Buoyed by their longest win streak in 16 years, the Redskins have gotten into a winner-take-all game for the NFC East title.
It’s a very familiar scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.
Rookie superstar Robert Griffin III already guided the Redskins past the Cowboys once this season, though the stakes are significantly higher Sunday night with the division crown on the line in the NFL regular-season finale at FedEx Field.
Washington (9-6) was struggling before this six-game win streak - its longest since a seven-game run in 1996 - put the Redskins into position for their first East title since 1999.
“Everything we’ve been working for comes back to this weekend, taking advantage of what we’ve done over the last six weeks,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “It really doesn’t mean anything unless we take advantage of our game versus Dallas.”
Dallas (8-7) had a three-game win streak snapped last Sunday with a 34-31 overtime loss to New Orleans that Jerry Jones called a “tough way to have Christmas.” But Jones and the Cowboys got an early present later in the day when the Giants lost in Baltimore, eliminating the defending Super Bowl champions from contention in the East.
Now the Cowboys must win on the road in Week 17 to earn the division title. It’s exactly the same situation they faced last year when they fell to New York, which went on to win it all. They also lost at Philadelphia in the 2008 regular-season finale to miss the playoffs.
“When you get in, anything can happen,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “I know that. We’ve seen that far too many times. We just need to do the right things to get in.”
Containing Griffin won’t be easy as the No. 2 overall pick showed in a 38-31 victory at Dallas on Thanksgiving. Griffin threw for 304 yards and three scores with 12 straight completions in one dazzling stretch.
That performance earned raves from Jones, who knows that his team must do a better job in the rematch.
“I’ll say it again: I was awed with what he did to us in the second quarter out here in Cowboys Stadium,” Jones said. “I certainly think that’s the type of player we’re playing against and team we’re playing against.”
Griffin has 20 touchdown passes to five interceptions to go along with six rushing scores, posting a 104.1 passer rating which ranks second in the NFL. Romo’s 104.4 mark since the start of November ranks second-best and his 66.3 completion percentage this season is good for sixth, one spot behind Griffin (66.4).
Now Griffin will make his first Sunday night appearance in the biggest game of his young career.
“We’re fresh into this rivalry but we can definitely sense how the fans feel, how some of the guys that have been here feel about the Cowboys and that’s the mind-set we have to take on,” Griffin said.
Griffin returned to start last Sunday’s 27-20 victory at Philadelphia after sitting out with a sprained right knee the previous week when fellow rookie Kirk Cousins led Washington to victory in Cleveland. Griffin completed 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two scores and one interception while only carrying the ball twice for four yards.
He says his knee is healthier now.
“I’ll be able to do more against the Cowboys than I was against Philly, but we’ll see how that goes,” he said.
Griffin isn’t the only rookie the Cowboys have to worry about since running back Alfred Morris is fourth in the NFL with 1,413 yards on the ground. Morris carried 24 times for 113 yards and a TD in the first meeting.
Dallas played that contest without starting running back DeMarco Murray who was sidelined by a sprained right foot. Murray has returned for the last four games and should boost a rushing attack that totaled 35 yards in the last matchup, causing Romo to match a career high with 62 pass attempts.
Romo has thrown for 1,328 yards, 10 TDs and one pick in four games since facing Washington. He’s been aided by the emergence of Dez Bryant who has scored in seven straight games with 10 TD receptions and 808 yards in that span. Bryant is second in the league with 12 TD catches.
Fellow receiver Miles Austin is also back after he exited the first meeting with a right hip strain suffered on the opening drive.
“I think that we are with a healthier Miles, and Dez with where he is with his maturation,” Jones said. “I think we’ve got a better offensive line than what we had this time last year. I think we’re better at corner as we go up there.”
Dallas had dropped eight straight Sunday night games before a 38-33 home win over Philadelphia on Dec. 2. Washington is 4-1 at home since an eight-game slide at FedEx Field.
The Redskins could clinch a playoff berth before they take the field if Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier Sunday, but would still have the division title at stake. If both of those results don’t happen, the loser of this game is out.
“I know the fans will make sure that the stadium’s electric, it’s really exciting and we’ll definitely have a home-field advantage,” said Griffin, who has six TD passes and no INTs in his last four home games.
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