Cowboys whiff on RG III window

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Dallas Cowboys couldn't beat an injured, inexperienced Robert Griffin III.

If not now, then when?

That's a thought that will haunt Jerry Jones all offseason. Never mind trying to catch up with the New York Giants, who ended the Cowboys' season en route to Super Bowl titles twice in the previous five seasons. The Washington Redskins will be a force to be reckoned with for some time.

"So are we," Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said defiantly after the Cowboys' 28-18 loss in the de facto NFC East title game. "Let us play with our players and that'll be a fun matchup. I think they know that and we know that, too."

Yeah, Dallas' defense was decimated by injuries, with five starters missing Sunday night and perennial Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware a one-armed shell of himself.

But this might have been the Cowboys' best shot for the next decade or so. RG III will never be a rookie again, and he'll just get better with age. His sprained right knee, which was protected by a bulky brace, will heal and his incredible burst will return.

The fear of RG III was easy to see in Jones' eyes after the NFL Rookie of the Year frontrunner put together a highlight reel during the Redskins' Thanksgiving Day win at JerryWorld. Jones admitted he was in awe after watching RG III throw for 304 yards and four touchdowns.

With a playoff stake on the line, RG III wasn't even close to being the biggest problem for the Cowboys' defense. They couldn't stop the Redskins' other rookie star, as running back Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries.

A gimpy RG III was just all right as the Redskins claimed their first NFC East crown since 1999, completing nine of 18 passes for 100 yards and rushing six times for 63 yards and a score, with all of his running yards basically a direct result of the attention Dallas' D paid Morris.

That's what made this such a missed opportunity for the Cowboys. RG III will be spectacular on a regular basis for the next decade. The Cowboys weren't good enough to beat him when he was average.

Good luck when RG III is rolling. The Redskins are only going to get better as they surround RG III and Morris with more playmakers.

"They're going to be doing this for years to come," safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. "We have to figure out what we need to do to get these guys under wraps."

As painful as it was to watch the Redskins run the ball down the Cowboys' throat, Dallas' defense did about as well as could be expected. Did anyone really think the injury-riddled Cowboys could hold the Redskins to fewer than 30 points after seeing RG III carve them up like turkeys on Thanksgiving?

Jason Garrett and Tony Romo's offense failed the Cowboys. Once again, Romo failed to rise to the moment in a win-or-the-end game.

RG III, a lot like Eli Manning in the final playoff game at Texas Stadium, did a heck of a job as a bus driver. RG III didn't commit any turnovers, while Romo threw three critical picks.

It must be frightening for the Cowboys to know a quarterback as talented as RG III won't get rattled when the stakes are this high. And it's especially scary to know he'll be complemented by a record-setting running back for several years.

"I am impressed with the way that the Redskins are put together across the board," Jones said. "They're going to be formidable. As the Cowboys look to the future, we have to look where we are within our division. We'll look and see just exactly how to approach a team that has some of the players they've got and good coaching they've got.

"We have a big challenge ahead of us."

That challenge is only going to get bigger as RG III and his rookie sidekick running back grow up.