So it comes down to this: Sunday night’s NFL regular-season finale will be the biggest Redskins-Cowboys regular-season game ever played in Washington. The winner captures the NFC East title and a home playoff game next weekend. With a loss, the Redskins would be a wild card if Chicago and Minnesota both lost Sunday afternoon.
Washington and Dallas met in the 1972 and 1982 NFC Championship Games at RFK Stadium, but their most critical regular-season meetings came at Texas Stadium in 1979 and 1983. For the record, the Redskins won all of those games going away except for the 1979 matchup in which they blew a 34-21 lead with less than 3:00 left and lost 35-34.
“The game next week is great for the NFL as well as the rivalry because of the history between … the teams,” Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said after Washington held off Philadelphia 27-20 Sunday, shortly before Dallas fell in overtime to New Orleans. “It’s two great franchises playing hard to beat one another and that’s good stuff. This is two teams that have given themselves a chance to fight to get into the playoffs and will be a lot of fun.”
Unless you’re Redskins left tackle Trent Williams. Asked if playing the Cowboys for the division title was the perfect script, the native Texan said, “For y’all it is. For us it’s kind of stressful.”
Then again, Cooley, whose catch against the Eagles was his first in more than a year, is a bit player these days while Williams will be trying to block Dallas All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware play after play.
In any event, this is the most unlikely showdown for the division crown between the longtime archrivals considering that six weeks ago the Redskins limped into their bye at 3-6 after an embarrassing home loss to Carolina while the Cowboys had fallen to 3-5 (tied with the Philadelphia Eagles) after a defeat in Atlanta. The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants were 6-3 and in command of the NFC East.
The records since: Redskins 6-0, Cowboys 5-2, Giants 2-4, Eagles 1-6, leaving Washington alone atop the NFC East, which they haven’t ruled since 1999 when Robert Griffin III was a swift 9-year-old and London Fletcher was a second-year linebacker with St. Louis.
While such veteran Redskins as Cooley (nine years, two playoff berths, one postseason victory) and receiver Santana Moss (eight years, same results) would be thrilled to finally win a division title, nose tackle Barry Cofield is dreaming bigger.
“We’re not playing to make the playoffs,” said Cofield, who arrived in Washington in 2011. “We’re playing to win the Super Bowl. We’ve got the recipe. We’ve got the coaching. We’ve got the leaders. We’ve got the young, talented guys.”
Spoken like a man who started on the 2007 Giants, who soared from wild card to Super Bowl champion in four weeks. But if the Redskins don’t repeat their Week 12 victory over the Cowboys, in which they were outscored 28-10 after halftime, they’ll need help from the Packers against the Vikings and the lowly Lions against the Bears to grab a wild card spot.
Although Dallas has played three consecutive games that have come down to the final play and six straight that have been decided by one score, four of Washington’s six straight victories have been determined by a similar margin.
“You’ve got to get used to winning those tight games,” said coach Mike Shanahan, whose team was 2-5 in such games before its Week 10 bye. “I think’s that’s where our football team is right now. They expect to win.”