The Redskins are practicing in solemn secrecy this week to meet an America's Team that is next-to-last in the NFL in total offense and 25th in rushing defense.
The Texans' headliner is quarterback Troy Aikman, who has a golden arm, blond hair, a platinum contract and no posse. Touted after a 13-game career as the second coming of Joe Montana, Aikman ranks 24th in the league. Dallas' most effective receiver is Kelvin Martin, 25th in the NFC in receptions and 14th in yardage.
For this the Redskins have to practice in trench coats and dark glasses?
The clandestine design may be simply concentration on those little things that mean such a lot, those details that could blow a game, even to the Cowboys. Tiny things, like a 10th or a 100th of a second in kicking a field goal.
"He missed the kick that could have won it," Chip Lohmiller grumbled, "then he makes one from 22 and gets his picture in the paper."
The Redskins' kicker was kicking about a photo of the Broncos' David Treadwell, being hugged by teammates after Denver prevailed, 24-23, on his last-second field goal Monday night.
Two minutes earlier Treadwell had missed a 38-yarder that would have iced the game, 24-16.
Lohmiller's season became imperfect when San Francisco linebacker Charles Haley crashed his 33-yard field-goal attempt Sunday.
It was a new experience for Lohmiller, who had lived 24 years without having a field goal blocked, and he was cross about it.
It was a "breakdown," which means somebody in the middle of the line didn't do his job. Coach Joe Gibbs wouldn't say who, but he was chagrined.
"Field goal protection is a thing you work on, over and over," Gibbs said. "It should be automatic. It's just a two-second thing."
Gibbs was upset after the game, and after the films. The punt is the two-second, or 1.85-second, thing; the field goal should be dispatched in 1.3 seconds, or less. And holder Ralf Mojsiejenko didn't think they missed special teams coach Wayne Sevier's standard by much in San Francisco.
The Redskins kick field goals dangerously. Most teams spot the ball 7 1/2 yards back. "Because of the quick elevation Chip gets," Mojsiejenko explained, "we can get away with 7."
They didn't, but not because the snap was up in his face, said punter Mojsiejenko, who takes pride in his holding, as a man might after six years of it. "I believe it would have been good if somebody had blocked Haley."
More damaging, possibly, was John Taylor's 30-yard punt return in the first quarter. With the 49ers already ahead, 3-0, it cast an alarming shadow of things to come. It was the only blemish, Mojsiejenko thought, on a day's work that was "satisfying, and maybe a little better than that."
"But I'd have liked a little more hang time on that first punt," he said. "We could have made it a good punt anyway, if Taylor didn't get to that wall."
The 49ers' "wall" of blockers cleared Taylor's way up the right side, until he met Mojsiejenko, who sort of ran him out of bounds at the Washington 47. "He stiff-armed me, good," said Mojsiejenko. "He shouldn't have done that. If I were him I'd have run right through me. I'm just a punter."
The return could have ruined Mojsiejenko's day. It gave him a net yardage of 16, far below the standard of 36 required by the exigent Sevier. But Taylor totaled only 3 yards on two subsequent returns and Mojsiejenko's last punt was downed on the 10. So he netted precisely 36.
Mojsiejenko agrees with Sevier that the gross yardage can be a snare and a delusion. At San Diego two years ago he averaged 44.1 yards. "But that wasn't my best year," Mojsiejenko said. "With a team that doesn't move the ball, you can kick it as far as you want, just about every time. But with this team the first four I had were pooch punts."
Close. The first three in last year's season opener, a 27-24 defeat by the Giants, were pooch punts: wedge shots from near midfield, aimed to land close to the enemy goal line. Mojsiejenko's final punt last Sunday was a pooch, near perfect.
Mojsiejenko's work in the opener against Phoenix was another efficient day at the office, 36.8 net, until Sevier got to picking at it. "Got lucky on one," Sevier told him. "The official gave you 3 yards."
The punt in question went only 29 yards from scrimmage, but got only a 2-yard return. "The hell it did," Sevier said. "The guy crossed the 50, to about our 49. But there was a fight on the sideline where he went out of bounds. The side judge went to break up the fight and forgot where he was. He marked it at their 48."
Mojsiejenko didn't argue. The mistake had raised his average punt by about 21 inches. "Twenty-one and three fifths," he said. "I'll take it."