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For Cowboys, Plenty At Stake vs. Redskins

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The Dallas Cowboys last won a playoff game following the 1996 season.

Then they disappeared.

Oh, they still reached the postseason a few times. In 1999. In 2003. In 2006. In 2007. One and done every time.

They missed qualifying entirely last year, their hopes immolated by that 44-6 thrashing the Philadelphia Eagles laid on them in the final game. That allowed the Eagles to finish 9-6-1 and take the sixth and final NFC need while the 9-7 Cowboys went home.

They're back. Mostly. At 9-5, their destiny is theirs to control. They play the Redskins at FedExField on Sunday night and again wrap the regular season vs. Philadelphia. They can still win the division, they can still clinch a wild card berth, they can still be relevant in the conversations of late January and early February.

First things first. The Redskins. Who took the Cowboys to the final few minutes a month ago before falling 7-6.

"We've played the Redskins a whole lot of times. We've got a lot of respect for how they play but it's more about us building on what we did and what we can do," head coach Wade Phillips says.

The Cowboys come off a 24-17 victory on the road against New Orleans, a triumph that ended the Saints' winning streak at 13 and killed their hopes of an unbeaten season. It was also the Cowboys' first win in December, a month that traditionally gives them problems.

"We have a chance to win the division but we have to win the next game. This one is more important than the last one," Phillips says.

There's much at stake in trying to build on the victory. A loss could be devastating. If the Redskins win and the Eagles beat the Denver Broncos, the Eagles win the division. If the Cowboys win and the New York Giants lose at home to the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys are in.

No matter which way it goes, the Redskins are out. Still, it's Dallas Week and the rivalry matters. Even after the Redskins got crushed by the Gians 45-12.

"If you go out thinking a team is not going to perform based on what they did the week before, you're probably setting yourself up to get beat," defensive end Marcus Spears says.

This is the 100th meeting between the teams and the Cowboys' 58 victories are their most against any other team. The Cowboys won 10 straight against the Redskins from 1997-2002 but have not swept the season series since 2004. If the Cowboys win and sweep, they will also win 10 games for the 26th time in club history.

The Boys of Cow and the Redskins play an odd variety of games at FedExField. Dallas has won seven of the 12 meetings at the big bowl in Landover, Md.

Of the 12 games, eight have been decided by a touchdown or less. The other four involved victory margins of three touchdowns or more. The statistics look weirdly similar. The Boys have outscored the Redskins 243-233 and outgained them 3,742 to 3,736 in yards.

SAINTLY: That 24-17 loss to the Cowboys will be one the New Orleans Saints remember. They were bold enough to say they wanted to try for an undefeated season, they ran off 13 consecutive victories and then they stumbled at home. Now their focus remains on nailing down overall home-field advantage for the playoffs. Yet Dallas sticks in their craw.

Unlike some teams, the Saints were honest in expressing their intent to win them all. They did not view a loss as a good thing, as an opportunity to reset, refocus, or get out from under the pressure.

"When you work all week and you invest a lot of energy and effort into a game plan and you're able to do that successfully for 'X' number of weeks in a row and then you come up short, it's painful," head coach Sean Payton says.

"Someone asked a foolish question if it was a relief and the answer to that would still be no. That is a foolish question. The feeling is pain because there is a competitive side of wanting to win each game you play."

QUOTABLE: "With the type of men and maturity that we have, we don't hang our heads and try to point fingers and say 'the refs hate us and we never get a call' or whatever. We just kind of hunker down and do what we know we are supposed to do." – Baltimore Ravens CB Domonique Foxworth. The Ravens have won their last two, are alive in the wild-card race and play their last two games on the road (Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders). ... "I think the atmosphere of the stadium was kind of dead. Normally when you play road games the other team's fans are energetic and their fans really weren't and I think that killed our energy." – Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson, after the 16-13 victory in St. Louis against the Rams. ... "Finally I'm out of that zero column." – Tennessee Titans S Michael Griffin after his first interception of the season.

EXTRA POINTS:The Redskins' Brian Orakpo finished fifth among rookies in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. Orakpo's vote total of 133,880 put him behind two other LBs (Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing) but Orakpo may have been hurt by splitting time between LB and DE. He leads all rookies in sacks with 11. The Pro Bowl teams will be announced Tuesday. ... Tennessee RB Chris Johnson's nine consecutive 100-yard rushing games ties for the third longest streak in NFL history. Six players have accomplished the nine-game run. The all-time leader is Barry Sanders, who had 14 with the Detroit Lions in 1997. Marcus Allen is second, having done it 11 times over the 1985-86 seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders. … Miami Dolphins RB Ricky Williams, with 1,055 rushing yards, has broken 1,000 for the first time since 2003 and that is the longest gap between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. ... Wishing Mike Holmgren luck as he takes over as President of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns rank 31st in offense and 31st in defense. Nowhere to go but up. And this happens just as the Browns win two games in a row to improve their record to 3-11. ... RB Jamaal Charles has every one of the Kansas City Chiefs' five rushing TDs. ... The Seattle Seahawks have lost four of their last six games and two straight, in which they've scored two TDs. ... The Buffalo Bills have lost QB Trent Edwards for the final two games of the year and the same goes for the Cleveland Browns, who put Brady Quinn on injured reserve. The Bills resigned Gibran Hamdan, who had a look with the Redskins long ago. With Ryan Fitzpatrick likely out this week, Brian Brohm, signed off the Green Bay Packers practice squad in November, should start against the Atlanta Falcons. ... Seattle Seahawks coach Jim L. Mora, who replaced Mike Holmgren when he retired, hoped Holmgren would return as general manager. Holmgren instead accepted the 'football czar' offer from the Browns. "I was an advocate of him coming back," said Mora, whose team has struggled to a 5-9 record. Holmgren may be eyeing some former comrades in the Packers' front office for posts with the Browns. … Remarkable part of the Indianapolis Colts' record 22 consecutive wins is that 12 have come on the road. ... The Chicago Bears have scored 21 points just once in their last 10 games and are 2-8 in that stretch. The heat is on offensive coordinator Ron Turner, whose contract is up after this season, and, to a lesser extent, coach Lovie Smith. Remember when the Bears were 3-1? Now they're 5-9. ... Joshua Cribbs became only the second player in NFL history to return two kickoffs more than 100 yards for touchdowns in the same game when the Browns beat the Kansas City Chiefs 41-34 and that feat earned Cribbs AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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