In Sunday’s 100th meeting of the storied Washington-Dallas rivalry, the last-place Redskins are not just looking to avenge last month’s 7-6 loss to the likely playoff-bound Cowboys. They’re also trying to avoid a dubious achievement: going winless in the NFC East for the first time in 15 years.
Despite recording five seasons of double-digit losses since (1995, 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2006), the Redskins have always won at least one division game.
“Not winning a division game, that’s embarrassing,” said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, a co-captain who has played his entire 10-year career in the NFC East. “We can’t let that happen. We’ve been talking about that all week.”
Or at least since the New York Giants belted them 45-12 on Monday night, dropping the Redskins to 4-10 overall and 0-5 in the division. That horrid performance, the most lopsided defeat of coach Jim Zorn’s two seasons, was hardly the way to audition for new general manager Bruce Allen as he begins to determine who should remain on the roster after next week’s season finale.
“We’re not going to the playoffs, but we can feel better about ourselves if we beat the Cowboys,” said defensive end Phillip Daniels, one of 10 starters whose contract is expiring. “We should’ve beaten them the last time.”
On Nov. 22, in their first game in new Cowboys Stadium, the underdog Redskins led 6-0 - a margin that would have doubled if kicker Shaun Suisham, now with Dallas, hadn’t missed two field goal attempts - until the Cowboys mounted a 60-yard drive that culminated in the game’s lone touchdown with 2:41 left.
“It’s a pride thing,” said quarterback Jason Campbell, another starter without a contract for 2010. “It’s very important. You don’t want to go through the year not winning a division game. Two of them we feel like we should’ve won, but they got away from us.”
The other was the game in Philadelphia, the week after the heartbreaker in Dallas. Washington led 24-16 and had the Eagles facing second-and-10 at their 10-yard line with 11:30 to play before allowing consecutive scoring drives of 90 and 66 yards (for the game-winning field goal) and losing 27-24.
So if the defeat in Dallas was on the offense for not reaching the end zone, the flop in Philadelphia was on the defense for crumbling late.
“You don’t want to go through a season not having won a game in your division, and this is our last opportunity,” said linebacker London Fletcher, a co-captain. “Plus it’s the Cowboys.”
No other current division rivals have met twice to decide a Super Bowl berth, as the Redskins and Cowboys did in the 1972 and 1982 NFC championship games. Washington won both going away at RFK Stadium.
But the rivalry isn’t just history. Only Atlanta and Carolina and Jacksonville and Tennessee have split their season series in more consecutive seasons than the current three-year streak that Washington and Dallas have going.
The Cowboys haven’t swept the Redskins since 2004. Among the currently active players, only Griffin, Daniels, fullback Mike Sellers, special teamer Rock Cartwright, snapper Ethan Albright, cornerback Fred Smoot and defensive end Renaldo Wynn were on the active roster that season.
With the voluble Cartwright and Sellers as co-captains, the usually stellar special teams units aren’t immune to the empty feeling about the NFC East either - not after giving perhaps their worst performance of the year against the Giants.
“[Special teams coach Danny Smith] reminds us every morning when we walk into the special teams meeting that we haven’t won a division game,” Cartwright said. “No speeches need to be made before the game. But the bottom line is we just want to win a game [and] put a lot better stuff out there than we did on Monday.”