5 things to know after Cowboys top Redskins 24-23

Tony Romo’s fourth-down, game-winning pass to DeMarco Murray

doesn’t erase the December stigma.

Because it won’t mean a thing unless the Dallas Cowboys can win

one more.

The Cowboys (8-7) assured themselves of a winner-take-all

matchup for the NFC East with a 24-23 victory Sunday over the

Washington Redskins. Romo’s clutch fourth-quarter passes were

caught by his teammates and not opponents, ending a two-game skid

as well as a four-game losing streak in the year’s final month.

Now the Cowboys face a make-or-break, end-of-regular-season test

for the third consecutive year. In 2011, they lost by 17 to the New

York Giants. In 2012, they lost by 10 to the Redskins. Dallas

finished 8-8 both times.

Next Sunday, they hope to avoid the dubious trifecta, playing

the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) for the title. Unlike the last two,

at least this one will be at home.

”We’re the only team that keeps getting themselves in position

to win the NFC East every year – that’s a credit,” Romo said.

”It’s also a negative in the fact that we didn’t do it the last

couple of years.”

Still, for one day at least, Romo stymied his reputation for

cooling off with the weather. He rallied the Cowboys from a

nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit. He scrambled several times to

keep plays alive, including the 10-yard, last-chance pass to Murray

that settled the game with 1:08 remaining.

”We just had to make a play,” Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said.

”Tony did a Houdini.”

Here are five things of note – magic or otherwise – from

Sunday’s game, the second consecutive one-pointer for both

teams:

ROMO RALLIES: Romo melted down big-time the previous week

against the Green Bay Packers, throwing two interceptions in the

waning minutes as the Cowboys blew a 23-point lead. Against the

Redskins, he had his worst moment when he threw a pick in the third

quarter, leaving enough time for a comeback.

He also played much of the game with back pain, limping

noticeably after a couple of plays in the fourth quarter.

”There’s a measure of vindication there,” Dallas owner Jerry

Jones said, ”when he comes in and makes the plays.”

DALLAS DOES D: The worst defense in the NFL had one of its best

games of the season, holding the Redskins to 297 yards despite

nearly running out of linebackers. It’s only the second time an

opponent has failed to reach 300 against the Cowboys.

”It’s the same theme I’ve been talking about – being your best

regardless of circumstances,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.

GARCON’S RECORD: In a season full of lows for the Redskins

(3-12) – who lost their seventh straight – receiver Pierre Garcon

established a new high, breaking Hall of Famer Art Monk’s franchise

record for most catches in a season by getting to 107 with a game

to go.

Garcon eclipsed Monk with his 11th – and final – reception

Sunday, a 19-yard gain on a pass from Kirk Cousins that came with

about six minutes left in the third quarter. That gave Garcon one

more catch than the 106 Monk had in 1984.

”It’s pretty cool, but with the season going on, it’s pretty

hard to celebrate anything right now,” said Garcon, a sixth-round

draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts out of Division III Mount

Union in 2008.

MURRAY’S REDEMPTION: If the Cowboys had lost, much of the heat

would have been pinned on Murray, who decided to try to make

nothing into something by reversing field on third-and-goal at the

1 with less than two minutes to play. He lost 9 yards, making the

decisive fourth down about 10 times harder than it needed to

be.

”My first instinct was to try to make a play,” Murray said.

”I should’ve just eaten it there.”

Never mind. Murray made the winning catch on the next play. He

also ran for 96 yards, becoming the first Cowboys back to rush for

1,000 yards since Julius Jones in 2006.

FLETCHER’S FAREWELL: Walking off the field for what is expected

to be his last home game in the NFL, Redskins linebacker London

Fletcher took a moment to wave to the fans.

Then, as if he couldn’t bear to peel off his uniform, Fletcher

attended his news conference in full game regalia, right down to

the grass-stained gloves.

Fletcher has played in all 255 regular-season games during his

16 years in the league – including 214 starts in a row, a record

for a linebacker – and said No. 256 next week at the New York

Giants might actually be less difficult psychologically than

Sunday’s penultimate outing.

”This was the last time I could wear the burgundy and gold in

front of the fans here,” Fletcher said. ”Next week, it’ll be

emotional, but I think this one was more emotional.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP