Cowboys-Redskins Preview

Even after two disastrous losses have left them a game back of

the NFC East lead, the Dallas Cowboys control their playoff fate

with two games to play.

They’ll try to remain in that position with a road win Sunday

over the Washington Redskins in their final game before a potential

Week 17 showdown with Philadelphia for the division title.

The Cowboys (7-7) have made things difficult on themselves with

consecutive losses to backup quarterbacks at Chicago and at home in

particularly crushing style against Green Bay. But they now get a

shot at the struggling Redskins (3-11), who have dropped six

straight and are electing to end the year with their backup

quarterback on the field.

“We still control what we feel like we can get done,”

quarterback Tony Romo said. “It just doesn’t feel like it right now

because we let it slip away.”

Had Dallas held a 26-3 halftime lead Sunday against the Packers,

it would be in position to clinch the NFC East this week. That

didn’t happen, so a loss or tie against the Redskins would keep the

Cowboys out of the postseason for a fourth straight year if the

Eagles beat Chicago on Sunday night. Otherwise, Dallas would play

in Philadelphia next Sunday for the division crown.

“The trend’s not going to continue because we’re going to do

what we need to do,” said wide receiver Dez Bryant, who set season

highs with 11 catches and 153 yards against the Packers. “This

whole group in this locker room, we believe and we’re going to keep

working.”

The 37-36 disappointment against Green Bay was the latest

example of the Cowboys’ late-season, end-of-game futility guided by

Romo. He threw two interceptions in the final 3 minutes, the first

of which set up the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown with Dallas in

position to potentially run out the clock with a five-point

lead.

Romo and the Cowboys have now lost their last four December

games after closing 2012 with back-to-back losses.

While the focus for the late-season struggles inevitably gets

piled on Romo, the Dallas defense hasn’t done him any favors. The

Cowboys are 2-3 since Nov. 10, and they’ve allowed a league-worst

35.2 points in that time. They let Josh McCown and the Bears score

on every possession until a late kneel-down in a 45-28 loss in Week

14.

“If you have the right kind of guys on your team, you handle the

inevitable adversities of the season better than if you don’t,”

Garrett said. “If you put emotion into something, passion into

something and it doesn’t work out, sometimes that’s hard to

swallow. But again, you have to regroup.”

For the season, they’re allowing a league-worst 427.3 yards per

game, 297.4 of which come through the air.

They’ll get a third straight shot at a backup quarterback in

Washington, which chose last week to sit starter Robert Griffin III

for the final three games of the season.

Kirk Cousins, however, didn’t have much trouble moving the ball

against Atlanta, another bottom-five defense, in a 27-26 loss that

was a failed two-point conversion attempt away from ending the

Redskins’ losing streak. Cousins went 29 for 45 with 381 yards,

three TDs and three of the team’s seven turnovers in his first

start of the year.

“Those are four plays right there, if they go differently, it

was probably a much better result,” said Cousins of the turnovers

and failed conversion. “It’s a tough one to swallow right now, and

we’ll learn from it and get better.”

In 29 career starts, Griffin hasn’t come within 50 yards of

Cousins’ yardage total, which opened the door for questions on

whether there was room for competition entering next season.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan reiterated Griffin is the starter, but

didn’t shut that door entirely.

“The thing that you want on your football team is that you want

competition, legitimate competition,” Shanahan said. “The better

players you have, the more people compete. When you look behind

your shoulder and you know that guy’s pretty good, it makes you

work a little bit harder.”

Cousins’ audition continues against a Cowboys team that beat

Griffin 31-16 on Oct. 13 in Dallas despite being outgained

433-213.

Dallas’ defense, already in bad shape, placed linebacker Justin

Durant on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday due to a hamstring

injury suffered against the Packers.

The Cowboys played most of the game without their top four

linebackers, and they’ll be without star Sean Lee for a second

straight game Sunday due to a strained neck.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne won’t play with a hamstring injury,

linebacker Ernie Sims is doubtful with groin and hip injuries but

corner Brandon Carr will go after missing two days of practice with

an illness.