The Dallas Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season last weekend, but they realize it may not matter much if they follow it up with a loss.
That seems unlikely considering the way the Washington Redskins played in their last game.
The Cowboys look to move closer to a playoff berth and try to stay in the mix for the NFC East title Sunday night when they visit a Redskins team in disarray.
Dallas (9-5) wasn’t given much of a chance heading into last Saturday night’s contest at the Superdome against undefeated New Orleans, but the Cowboys controlled the game from the start and won 24-17.
“This was another turning point, a defining moment in our season,” linebacker Bradie James(notes) said. “Now we’ve got to just continue to roll. (The Saints) can afford to lose. We can’t. We have to win for us to get to where we want to be.”
Despite opening December with back-to-back losses that dropped them from the top of the division, the Cowboys can win the East by defeating the Redskins (4-10) and first-place Philadelphia in their finale. They can clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a win and a New York Giants loss to Carolina.
Although Washington played Dallas tough in a 7-6 loss at Cowboys Stadium on Nov. 22, the Redskins looked awful in a 45-12 defeat to the Giants on Monday night.
New York led 24-0 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, outgaining Washington 226-minus-2 and getting 16 first downs to the Redskins’ none. Washington had a chance to put some points on the board late in the first half, but badly botched a fake field-goal attempt using a “swinging gate” formation.
It was an embarrassing play that seemed to sum up the team’s disorganized season.
“I don’t think really this team is that bad. The players ain’t that bad,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) said. “The score, the record, (they) say that we’re horrible, that we don’t know how to play football. But I’ve been around these guys a lot and I think they know how to play football. I think we’re just all going in different directions, and we need somebody to lead us in the right direction.”
Coach Jim Zorn may not get a chance to do so.
Reports have surfaced that a member of Zorn’s staff interviewed for his job, and that the team is already heading in a new direction after Bruce Allen was named general manager last week as part of a front-office shake-up.
The Redskins did little to impress their new boss against the Giants.
“This is an audition. These last couple of games is an audition,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) said. “Bruce Allen pretty much got a head start on evaluating talent. If he looks at what he saw (Monday), he’ll scrap this whole thing.”
The Cowboys are feeling much better about their situation. Dallas’ offense struggled to get in rhythm in the first two December games, but scored touchdowns on its first two drives against the Saints. The Cowboys had not scored a TD on an opening drive in more than a year.
Tony Romo(notes) had been partly responsible for Dallas’ December struggles over the past few seasons, but he is playing some of his best football. He threw for 312 yards and a touchdown last week, giving him eight TD passes without an interception and a 111.9 rating over his last four games.
Dallas’ defense also came up big Saturday, holding New Orleans to its lowest point total of the season.
The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker was mostly limited to passing situations, but coach Wade Phillips said he thinks the playing rotations will return to normal this week.
With their offense and defense clicking, the Cowboys now need their kicking game to improve.
Dallas replaced Folk with former Cowboy Shaun Suisham(notes), who was released by Washington on Dec. 8 after missing a 23-yard field goal with 1:19 left against New Orleans. The Saints rallied to win that game in overtime.
Suisham also botched two field-goal attempts for the Redskins in the loss to the Cowboys last month. His 50-yard miss with 4:52 remaining allowed Dallas to march down the field and take the lead on Romo’s 10-yard TD pass to Patrick Crayton(notes) with 2:41 remaining.
The Cowboys haven’t swept Washington since 2004.