Cowboys 31 - Redskins 16: Hail To Hatcher And The Scrubs

Tom Pennington

It was a team victory for Dallas but there was no contribution that felt better than that of a late-blooming veteran, a sometimes maligned backup, and a bunch of guys who have been collected off the street.

After the gut wrenching loss by the Dallas Cowboys to the Denver Broncos the biggest question on everyone's mind was whether the Cowboys' defense was falling apart. The greatest concern was the defensive line where it looked like Rod Marinelli's Rushmen had finally succumbed to the injury problems that had so badly depleted them. The only true starters available to the team for the game against the Washington Redskins were DE DeMarcus Ware and DT Jason Hatcher. Dallas was going to have to depend on players like George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Kyle Wilber, David Carter, Edgar Jones, Drake Nevis, and Caesar Rayford. This is not exactly a Who's Who of D line talent. It's more like Who The Heck Are These Guys? Outside Wilber, a fourth-round draft choice from 2012 who is having to master the conversion from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE, and who still needs to bulk up, the rest of them are all free agents the Cowboys signed, most of them since the end of the preseason.

Against the Broncos they were simply ineffective. Denver never punted. Peyton Manning moved his team up and down the field and only the superb play of Tony Romo and the rest of the offense made it a game.

And just when things couldn't get any worse, they got worse. DeMarcus Ware left the game in the second quarter with an injured quadriceps and did not return. There could be little hope of getting pressure on Robert Griffin III and keeping the Redskins' running game bottled up.

Enter Jason Hatcher and the Scrubs. It's not the name of a 1950's pop group, but they put together a pretty nice greatest hits album in spurring Dallas to a 31-16 win over Washington.

There are certainly many other heroes of the game, on offense, defense, and, oh, my, special teams. But no one was a bigger, more pleasing surprise than the way this group of Replacement Rushmen rose to the challenge and left the Cowboys in a tie for the NFC East lead with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Hatcher was not only the one "name" player that Dallas had on the line after Ware went out, he was also the leader both by inspiration and by example. He collected two sacks, giving him a career high total of five after only six games, and had six total tackles and a couple of QB hits. And he was less than healthy, still feeling the effects of the stinger.

Kyle Wilber, who has been called a disappointment, had arguably the biggest defensive play of the game when he looped around behind Griffin, who was looking desperately for someplace to throw the ball, and knocked the ball loose, then recovered the fumble on Washington's own 3-yard line.

At that time, the Cowboys were holding onto an eight point lead, and at least one person - me - was getting that sense of dread that Dallas was going to choke this one away. But Wilber set up a quick two play score as Joseph Randle, ably assisted by Travis Frederick doing a bulldozer imitation from behind the pile, ran the ball in.

That was just the most spectacular play of the night as the front four harassed Griffin throughout and often ran down the ballcarrier on running plays. More importantly, when the Cowboys offense went into hibernation for most of the third quarter, putting up two three-and-outs around the one truly bad defensive breakdown of the game, Alfred Morris' 45-yard touchdown run, they gutted it out and didn't give in to the pressure. Although the Redskins dominated the game statistically, the overall performance was just what Monte Kiffin designs his defense to do. They gave up a lot of yards, but only one touchdown, forcing four field goal attempts, one of which sailed wide. For the most part, the Redskins were answering touchdowns with field goals and when you can force your opponent to do that, you are going to win a whole bunch of football games.

The biggest difference for the Rushmen in this game was probably that they were not facing Peyton Manning or Phillip Rivers, with their fast releases. Many times Bob3 was holding on to the ball the way he was when Wilber stripped him, or trying to extend the play with his legs. But through most of the game, there was a clear push up the middle. And in the end it clearly worked.

It remains to be seen if this motley crew can keep up the performance, or if they will revert to the lack of production that plagued them the previous two weeks. No matter what you think on that topic, this was a truly inspired performance by a bunch of no-name linemen. They outplayed their counterparts on the other team, who had Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, two of the best edge rushers in the game, but who could only manage to muster one sack of Tony Romo (who did go into full Romodini mode on at least one occasion, the 15-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Williams).

If Dallas is to prevail this season, they are going to have to find a way to continue this level of performance. There is no rest for them, with a visit to the Eagles next. While there are no guarantees, I do feel one thing is for certain: This bunch of scrubs is going to put everything they have on the field, in practice and when the game is played.

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