IRVING, Texas - Apparently, getting to kick field goals in the Cowboys' 27-10 win over the Redskins after being kept inactive for the regular-season opener at Jacksonville was more than a big deal to kicker Mike Vanderjagt.
After Sunday night's game here at Texas Stadium, when he went two-for-two on field goals with a 26-yarder as well as a 50-yarder, Vanderjagt said waiting for a chance to "quiet the critics" was harder than the kick that's haunted him since last season.
"It was 100 times harder than missing a kick against Pittsburgh," Vanderjagt said about waiting for his Cowboys debut in a regular-season game. "It was real hard to take. It was real hard to deal with. I came to a new team, and I just wanted to kick - the reason I was here. And when you're not provided that opportunity it's kind of discouraging."
This week, Vanderjagt got his chance, and he took advantage of it. He said he thinks he broke the supposed curse that had been hovering over him since missing the 46-yard, last-second kick that would have send his Colts into overtime in a second-round playoff game last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It was a little nerve-racking at first, but once I got the little short one under my belt, that was certainly a good way to start," said Vanderjagt, who signed the three-year, $5.4 million deal with the Cowboys in the off-season. "And certainly extra points make you feel good. And any time you can hit a 50 (-yard field goal), it's certainly going to help your confidence. I never doubted my ability, but you've got to make sure you still have it. And I felt good about how it went."
The road to Vanderjagt's first regular-season appearance as a Cowboy didn't go smoothly, however. He said he didn't find out until sometime Friday that he would be kicking Sunday night's game.
Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells was pummeled with questions all week about his kicking plans for the Washington game after deciding to take only Shaun Suisham to Jacksonville, where he made one of two field goals, missing a 36-yarder.
Since Vanderjagt isn't known for his kickoff prowess, Parcells felt forced to dress both kickers Sunday night, something he's made clear he doesn't like to do.
Aside from being unable to carry an extra linebacker or tight end on the 45-man, game-day roster, the plan worked. Vanderjagt made all his kicks, and Suisham flawlessly handled six kickoffs, all at least making the eight-yard line and four landing inside the five.
Vanderjagt said he thought Sunday's setup is the best way to go, Suisham handling the kickoffs while he continues to handles the place kicks. But he realizes that's not his decision.
"I don't know if that solves the problem, but I think we both feel like we can contribute very well in this scheme," he said of the kicking tandem. "It's not up to us whether both of us dress or not. But if I can make a couple kicks here and there, and Shaun's a great kickoff guy. He's not just a third kicker. He's a weapon that helps your team win games. But that's obviously up to Bill whether he wants to do it or not."
With the bye week coming up, Parcells has two weeks to decide whether to do something he's never done before in his coaching career in the NFL - continue to take two kickers to the game.
More Than Sacks
Recently converted linebacker Greg Ellis had 1 ½ sacks Sunday as part of a defense that had six for minus-45 yards and relentlessly pressured Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell throughout the game.
But Ellis said sacks are not all there is to pressuring the quarterback.
"It's about getting pressure in the quarterback's face," Ellis said. "Getting pressure is about trying to discourage him from making his first read. Forcing him to pull it down, step to the side - all of those things create pressure. And once you start it off you're usually able to keep it up, and we were able to tonight."
Ellis also had a quarterback hit, two solo tackles and two assisted tackles.
The Odd Man Out
Because Parcells chose to take two kickers to the game, he had to leave another position player inactive.
The odd man out became tight end Ryan Hannam.
Parcells also made a switch with his extra linebacker, this time activating first-round draft choice Bobby Carpenter for the first time instead of rookie free-agent linebacker Oliver Hoyte, who played at Jacksonville last week.
Carpenter, who played on various special teams cover units, also played in one of the Cowboys' nickel defenses against the Redskins.
The other inactive players Sunday were wide receivers Jamaica Rector and Miles Austin, offensive linemen Pat McQuistan and Cory Procter, defensive lineman J'Vonne Parker and cornerback Nate Jones. Free-agent rookie receiver Sam Hurd took Rector's place as the fourth receiver because of his ability to cover kicks.
Replacing Rector, who returned punts in the opener, were Patrick Crayton and Terence Newman.
Solid On the O-Line
The Cowboys' offensive line played fairly well Sunday night against the Redskins, especially for a unit considered one of the biggest question marks on the team at the outset of the season.
The offensive line allowed just one sack for an eight-yard loss and plenty of time for Drew Bledsoe to consider his options across the field.
Compare that to the six sacks for minus-45 yards and nine quarterback hurries Washington quarterback Mark Brunell suffered.
- The Cowboys did a much better job of running the ball, gaining 138 yards on 31 carries. Julius Jones led the way with 94 yards on 20 carries. And to think they had an 18-yard gain by Tyson Thompson wiped out on an inconsequential tripping call by Marc Colombo.
- Washington running back Clinton Portis, downgraded to doubtful on Friday, was one of the Redskins' inactive players. While Portis had been suffering from a shoulder sublexation suffered in the first preseason game, he ended up suffering a strained rotator cuff while getting just 10 carries in the opener.
- The Cowboys made sure Washington H-back Chris Cooley didn't cause the problems he did in the second meeting last year when he caught six passes for 71 yards, three of those touchdowns, all in the first half. Sunday night, Cooley had just one catch for 23 yards, and that didn't occur until the Redskins' final drive of the game.
- Cowboys rookie H-back Anthony Fasano totaled three catches, the first of his NFL career.
- Cowboys punter Mat McBriar had another stellar performance, averaging 49 yards a kick, with an impressive 39.4 net average. McBriar hit his third 60-yard punt of the season, this one 61 yards.
- Rookie wide receiver Sam Hurd splashed onto the NFL scene, making the tackle on the opening kickoff, his first play in the NFL.
Terrell Owens extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 138, the third-longest active streak in the NFL . . . This was the second consecutive game somewhat affected by wet conditions, as rainstorms hit Dallas two hours before kickoff Sunday night and persisted into the first quarter . . . The Cowboys will get Monday and Tuesday off this week as the Cowboys go into their bye week . . . The Cowboys' 99-yard touchdown drive in the second half was the longest by the club since a 13-play, 99-yard touchdown drive against Jacksonville on Nov. 24, 2002 . . . The Dallas defense recorded six sacks, the best showing since a six-sack game against Chicago on Nov. 25, 2004.