Cowboys seek to find meaning in finale vs Redskins

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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Any given Sunday, one NFL team can tie another.

If you're the Dallas Cowboys, that's one of your top motivations for playing Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray, and otherwise giving your all in the season finale against the Washington Redskins.

For the Cowboys-Redskins outcome to have any significance in the playoff picture, at least one other game Sunday has to end in a draw. The Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East and will earn a first-round bye with losses by Seattle and Arizona — regardless of what they do against their division rival.

But they can also get a bye through multiple other scenarios. For example, a Dallas win and a Detroit-Green Bay tie would do the trick. Add in a loss or tie by Arizona, and the Cowboys would become the No. 1 seed in the conference.

So, even though Romo could probably use a week off to rest his nagging back, and even though Murray broke his hand two weeks ago, look for both to be out there.

"There's a playoff scenario with us winning the game that will give us an opportunity to get a first-round bye," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said, "so we're going to take advantage of what we can take advantage of."

It's quite the contrast from seasons past, when the Cowboys didn't care what happened elsewhere. Three years running, they needed a win on the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth — and failed each time.

Now they're in with a week to spare, and the last thing they want to hear is that their game might be meaningless.

"I think really you think about momentum," tight end Jason Witten said. "This game is a crazy game. You want to play well every opportunity you get. For one, there's still stuff out there for us. And then, two, you want to be playing well going into the playoffs. You never want to back door your way into it. I think this team has been playing well, and we want to continue to do that."

Here's more that's in store Sunday as the Cowboys (11-4) and Redskins (4-11) wrap up the regular season:

RECORDS TO BREAK: Another reason for playing Murray is his pursuit of Emmitt Smith's franchise rushing record. Murray leads the NFL with 1,745 yards and needs 29 to surpass Smith's mark of 1,773 from 1995.

Also, Romo has a chance to finish with one of the five best passer ratings in NFL history. He's sixth right now at 114.4, and a stellar game would move him past Peyton Manning's 115.1 last year with Denver.

Then there's Dez Bryant, who leads the league with 14 touchdown catches and needs one to tie Terrell Owens' franchise record from 2007.

OH, IT'S YOU AGAIN: The Cowboys-Redskins rivalry loses much of its sting when one or both of the teams are struggling, but Washington's signature victory in an otherwise tough season was a Monday night win at Dallas in October.

One of the oldest one-liners in D.C. is that it's permissible for Washington to go 2-14 if both wins come against the Cowboys. The Redskins wouldn't be far off the mark with a victory on Sunday.

"I know we are 4-11, not a whole lot of excitement after this game happening," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "But, still, to beat Dallas, to play Dallas is a great opportunity for a lot of guys to get more work and go against a heck of a football team. That's always great."

COWBOYS GOT D: Sure, everyone knows Romo, Murray and Bryant — and the young offensive line has received its props as well — but the Dallas defense might be the most improved of all.

The Cowboys allowed 1 yard rushing last week against the Colts and have held five of their last six opponents to 89 yards rushing or fewer. A defense that was worst in the league last year is ranked 16th with one game to go — not bad considering that all six Dallas players selected to the Pro Bowl came from the other side of the ball.

RG3'S CASE: The game represents one last chance this season for Washington's Robert Griffin III to show that he's making progress as a pocket passer.

There was improvement last week in a win over Philadelphia that broke a six-game skid, although Griffin sprained his shoulder late in the game and was limited in practice this week. He's expected to play Sunday.

HISTORY LESSON: In 2007, the Cowboys had already clinched a playoff spot when they sleepwalked through a 27-6 loss at Washington in the final weekend of the regular season. That Dallas team was 13-3 and appeared poised for a Super Bowl run, but it lost to the New York Giants in its first playoff game.


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