It’s all or noth­ing

Cow­boys

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Con­tin­ued from C

Dal­las no stranger to piv­otal fi­nal games of sea­son.

By Schuyler Dixon IRV­ING — The Dal­las Cow­boys should know this drill by now.

The only thing left is fig­ur­ing out how to win a play­offs-or-bust game at an NFC East ri­val in the fi­nal game of the sea­son. The Cow­boys flopped badly in Philadel­phia in 2008, and were bet­ter but still not very good last sea­son at the New York Giants.

Dal­las gets an­other chance Sun­day night at Washington against Robert Grif­fin III and the Red­skins (9-6), who could still make the post­sea­son even if they lose.

“You live for games like this,” Cow­boys coach Ja­son Gar­rett said at a quiet and mostly shut­tered team head­quar­ters on Christ­mas Eve.

The Cow­boys (8-7) be­gan the sec­ond-to-last Sun­day of the reg­u­lar sea­son with con­trol of their play­off fate, and ended it the same way de­spite los­ing to New Or­leans 34-31 in over­time. That’s be­cause the Giants lost at Baltimore, es­sen­tially ren­der­ing the Dal­las loss

mean­ing­less.

Dur­ing a stretch of five wins in six games that re­vived Dal­las’ post­sea­son hopes, the only loss was to the Red­skins on Thanks­giv­ing. Grif­fin en­gi­neered the first 28point quar­ter for Washington in 13 years, go­ing 8 of 8 for 178 yards and three touch­downs in the sec­ond quar­ter. The first big NFL play in Texas for the Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner from Bay­lor was a per­fect deep throw to Aldrick Robin­son for a 68- yard score.

“I’ll say it again: I was awed with what he did to us in the sec­ond quar­ter out here in Cow­boys Sta­dium,” Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones said. “I cer­tainly think that’s the type of player we’re play­ing against and team we’re play­ing against.”

If the loss to the Saints is any in­di­ca­tor, the Cow­boys are in trou­ble. They couldn’t stop Drew Brees and the Saints un­til New Or­leans mostly quit throw­ing with a 31-17 lead in the fourth quar­ter. Brees threw for 446 yards and three touch­downs, and the Cow­boys gave up 562 to­tal yards - a sea­son high by more than 100. New Or­leans con­verted 11 third downs and kept the ball for nearly 42 min­utes.

When the Dal­las of­fense stalled on the first pos­ses­sion of over­time, the Cow­boys im­me­di­ately gave up a 26-yard com­ple­tion to Jimmy Gra­ham be­fore a catch-and-fum­ble play ended with New Or­leans on the Dal­las 2. Gar­rett Hart­ley’s 20-yard field goal made it three straight Cow­boys games end­ing on the fi­nal play.

The Cow­boys won’t say it, but in­juries could be wear­ing on a be­lea­guered de­fense. Five starters and nickel cor­ner­back Or­lando Scan­drick are out. Re­place­ment free agents have been fill­ing holes days af­ter sign­ing. DeMar­cus Ware is try­ing to play through groin, el­bow and shoul­der prob­lems, and he was mostly watch­ing late while the Saints fin­ished a sack-free game for Brees de­spite 53 at­tempts.

“A lot of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of play­ers play­ing for us against a really, really good of­fen­sive foot­ball team,” Gar­rett said. “I just thought that they fought, fought, fought.”

The Cow­boys could al­ways just try to outscore the Red­skins. Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touch­downs against the Saints, in­clud­ing a pair of 58-yarders to Dez Bryant, who had a ca­reer­high 224 yards.

Jones ac­knowl­edges the in­juries on de­fense, but still thinks the Cow­boys are bet­ter than they were when they fell be­hind New York 21-0 in a 31-14 loss last New Year’s night that pro­pelled the Giants to a Su­per Bowl win.

“I think that we are with a health­ier Miles (Austin), and Dez with where he is with his mat­u­ra­tion,” Jones said. “I think we’ve got a bet­ter of­fen­sive line than what we had this time last year. I think we’re bet­ter at cor­ner as we go up there.”

Once again, the Cow­boys get a chance to prove it.

Tony Romo threw for four TDs last week­end, but Dal­las still lost to the Saints in over­time. The loss means Sun­day night’s game at the Red­skins will de­cide the Cow­boys’ play­off fate. SHARON ELLMAN / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Cow­boys will face red-hot Red­skins quar­ter­back Robert Grif­fin III for a play­off spot. MATT STRASEN / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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