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by Mike Fisher    Sun, Dec 18, 2005, 10:36 PM


The phrase is usually applied to politics and economics. Today, though, it also applies to football and the Cowboys.

It is "The Middle-Class Squeeze.''

This weekend in the NFL, the very best team lost when the 'Bolts shocked the Colts. And the very worst team won when the "Hapless Texans'' -- so often referred to that way that you wonder if the franchise had moved from Houston to a south-Texas suburb called "Hapless'' -- doubled its win total to two.

So NFL greatness shriveled down to the middle of the pack. NFL lousiness advanced up toward the middle of the pack.

And it's now really crowded up in there -- with your Cowboys getting Middle-Class Squeezed.

In the NFC, nothing more than a couple of links in the first-down-marking chain separates the Seahawks from the Giants from the Bears from the Falcons from the Redskins from the Panthers from the Bucs from the Vikings from the Cowboys.

Believing that makes watching the Cowboys get humiliated in D.C. by a 35-7 score all the more stunning -- especially inasmuch as this Dallas team that has traditionally matched up favorably with the hated Redskins has now, critically, lost a pair of meetings with their NFC East rivals. The domination here was so complete that the Cowboys don't have enough fingers to even begin to finger-point.

Not that, in their own way, they didn't try.

Before we go there, let's consider the possible option of not overreacting. The option of thinking that Dallas and Washington are both 8-6, both part of the Middle-Class Squeeze, because they are -- Sunday's bloated 28-point margin notwithstanding -- essentially mirror images of each other.

Or do you think that Redskins monster safety Shawn Taylor and his secondary are THIS much better than Cowboys monster safety Roy Williams and his secondary?

Do you think that Redskins runner Clinton Portis and their rushing attack are THIS much better than Cowboys runners Julius Jones and Marion Barber and their rushing attack?

Do you think that Redskins H-back Chris Cooley is THIS much better than Cowboys tight end Jason Witten?

Do you think that Redskins pass-rusher and their defensive front are THIS much better than Cowboys pass-rusher Demarcus Ware and their defensive front?

Do you think Redskins down-field threat Santana Moss and their receiving corps are THIS much better than Cowboys down-field threat Keyshawn Johnson and their receiving corps?

Well, considering that that collected Redskins recorded seven sacks, including three from somebody named Phillip Daniels, stole four turnovers, relied on Moss to control field position, got four TD passes out of their crummy quarterback, and three TD catches from somebody named Chris Cooley ... while the Cowboys countered with NOTHIN'. ... yeah, maybe.

But do you think retread Redskins QB Mark Brunell is THIS much better than retread Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe?

And do you think another-generation Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is THIS much better than another-generation Cowboys coach Bill Parcells?

Well, again. .. yeah, maybe.

Fox's studio-show guys again sounded like goofy, drunken "the-quarterback-sucks'' fans in their assessment of what is wrong with the Cowboys. Apparently too intimidated to ponder whether sacred-cow Parcells had committed a misstep here, and apparently unwilling to offer anything more than analysis I can get from the front seat of a taxi, they lynched the quarterback. Fox's Howie Long actually offered a list of prospective Bledsoe replacements: He thinks the Cowboys should get "Brian Griese'' or "Matt Schaub'' or "the kid at Vanderbilt who they say might be the next Brett Favre.''

Note No. 1 to Howie: I think it's a little early for Cowboys thoughts to fully start turning to April. But if you really disagree, before you give unsolicited draft advice to a team regarding Jay Cutler, shouldn't you at least know the kid's name?

Note No. 2 to Howie: Did you hear Fox analyst Troy Aikman say of Bledsoe, "I've never seen a quarterback under such duress trying to throw the ball!''? Wouldn't that indicate that the problems went deeper than just the QB?

But again, this was a day for overreaction. So let's start and finish with the two individuals billed as the leaders of the club: Bill Parcells and Keyshawn Johnson. Over the course of the afternoon, Bill and Keyshawn demonstrated their leadership when:

Keyshawn screamed at the kicker. Bill glared at the punter. Keyshawn pushed a camera away from him. Bill glared at a cornerback.

And then at the end, when it was time for Dallas' Parcells to shake hands with Washington's Gibbs, there was no traditional gentlemanly midfield meeting of the coaches.

Gibbs kinda waved, and kept walking.

And Parcells -- he and his once-promising team now getting Middle-Class Squeezed -- kinda glared. And kept walking.

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