Redskins' roll saps meaning from rematch with rival Cowboys
Dec. 31, 2015
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Washington Redskins haven't lost since Dallas beat them for the Cowboys' only win without Tony Romo this season.
The three-game winning streak that followed helped the Redskins clinch what had been a tight NFC East race with a game to spare, rendering Sunday's rematch between the longtime rivals meaningless for the playoffs.
"I think it was a frustrating loss for us," said receiver DeSean Jackson, who had a critical fumble on an ill-advised punt return late in the fourth quarter of that 19-16 defeat. "We challenged each other in the locker room and just to go out and really take advantage of the opportunity that we have, which is if we win out, we make the playoffs."
Kirk Cousins got the message.
He is the first Washington quarterback to have consecutive games with at least 300 yards passing and at least four touchdowns without an interception. But his hot streak goes back farther — 20 touchdowns passing with three interceptions and another four rushing scores in the past nine games.
"I think we just came away from the game saying, 'Hey, maybe we should've been a little bit more aggressive and a little less conservative,'" said Cousins, who is on the verge of the first 4,000-yard season for the Redskins (8-7) since Brad Johnson in 1999. "I think you've seen the fruits of that from the games following that game."
It's interesting Cousins says that because Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones suggested a few weeks ago that his team had the league's worst defense for takeaways in part because opposing offenses weren't taking as many risks with the Dallas offense missing Romo.
There are plenty of reasons the Cowboys (4-11), last year's NFC East champs at 12-4, haven't been able to win without Romo and could have their most losses since going 1-15 in 1989, the year Jones bought the team.
One of them is receiver Dez Bryant, who broke his right foot in the opener, missed five games and played in eight before Dallas shut him down once the playoffs were out of the question. He will end up missing the final two games as well.
Things to consider as the Redskins tune up for just their fifth playoff appearance in the past 23 seasons:
TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY: The most obvious question is how much coach Jay Gruden plans to use his starters with the Redskins locked in as the fourth seed. Four starters didn't practice Wednesday: left tackle Trent Williams (shoulder/rib), safety Dashon Goldson (knee/foot), defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee/neck) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (calf). Two others were limited: linebacker Perry Riley Jr. and Jackson.
"It's important for us to be healthy come playoff time, but it is also to have some kind of momentum also going in," Gruden said. "I'd like to end on a four-game winning streak, win three games in a row on the road. I think it's a hell of a step in the right direction."
MCFADDEN 1K: Dallas running back Darren McFadden is 3 yards shy of his second career 1,000-yard season, and about to play 16 games for the second straight year after failing to do so in his first six seasons. Durability and productivity were the big questions when the Cowboys signed him a day after letting 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray go to Philadelphia in free agency.
"That's always been a knock on me as far as being durable and injuries and things, so I just feel like I showed a lot of people that I can go out there and stay healthy and still run the ball at a high pace in this league," McFadden said.
GARCON'S GRABS: While tight end Jordan Reed, a Pro Bowl alternate, and Jackson get much of the attention, wideout Pierre Garcon is quietly putting together a solid season for the Redskins. He ranks second on the team in catches (69), yards receiving (728) and TD receptions (five), trailing only Reed in each category.
"In practice, he's one of those guys that practices exactly like he plays, and that's full speed. So the quarterbacks know exactly where he's going to be," Gruden said. "I love where Pierre is and what he brings to the football team."
ANOTHER SHOT: Kellen Moore will make his second career start for Dallas. The fourth-year quarterback appeared in a regular season game for the first time in Week 15 when Matt Cassel was benched. Three starters are 1-10 trying to fill in for Romo.
SMITH'S SACKS: Rookie outside linebacker Preston Smith has four sacks in the past two games, showing the sort of promise the Redskins were hoping for when they drafted him in the second round. He ranks second on the team with seven sacks.
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler