IRVING, Texas — 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.
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 28-point 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 fluky 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 career-high 224 yards.
Miles Austin caught a 19-yard tying score with 15 seconds left in regulation — the second of two TDs in the final 3:35 — and Jason Witten broke Tony Gonzalez’s NFL season record of 102 catches by a tight end, grabbing six for 60 yards to put him at 103.
Dallas ran just 11 times for 40 yards, all by DeMarco Murray, but part of that was because the Saints kept the ball so long.