Hatcher sees new level of hate in Cowboys-Redskins

Tennessee Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (12) passes the ball under pressure from Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher (97), who lost his helmet, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Landover, Md. (AP
Mark E. Tenally

IRVING, Texas (AP) Jason Hatcher didn't know the hate in the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry until he switched to Washington's side.

''They really hate Dallas,'' says Hatcher, who spent his first eight seasons with the Cowboys before moving east as a free agent in the offseason.

Allow him to explain.

''Everywhere you go, grocery store or whatever, these guys, they're hard-nosed fans,'' said Hatcher, who plays his former team for the first time when he comes back to Texas on Monday night. ''They know their players. It's all you hear wherever you go, man, Facebook, Twitter, whatever you're on. They got signs up everywhere down here.''

But Hatcher doesn't hate the Cowboys, not even for turning into a 6-1 team the first season without him after he toiled through mostly mediocre years with them. He says it doesn't sting any worse with the Redskins at 2-5, although they are coming off a win.

''I was there with those guys, and I know what kind of work they put in,'' Hatcher said. ''And it's finally paying off for them. I don't wish nobody bad in this league at all because I understand how hard it is to win. So I'm happy for those guys.''

Hatcher's move paid off for him as well - a four-year, $27.5 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed. At 32, he's now in the top 10 in salary among defensive tackles after persevering through five seasons as a backup to become a starter in Dallas.

The gradual rise culminated in career highs in tackles with 34 and sacks with a team-high 11 last year, almost twice as many as franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware, who was also let go in a salary cap move at the start of free agency.

Hatcher never was expecting a big payday in Dallas, but the Ware move was another story in his mind.

''I didn't see that coming,'' said Hatcher, who has three sacks this season. ''I thought he would be a longtime Cowboy. It's a business and everybody gotta go sometimes. You just got to keep going.''

Even though he had his best season with the Cowboys last year, it was one of the worst in NFL history for the defense. Dallas gave up the third-most yards ever, and the first two 600-yard games in franchise history.

Hatcher isn't surprised by a turnaround that has Dallas at 14th in total defense while limiting big plays and getting crucial stops to aid the surprisingly fast start. He says he could see it in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli last year, when he came in as defensive line coach with Monte Kiffin to help the Cowboys switch to a four-man front.

''I know what kind of guy he is and I knew it wouldn't be long until those guys start playing well,'' Hatcher said.

After emerging as a leader late in his Dallas career, Hatcher is trying to start his stint in Washington that way. He's succeeding, coach Jay Gruden says.

''He's brought a lot of energy to the defense,'' Gruden said. ''We expect more pressure. But Jason has done a good job. He's done a little better against the run.''

Seeing Hatcher on film now, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is basically watching a replay of his Dallas career, when he was both an end and a tackle in a 3-4 scheme that uses outside linebackers as the primary pass rushers.

''I have great respect for Hatch,'' Garrett said. ''He did a lot of great things when he was here for our football team.''

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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