Destiny Beckons, But Dallas Looms
After many games, especially in December, Joe Gibbs says, "We have to get ready to play the game of our life." The Redskins coach said it again after last Sunday's win over Minnesota put Washington in control of its playoff destiny heading into the regular season finale this Sunday at FedEx Field against the Cowboys.
Some rolled their eyes. The game of their lives? Surely, the Redskins have a fairly easy win on tap. The Cowboys don't need a victory, won't play injured Terrell Owens, might not start quarterback Tony Romo and will surely give a day off to any gimpy veteran who requests it. The Redskins know they need to win. Otherwise, their only playoff path is if both Minnesota and New Orleans lose. Plenty of motivation, right? Chill, Joe.
But, as usual, Gibbs is correct even if he's corny. No matter whom the Cowboys play or rest, a mediocre effort by the Redskins isn't going to be enough to separate them from a Dallas team that needs one win to set a franchise record for victories. Unfair as it seems for Washington's team travail, the Redskins will probably need to summon one more maximum effort like the last two, when they walked to the center of the ring in the Meadowlands and the Metrodome and knocked the hosts flat on their backs, jumping ahead of the Giants 22-3 and the Vikings 25-0 in stunningly dominant road wins.
"We're totally exhausted," Gibbs said Sunday night. "Huge game next week at our place . . . thrilled to be going back home."
Few teams have deserved home cooking more than these Redskins. But the meal's not done. If the Redskins can't finish their December heroics against the 'Pokes, it'll be a double shame because the team they would face in the first round of the playoffs, the Seahawks, is eminently beatable, even in Seattle. Whenever the Seahawks face a winning team, or even a patsy on the road, they have their hands full. Factoring in strength of schedule, Seattle's 10-5 record is no more distinguished than an 8-7 Redskins mark that is skewed by road losses against the three top teams in the NFL. Washington at Seattle would be a toss-up.
But the Redskins have to get there. The Cowboys, eternal villains that they are, seem intent on spoiling the Redskins' fun.
"Anybody that's banged up some, I certainly would be careful with. But most of our guys will play, I believe . . . I think Romo is all right," said Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips, probably telling the truth.
"We want to win 14 games. Thirteen is the most ever for this franchise, and it's a historic franchise. That would be quite an accomplishment. Somebody may play for that. I'll be coaching for that, I'll tell you that."
Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who's steeped in the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, will want a win, too, especially since his team gets a bye to start the playoffs. Who thinks grabby Jerry doesn't want a 14-2 record in his first season without Bill Parcells?
"I would guess they would play as hard as they can. I think that we will get everything they've got," said Gibbs, who is acutely aware of how much emotion and energy his team has expended to get this far. "We had four brutal last-second losses. Four in a row, you'd figure that would take the life out of most teams," Gibbs said. Yet his team has found the resources to beat what Gibbs calls "three very physical, tough teams" since they attended Sean Taylor's funeral in Miami.
Even if the Cowboys keep a half-dozen or more familiar names on the sideline, the Redskins should not take them lightly. All season, Dallas has been an elite squad, outscoring opponents 449-298. Even short-handed they're formidable. The Redskins, despite their late-season grit, are still a middle-of-the-pack team that has outscored its foes by only three points and, for several seasons, has found ways to lose too many late-and-close games. Besides, for the Redskins, "full strength" is a misnomer since six starting players are missing.
Many assume the Cowboys will play Romo for a half at most. Isn't the sore thumb that bothered him two weeks ago enough to justify a light workload? What a trump card.