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NFL Blitz: Can Cowboys Avoid Another Collapse?

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The weather starts to turn and the Dallas Cowboys head for the last roundup.

Fast starts and fantastic fizzles. How 'bout them Cowboys?

The Redskins would love to turn Dallas' loss to the Green Bay Packers into the second chapter of another late-season skid when the play Sunday at Jerry Jones' Taj Mahal.

Whether it's a playoff game – and Dallas has lost its last five dating to the 1997 season – or simply a skid that keeps the 'Boys out of the playoffs, the last weeks of the season always prove treacherous terrain.

How 'bout last year when they dropped three of their final four and their last two, including a 44-6 blowout in Philly against the Eagles? That was tasty.

How 'bout going 13-3 in 2007 and losing their first playoff game (at home) to the underdog New York Giants? After losing two of their last three games, we will be cruel enough to note.

The Cowboys have not been above .500 in games played from Dec. 1 on since 1996. They've been as good as .500 twice over the last 12 years, which includes the coaching tenures of incumbent Wade Phillips, Bill Parcells, Dave Campo, Chan Gailey and Barry Switzer (!!!).

"Once upon a time they used to be good," says media impresario and former Redskins tight end Rick "Doc" Walker. "Now they're fictional."

The Cowboys he remembers went to the NFC championship game three consecutive seasons (1980-82). They lost all three, the last to the Redskins in the strike-shortened '82 season. Those Cowboys featured Tony Dorsett, Tony Hill, Danny White and a mean defense headed up by Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Randy White and Harvey Martin.

Even then, a little late-season slippage slowed progress. The 'Boys lost the last two of '82 and the last two of '83. In '83, that settled the NFC East race because one of those losses was to the Redskins, who won it.

Dallas (6-3) comes into Sunday's meeting with the Redskins (3-6) off its worst offensive performance of the season. Tony Romo endured five sacks and the 'Boys managed only 278 yards in their 17-7 road loss to the Green Bay Packers, scoring in the final minute. That prevented their first shutout since a 12-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 16, 2003.

"We had a bump in the road," Romo says by way of explaining the debacle in northeastern Wisconsin. "We've let that one go."

If the Redskins can prime the pump for a Dallas fall, it could be a steep one. The Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day at home against the Oakland Raiders and then step up a bit in competition. Three of the next four are on the road, against the New York Giants (who beat them in Week 2), at home against the San Diego Chargers, who lead the AFC West, and away again against the unbeaten New Orleans Saints, kings of the NFC South, and at Washington.

They finish at home against the Eagles, whom they defeated on the road.

Which way are the nasty 'Boys going? History points south. Perhaps the Redskins can offer them directions.

TOP ROOKS:Buffalo Bills cornerback Jairus Byrd has eight interceptions, which is a rookie club record and most by an NFL rookie since Anthony Henry pilfered 10 for the Cleveland Browns in 2001.

He's the first player to have a streak of five consecutive games with a pick since Champ Bailey did it for the Denver Broncos in 2005 and e leads the NFL in INTs. Byrd's father Gill played 10 seasons for the San Diego Chargers and had 42 career INTs. He's the assistant secondary coach of the Chicago Bears.

He'd be a front-runner for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year but the Redskins OLB/DE Brian Orakpo will get votes. He leads all rookies in sacks with seven and is tied for 10th among NFL leaders. Not easy playing two positions. Orakpo lines up at strongside linebacker but moves to right end in pass-rushing situations.

"He certainly qualifies among front-runners," says Redskins coach Jim Zorn. "He's a super-productive kid."

QUOTABLE: "This three-game stretch is probably everything for our season. It is a one-game stretch as we look at it but big-picture-wise it is everything for us." – Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team faces the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday night) at home and then the Green Bay Packers on the road in a Monday night contest. ... "We've won three in a row. Like I said earlier, our goal has been to go 10-0 in these last games." – Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson, who leads the NFL in rushing. The Titans started 0-6. ... "Not mine. I'm still mad at my mom about that." – San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner, saying he could suggest some names for LaDainian Tomlinson to consider for the baby on the way but that he wouldn't advocate for Norval. The Chargers play the 1,000th game in their history Sunday at the Denver Broncos in a battle for first place in the AFC West. San Diego has won its last four while the Broncos are on a three-game losing streak. ... "It's the toughest thing I ever had to do because he's such a great guy. But nothing ever seemed to go right." – Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson on his firing this week of coach Dick Jauron. The Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert just before the season began. The Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999. ... "It's always tough to lose. If you lose at tiddlywinks it's tough if you are a true competitor. It's just something that you have to live with." – Detroit Lions DT Shaun Rogers. ... "I'm going to be myself. I'm man enough to be me. It's more passion than it is anything else." – New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, after he cried during a team meeting.

EXTRA POINTS: The Arizona Cardinals have never lost a game in which they won the turnover battle while coached by Ken Whisenhunt, now in his third year. They're 16-0 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs. ... Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning has thrown 20 TD passes for the 12th consecutive season, tying a record set by Brett Favre (1194-2005). ... Aaron Kampmann is completely miscast as an OLB in the Packers' 3-4 scheme implemented this season. He has 2.5 sacks after getting 37 the last three years playing left end in a 4-3. ... The Redskins have allowed 120 first-half points against only 51 in the final two quarters. ... New England Patriots WR Randy Moss leads the NFL with 891 receiving yards. With 109 he will have his 10th 1,000-yard season, tying Jerry Rice's record. ... The Pittsburgh Steelers have scored only 13 first-quarter points in their last five games. They've been held to 259 total yards or less in two of their last three. ... The Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears have been playing against each other since 1933 and they'll do it again on Sunday night. There was a tie to start the series and then 11 consecutive Bears' triumphs. Chicago leads the all-time series 28-10-1. Oddly, the games have been played in 10 different stadiums, seven in Philadelphia and three in Illinois. Have to wonder if Bears QB Jay Cutler is afraid of the dark. In three previous night games this season he has thrown three TD passes and 11 of his league-leading 17 INTS. ... Nine QBs have a passer rating of 95.0 or better, the most in the NFL through the first 10 weeks of the season since 1970. ... Interesting angle to the San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers game. Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were the first two QBs selected in the 2005 draft, Smith first overall and Rodgers 24th. ... The Jacksonville Jaguars seek their fourth consecutive home victory when the play the reeling Bills on Sunday and no one will see it. Every Jags home game this season has been blacked out due to low ticket sales. ... Weird angle to Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants. The road team has won every game (12) since 1979. ... The Cincinnati Bengals are 4-0 on the road and can build on that when they play the woebegone Raiders. The Raiders benched QB JaMarcus Russell and will start Bruce Gradkowski.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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