LANDOVER, Md. – Josh Norman savored the moment just a little bit longer in the Washington Redskins locker room, basking in the glow of a victory few saw coming.
This win, against this team, tasted a little more sweet. But this outcome, against this opponent, was proof of something bigger than just this one game on this one Sunday, he said.
For so long, the Redskins had been made to feel small by the one team they hated the most: the Dallas Cowboys. Washington had allowed itself to become a pushover in its own division, a team incapable of defeating its bitter rival for one reason or another.
That is, until now.
“They were like our big brother ’cause they always whupped us,” Norman told Yahoo Sports, after he was done holding court for the TV cameras. “They whupped our tails. Two years in a row, man. Just giving it to us. Every time we faced them, we’d get up for it, but we don’t finish. It seemed almost easy for them in a way.”
The same almost was true on Sunday.
Had a last-second, 52-yard Cowboys’ field goal not ricocheted off the left upright, Washington wouldn’t have escaped with a 20-17 victory at FedEx Field. But, according to Norman, “the Redskins of old” wouldn’t have been in a position to walk away with the “W,” period.
“We were right on the cusp, but something would always happen; whether we had injuries or we just tanked it,” said the Redskins cornerback, clad in an orange No. 8 Bobby Boucher jersey to honor the 20th anniversary of the movie “The Waterboy.”
The last time Washington defeated the Cowboys was Week 17 of the Redskins’ NFC East championship season in 2015. The last time they beat Dallas at home? December 2012.
“It’s just been that way, man. We were just stuck. Here. In that rut,” Norman said, punctuating his words with an elongated grunt.
But the Redskins believe they’re a different team now, one that has proven so far that they have just enough talent and grit to outlast opponents.
They’re now 4-2 and in first place in the division. And with four straight winnable games – starting with next week’s road game against the New York Giants – before they face Dallas (3-4) again, Washington could be poised to go on a run.
Still, the Redskins remain their worst enemy at times, compounding errant throws from quarterback Alex Smith with ill-advised penalties and defensive lapses. On Sunday, they nearly squandered a 10-point lead.
But also give credit where credit is due. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his players entered the game with one mission: to make Dallas one-dimensional by neutralizing Ezekiel Elliott. And they succeeded. The 2016 Pro Bowl running back, who at one point had eight carries for only eight yards, finishing with a suboptimal 33 yards on 15 carries.
The play of the game came courtesy of Ryan Kerrigan, who stripped Prescott at the goal line, which led to Preston Smith picking up the football and scoring a touchdown with 4:55 to go.
Good teams know how to finish off their opponents. But the Redskins, despite what they say, are not there yet.
They dared quarterback Dak Prescott (22 for 35, 273 yards, one touchdown) to beat them with his arm, and he almost did. But it was his 1-yard touchdown run up the middle that pulled the Cowboys to within 20-17 with 1:37 remaining.
It shouldn’t even have come to that. And therein lies the issue with Washington.
“I’m not satisfied with that touchdown at the end. That’s two weeks in a row we made it a head-scratcher,” safety D.J. Swearinger said, referring to the Redskins’ close win over Carolina last week. “And once we got a team on the ropes, we’ve got to knock them out.”
“Cowboys Week” was about more than just defending their home turf. It was about the Redskins resetting expectations within their own locker room and sending a message. It was about finally shedding the inferiority complex that plagued them for so long and restoring some balance in a wide-open NFC East.
So far, the Redskins have succeeded in fielding a top-five defense. And despite an assortment of injuries on offense, they now have their best start to the season since 2016 and their best home record to start the season (3-1) since 2015.
The challenge now for Jay Gruden’s players is to avoid complacency.
“Tomorrow, when we get in, we get on to New York,” Swearinger said. “Because if we’re going to be the championship team that we expect to be, we have to win these games and expect to move forward and stay consistent.”
“We’ve got to move on,” added Norman. “We’ve got New York next. When we get back in, we’re on to New York. Those guys are a little down right now, but guess what? They’ve all got fighters in them. They’re an NFL team, so you can’t overlook nobody.”
But even so, Norman can’t help but have one game in particular circled on his calendar: Washington’s rematch with the Cowboys in Week 11.
“Redskins-Cowboys. They always come down to the wire,” he said of the teams’ divisional matchups. “They always got that rivalry. So, screw them. That’s how we feel about it because they’re going to say the same thing about us. We play them again and I can’t wait. Cause I’ve got some unfinished business.”
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