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Cowboys offering Redskins a big test

By Mark Zuckerman


Jessie Armstead isn't one for conspiracy theories, but even the veteran linebacker has to admit there's something fishy about the situation his Washington Redskins face today.

The Redskins are losers of three straight, coming off a tumultuous bye week, desperately needing a win to keep their season from crumbling, and face their arch-rivals in a late-afternoon nationally televised game.

Who wrote this script?

"I'll tell you what: I bet it was pre-planned," Armstead said. "You couldn't ask for a better thing than what we've got now."

Actually, the Redskins (3-4) could ask for more favorable circumstances than a trip to Texas Stadium, where they haven't won in eight years, to face a Dallas Cowboys team that is the talk of the NFL.

If ever Washington was in need of a victory, this would be the week. Instead, the Redskins are facing perhaps their toughest challenge of the season.

This is a battered and bruised team, physically and mentally. As if the turmoil of the past two weeks wasn't troubling enough, Washington also must overcome a depleted running back corps, a dangerously thin secondary and a backup quarterback who has never thrown a pass in the NFL.

Oh, and the Redskins must do this all against the first-place Cowboys (5-2).

"We have no choice," Armstead said. "We've got to put it all behind us. We've got to make sure we regroup, go into a hostile environment and get this win."

Much will have to go right for Washington to pull off an upset. An offense that looked lifeless in Buffalo two weeks ago will have to regroup without either of its top two running backs. Trung Canidate (high ankle sprain) remains "very doubtful" according to coach Steve Spurrier, while Ladell Betts (fractured forearm) is out. In their place will be a consortium of unproven runners — fullback Rock Cartwright, scatback Chad Morton and rookie tailback Sultan McCullough.

The lack of a reliable run game will put even more pressure on quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who has taken a pounding all season. Ramsey is sure to see plenty of blitzes from the league's top-ranked defense, considering backup Tim Hasselbeck has never thrown a pass in the NFL and has had less than two weeks to learn the Fun 'n' Gun offense.

"I don't plan to get hurt," said Ramsey, who was knocked out of his last two games. "I'm going in there to try to keep myself protected and make some good throws and help this team win."

Defensively, the Redskins will be forced to contain one of the top receiving trios in the game with only one healthy cornerback Champ Bailey, who has actually been playing the last five weeks with a severely sprained left shoulder. Bailey, however, qualifies as healthy compared to teammates Fred Smoot (bruised sternum) and Rashad Bauman (sprained ankle), both listed as doubtful. Smoot did say Friday that he intends to play for the first time since Oct. 19.

No matter who takes the field, the Redskins realize they must perform better defensively than they did during the three-game losing streak.

"A lot of weight is on our shoulders," Bailey said. "We've got to be in the right places. We've got to make plays. And we haven't been doing it."

To top it all off, the Redskins must overcome any psychological demons that have built up over years of losing to the Cowboys. Washington hasn't won at Texas Stadium since 1995, and had lost 10 straight overall to its NFC East rivals before last December's 20-14 victory at FedEx Field.

"Right now, we feel like we're 1-0 against them," tackle Jon Jansen said. "Whatever happened before that, I don't remember."

Jansen's teammates would be wise to keep short memories as well. Two weeks ago, they offered up their worst performance of the season, setting off 14 days of controversy, speculation and finger-pointing.

Today marks their first game since the Buffalo debacle and an opportunity to put their wretched October behind them.

And, crazy as it may sound, a victory today would put Washington back in the thick of the NFC East race. Despite all the recent turmoil, the Redskins could be one game out of first place by the end of the day.

"I think we all have kept that in perspective," Ramsey said. "I think a lot of people were trying to jump ship. But we all know that if we win this game, it puts us in a very good position."

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