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Key In 'Big D': Stopping Big Plays




Head coach Joe Gibbs announced on Monday that he'll send Mark Brunell onto the field Monday Night versus the Cowboys--but it's not the Brunell of 2004 who will take to Texas Stadium. Rather, it will be a rejuvenated veteran quarterback who faces the Cowboys on Week 2.

In his first season in Washington, the 11-year NFL veteran suffered an early-season hamstring injury that limited his mobility and cut down on the zip on his passes. On both counts, according to Gibbs, Brunell showed significant improvement during the preseason, which is why he'll get the start.

In terms of the switch from Patrick Ramsey, who suffered a neck injury in the 9-7 win over Chicago, to Brunell, Gibbs said he knows it won't be universally acclaimed.

He added: "I felt like this was a decision that I had to make. We have a situation where two quarterbacks can go in there and win games for us. At this point, the best decision for us and the Redskins was to start Mark."

But if the Redskins can't stay away from big plays versus Dallas, it doesn't matter who they send out to call the signals next Monday Night.

As we all know, the Cowboys have won 14 out of the last 15 games in the series. The only Redskins win in that stretch came in Darrell Green's farewell game, on Dec. 29, 2002. Daryl Gardener and LaVar Arrington rattled Chad Hutchinson in a 20-14 Washington win.

Despite the Dallas dominance, the Redskins came very close to sweeping the Cowboys a year ago. The last time they did that was in 1995.

The point is that the Redskins' defense was outstanding for most of 2004 in its march to the No. 3 overall ranking in the NFL. But it stumbled on Weeks 3 and 16 versus the Cowboys.

On Week 3, Richie Anderson and Terry Glenn hooked up on a halfback option pass as Dallas stunned the Redskins 21-18 at FedExField on Monday Night Football. On that 26-yard TD, the Redskins' defense apparently momentarily lost sight of the fact that Anderson throws with his left hand.

Then on Week 16, on the day after Christmas, Washington appeared to have a game won but failed to finish out the job. With :30 left, Vinny Testaverde threw a TD pass to unheralded wide receiver Patrick Crayton for a 39-yard score gave Dallas a 13-10 win.

Those sort of big plays and defensive miscommunications prevented the Redskins from earning a sweep of Dallas in 2004.

It won't be easy for the Redskins this Monday Night, of course. Not only will it be a hostile environment at Texas Stadium but there will be memories of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin swirling. As if Cowboys fans needed incentive to try to make things harder for the Redskins on the road.

That's the back story as the Redskins hand the ball to Brunell and seek to go 2-0 on the season.

"From Mark's standpoint, from when he was playing last year personnel-wise we weren't as good, certainly, as we are right now," said Gibbs. "Mark got a real severe hamstring pull in the [Week 2] Giants game. He refused to come out and played with it. That probably hurt his play. I also think our football team personnel-wise and the things we're doing, I think we're better now. Hopefully, that will turn out to be the case."

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