IRVING -- Listening to the Dallas Cowboys talk about the challenge of facing Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, you would think the theme from Mission Impossible should be playing in the background.
Owner Jerry Jones continues to be "awed" by the former Baylor star's near flawless performance in a 38-31 victory on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboys Stadium.
Jones said the Cowboys will be challenged again in their mission to stop Griffin in Sunday's showdown at FedExField for the NFC East title and a playoff berth.
Add in the borderline bounty-gate comments from Cowboys linebacker Brady Poppinga, who proposed inflicting pain with legal hits to test Griffin's toughness, and all that remained was the final cryptic sign-off of "this message will self-destruct in 60 seconds."
"I think one thing you have to do with him, especially when you have an option quarterback who's exposed: You have to inflict him with pain," Poppinga said. "Not that you're trying to knock the guy out or anything, but you have to tackle him, and you have to hit him and you have to make it to where the coach says, 'Look, we need to protect our guy a little more.'
"At the end of the day, when he's running and you don't know if he's going to pitch the ball or not, you've got to take a clean, legal shot on him and let him know that 'hey, this is football.' You want to get some good shots on him and you want to test his toughness. He is tough, but you want to test it."
In addition to being tougher and more physical with Griffin, the Cowboys are hoping the familiarity of facing him a second time will pay off, as well as with extra practice time.
On Thanksgiving, when Griffin blitzed the Cowboys for 304 yards passing and four touchdowns, including three in the second quarter, not only were the Cowboys facing the dual-threat athlete for the first time, but they were doing it on a short week.
"It's still the same thing," linebacker Ernie Sims said. "The guy is an athlete. He is a double threat. He forces us to game-plan for him. We are doing everything to game plan for him and practice and get ready for as many looks as possible. That's what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been focusing on. We have been doing a good job looking at our keys, looking at our reads, our alignments, so we know what kind of zone read we are going to get. This time will be a lot better."
The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants have faced Griffin twice this season and have done better against him the second time.
Although the Cowboys have a lesser-athletic backup quarterback, Kyle Orton, simulating Griffin in practice, they believe the play recognition will be a lot better this time.
"Now we got the trusty Kyle Orton in there running the plays," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "It's all about seeing them, recognizing them. You are not always going to get the look and the speed that he does it. Being able to see it and recognize it before it happens, that is the key. We know what mistakes we made last time."
None of this means the Cowboys are going to stop Griffin, just as effective throwing as running. He is the second quarterback in league history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 750 in a season, joining Randall Cunningham.
"That's him. That's the type of guy he is," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "He can create so many plays and get himself out of trouble a lot, which in turn helps him make a lot of the plays where you look and say, 'Man, how did that happen.' You get so caught up in the fact that they run that read option, and he can hurt you with his legs. I don't think people pay attention to how well the guy throws the ball. He's going to be a really good quarterback for a long time."
If there is one thing that might work in the Cowboys favor, it is that Griffin is coming into the game less than 100 percent. He missed the Cleveland Browns game two weeks ago because of a knee injury. And although he returned for Sunday's 27-20 victory against Philadelphia, his stats weren't as impressive as usual.
He completed 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He only had two carries for 4 yards, as coach Mike Shanahan was deliberately cautious with him.
The Cowboys plan to attack him as if he is 100 percent, while also trying to administer as much legal pain as possible.
"We have to stop him no matter what. Stopping RGIII, that's our goal," Sims said.
That's their mission.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.