The outcomes of the games have mattered little in recent weeks for the Washington Redskins, with the playoffs out of the question and the drama that has engulfed the franchise commanding far more attention than what has transpired on the field.
But with the Dallas Cowboys coming to FedEx Field on Sunday, the question becomes whether the Redskins can summon a decent performance in a lost season in a bid to knock their rivals from the postseason.
“It can be extra motivation, yeah, absolutely,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “It would be satisfying to do that, considering our circumstances, and we’ve got a team that’s playing for playoff lives. So, yeah, it could be a lot of motivation for us.”
Orakpo added that the team also will be motivated because it will likely be veteran London Fletcher’s last home game. “So we’ve got a lot at stake, man, and we’ve got to go out there and put a good performance on.”
The Redskins indeed appear to have an abundance of inspiration for this game, at least compared with what’s typically available to a 3-11 team. Kirk Cousins makes his second straight start at quarterback since Coach Mike Shanahan shut down Robert Griffin III for the remainder of the season. Cousins is coming off a 381-yard, three-touchdown passing performance in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta, in which he seemed to inject enthusiasm into the offense but also committed three turnovers and threw an incompletion on a potential go-ahead two-point conversion in the final seconds.
Fletcher said Wednesday he is 99 percent certain he will retire after the season. And the Cowboys are chasing the first-place Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. The Cowboys, at 7-7, are a game behind the Eagles with two games to play, and those teams play one another in the regular season finale.
“It adds something to the game,” Redskins wide receiver Aldrick Robinson said. “We’re just playing right now but not for the playoffs. That gives us a little more something to play for.”
The Cowboys won in Philadelphia in October and would capture the division title by winning their final two games. But they could be eliminated from the playoffs as soon as Sunday if they lose to the Redskins and the Eagles beat the Chicago Bears that night.
The Cowboys have lost their past two games, and they squandered a 26-3 halftime lead in falling to the Green Bay Packers, 37-36, at home Sunday. Quarterback Tony Romo threw two interceptions in the final three minutes of that defeat, and his career record in December dropped to 11-17.
The Redskins have a chance to add to those December woes. Last season, they beat the Cowboys in the regular season finale at FedEx Field with the NFC East title at stake.
“It’s a rivalry game, so that’s motivation right there,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “I’m not really looking to spoil anybody. We’re just trying to win. If that happens in the process, then it happens. But no, that’s not our motivation.”
The Redskins are on a six-game losing streak and have clinched last place in the division. They aren’t in position to be picky about the circumstances of their victories. But they know their fans savor wins over the Cowboys more than others.
“Every time we play the Cowboys, it’s a big game,” Orakpo said. “So regardless of the records, man, you can throw those out the door. Like I said, it’s gonna be a great game.”
The Redskins should have chances to score points, at least. The Cowboys are ranked last in the NFL in pass defense and total defense. Cousins had plenty of receivers open down the field last weekend in Atlanta and could be in a similar situation Sunday.
“We’ve got to protect the quarterback and give him throwing lanes,” Williams said, “and let the rest take care of itself.”