card team, will be in the meat grinder. Who knows what kind of shape the Cowboys will be in when, and if, they emerge from the butchery.
Meanwhile the Redskins have put up some terrific numbers as they have climbed to the top of the NFL standings. Once they've reached the opponent's 20-yard line, they've been deadly. In 58 possessions in the so-called red zone, Washington had 32 TDs and 20 field goals, with its six missed opportunities resulting from three turnovers, two missed field goals and one occasion when the game ended. But 52 for 58 is the best in the league, which speaks well for the Redskins' ability to hammer the ball.