Up for the challenge: For the third straight season and fourth time in the past six years, the Cowboys find themselves in a win-and-get-in scenario in Week 17. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, they would win the NFC East and host a playoff game on wild-card weekend. If they lose, they would finish 8-8 for the third year in a row. The only two recent seasons in which they did not face this situation came in 2009, when they had clinched a postseason berth but needed to beat the Eagles to win the division, and in 2010, when they finished 6-10.
They lost the finale in 2008 (Eagles), 2011 (Giants) and 2012 (Redskins).
“I know in some ways we’ve gotten hit with the fact of losing the last couple of years in that final game, but I think we’re the only team that keeps getting itself in position to win the NFC East every year,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “That’s a credit. That’s also a negative in the fact we didn’t do it the last couple of years. You just have to keep getting yourself there. When your team is good enough you’ll knock down that door.”
Back to the run: After the game, Jason Garrett praised the coaches’ ability to stay with the run in the fourth quarter when they were trailing by nine points. He seemed to forget the three-and-out the Cowboys had after Washington took a 20-14 lead. Dez Bryant dropped a slant. Romo threw the ball away on second down and then was sacked on third down. The drive totaled 50 seconds. The Redskins answered with a field goal to go up 23-14.
“We were just committed to saying, ‘Let’s stay after them. Let’s continue to try to drive the ball by running it, throwing it,’” Garrett said. “We had to make some big third downs. When you’re running the ball on first and second down you get into those third-and-3s and those third-and-4s and I thought our guys did a great job stepping up. Tony made some great throws. Guys made some great conversions and that was really important to sustain those drives. But balance was going to be importance for us throughout this game.”
A look back: The Cowboys’ defense has not played a better game than the one it had on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles. The Cowboys held Philadelphia to three points and allowed only 278 yards. Nick Foles threw for only 80 yards and Matt Barkley was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter. LeSean McCoy was held to 55 yards rushing. So much of the talk leading into that game was how Chip Kelly dominated Monte Kiffin while he was at Oregon and Kiffin was at USC. The Cowboys could get a boost from the returns of Sean Lee (neck) and Morris Claiborne (hamstring), but even when healthy -- or closer to healthy -- the defense has not played up to par.
No pressure: Try as they might to spin the good work done by Rod Marinelli’s rushers, the Cowboys did not record a sack of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Jeff Heath forced an early throw on a blitz as he planted Cousins on the ground, but DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and George Selvie did not do enough to affect the quarterback. That can’t be the case Sunday against the Eagles with the way Foles has played. In October the Cowboys sacked Philadelphia’s quarterback three times. They have not had a three-sack game since then, and have just nine sacks in their past eight games.