IRVING, Texas -- The stakes have increased. The emotions have intensified.
The Washington Redskins have waited six weeks for another shot at the Dallas Cowboys. Today at Texas Stadium, the Redskins will look to back up all of their trash talk as well as their NFC East lead in one of the NFL's traditional marquee matchups.
If any fans believe that the rivalry has lost its drama, they didn't watch the Cowboys' 21-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Redskins on Sept. 12. If any of them thought that the rivalry had lost its edge, they should have seen the Redskins' locker room this week, where the word "revenge" was mentioned so many times it seemed like it was printed in their playbook.
"I take it personal," receiver Albert Connell said about the Redskins' 41-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys in the season-opener.
"We had those guys and we just made a few mistakes. We have an attitude that's just unreal. I feel confident about that -- that we can beat Dallas."
The Redskins (4-1) are seeking to end a four-game losing streak to the Cowboys and earn their first win in Dallas since 1995.
"Revenge does factor into it," defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson said. "Now we're on top of the standings and we want to stay on top. If we can expand that lead, that would be even sweeter."
Those are big words for the Redskins, whose wins have come against teams with a combined 8-15 record. Still, Washington has shown a resilient character by winning four straight since its Week 1 meltdown to take a one-game lead in the division over Dallas.
The Cowboys (3-2), however, have not handled adversity well since scoring 27 unanswered points to upend the Redskins.
But the Cowboys have vastly improved on defense in that span. With the return of starting cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith from injuries, the defense has given up just one touchdown in two games and allowed an average of just 236 yards of total offense.
In the season opener, the Redskins racked up 504 yards and seven touchdowns against Dallas and picked on its backup cornerbacks all day, throwing for 369 yards.
Yet Washington receivers Michael Westbrook and Connell expect a repeat performance, and even dared Sanders to try and take them on one-on-one.
"I don't think Deion can cover me," said Connell, who has a team-leading 26 receptions for 485 yards and three touchdowns. "He's a good corner, an All-Pro, but I feel I'm at the stage in my game where I can get by anybody."
Ditto for Westbrook.
"Deion is, I think, one of the greatest of all time," he said. "But I think I can beat anybody. I guess we'll see on Sunday.
"It's a challenge. But I want to go to the Hall of Fame, too, and I think I'll emerge as one of the greatest of all time. So it'll be a good matchup."
Offensively, without Irvin, the Cowboys have become less explosive and defenses have begun keying on running back Emmitt Smith. But the Redskins, whose defense ranks last in the NFL, cannot afford to stack their front, despite Smith's eight career 100-yard games against them.
The Redskins, who have held only one team this season under 200 yards passing, remember the backlash of anticipating the run. Dallas beat the Redskins in overtime when it fooled Washington's safeties with a play-action fake to Smith and Raghib Ismail was wide-open for a 76-yard touchdown pass.
It's that memory that has helped fuel the Redskins as they've climbed to the top of the NFC East. But it's that same memory that the Redskins want to wipe away.
"It's our chance to even the score," quarterback Brad Johnson said.
Said right guard Tre' Johnson, who threw a tantrum after the Dallas loss: "That was the worst loss I ever had in my football career. You had the opportunity to come home with the win and you didn't. That's failure. It's constant motivation. That was the game that let us know we weren't that good of a team that particular game. This will let us know where we are now."