The Dallas Cowboys have been here before. Well, not exactly here as in FedEx Field against the Washington Redskins in the NFC East championship game on Sunday night, but the Cowboys are well-versed in winner-take-division season finales.
Last season the Cowboys visited the New York Giants with the winner capturing the NFC East and the loser missing out on the playoffs. They lost 31-14.
"You know what that feeling feels like," tight end Jason Witten said.
Not a feeling Cowboys players want to repeat. The nine Dallas starters returning from that disappointment hope to reverse their fortunes this time around.
"Every experience is different," Witten said Wednesday on a conference call with Washington media. "Hopefully, those experiences will allow us to be in a situation where you can find a way to win one game. But ultimately, the challenge is different and it's a different team, different situation."
The conversation within the Cowboys' room has not been centered on their experience at MetLife Stadium last season, namely because the team has had so much turnover. Veteran leadership has focused the team on the task at hand.
"I can't emphasize enough: Our approach right now is nothing more than, 'Hey, it's a one-game season. Let's find a way to win.' That's the way you prepare," Witten said. "That's the way you play. It's not to say, 'Oh, we were in this situation last year and we didn't succeed.' Hopefully, those experiences make you better in these situations."
A handful of Cowboys players remain from the 2009 season when they played in another NFC East championship game and shut out the Philadelphia Eagles 24-0. Tony Romo threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns in that win.
Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen was with Dallas then. Even being part of that and now Washington's six-game winning streak to get into playoff contention, he knows it's impossible to be totally prepared for a game like this.
"It won't be easy," Bowen said. "The pressure, we're used to it because our backs have been against the wall. This is really everything on the line or the season's done till next year."
Though this Redskins team hasn't been in a situation exactly like this and just a few guys remain from the most recent playoff team in 2007, they're letting recent experience be their guide.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield was on the 2008 New York Giants team that cruised into the postseason at 12-4. Once there, the Giants lost their first game and had their season come to an abrupt end.
Cofield prefers what the Redskins have faced the past six weeks.
"It's hard to turn that switch on," he said. "I think we just had to flip it after the by week. We didn't have a choice. … Being used to that feeling, that win-or-go-home feeling, I think is a good thing."
A good thing that could carry over to Sunday night, on national television and most likely faced with the same scenario: Win or go home.
"I think that does benefit us," quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "We've never looked at a game like, 'Well, alright, we can lose and we'll be OK.' We're not going to look at this game like that. We want to control our own destiny and it's our job to do that."
Despite their experience a year ago, the Cowboys are wary of the Redskins because of just that. Sure, Dallas has won three of its last four, but Washington hasn't lost a game since Nov. 4.
"Hey, they're going to be ready for these situations, too," Witten said. "Their backs have been against the wall just like ours. For the last half of the season they've just kind of rallied it up with a well-coached team. … It's going to be a fight and hopefully we can match the intensity Sunday night."
Under the lights, the intensity at FedEx Field is expected to be off the charts. Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall expects nothing short of "pandemonium."
And experience is all well and good, but what happens just after 8:20 p.m. Sunday will matter more than anything that happened in previous weeks or years.
"You've got to go cut it loose for three hours," Witten said. "And the team that does that is going to have a chance to win the division."
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