- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

Since they combined to win three straight Super Bowls from 1991 to 1993, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys have rarely met in the second half of the season with something on the line for both teams.

That’s not the case Sunday night.

The nationally televised game at FedEx Field is a critical for both the 6-3 Redskins and the 5-4 Cowboys, each of whom is coming off a one-sided loss that preceded a bye. Both have multiple formidable opponents ahead. And both are likely fighting for wild card spots in the playoffs because the 8-1 New York Giants have beaten each of their NFC East opponents.

“We have to treat this as a playoff type of game,” Redskins coach Jim Zorn said.

“It’s a must-win for both teams, and something has to give,” Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said.

There are 10 winning teams in the NFC with just six playoff spots available.

“Playoff scenarios, it’s way too early to start talking about that as far as I’m concerned,” Redskins guard Pete Kendall said. “It’s not time to jump on the panic trampoline.”

Perhaps not, but a 10-6 record might not guarantee a wild card spot in the NFC this year, which the AFC’s Cleveland (2007), Kansas City (2005) and Miami (2003) all discovered to their chagrin in the past five seasons.

“If we’re able to win, we’ll be three games up on them because we would’ve swept the season series,” Washington middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “I don’t look at it as a must-win game because there’s still a lot of football left to be played, but it’s an extremely important game.”

And with so much at stake, Washington’s offense could well be without running back Clinton Portis. The NFL’s second-leading rusher is questionable because of the left knee he sprained against visiting Pittsburgh in Week 10. He didn’t practice all week.

“I’m not going to entertain [the thought] until I get out there and I don’t see [No.] 26 running the ball,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. “I’m sure he’s going to do everything in his power to play. And [Ladell] Betts is a pretty good back, too, so it shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off.

Even if Portis plays, Zorn said he’ll use him in a limited role, leaving the starting job to Betts. Betts tied a team record with five straight 100-yard games after Portis suffered an injury in 2006, but now he’s just back from a month out with his own sprained left knee.

“Whatever I can do to help this team win, if it means rushing for 100 yards or rushing for 50, I’ll take it as long as we win,” Betts said.

Winning will be much harder for Washington since Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has returned from a three-game absence with a broken right pinkie. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback will wear a small splint to protect the finger, mostly from the snap exchange.

“This is a much more explosive offense with Romo,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “It makes [Pro Bowl running back Marion Barber] better because now you have to worry about the passing game. It makes the receivers better because they have the ability to throw the deep ball.”

The Cowboys acquired one of those receivers, Roy Williams, from Detroit since the teams last played. But Washington added two-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall and might have cornerback Shawn Springs, who missed the last three games with a strained calf. Springs practiced Friday.

“They already had probably one of the most explosive collections of offensive weapons in the league, and they just added another one,” Blache said of Williams. “Last time we tried to double-up on [four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason] Witten and [six-time All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens] and now you have such an explosive player singled. We’ve got our hands full.”

But Blache will also have end Jason Taylor, the active sacks leader who missed the first Dallas game with a calf injury, at the healthiest he has been all season.

“They’re a very talented team and their backs are against the wall in some ways, but we’re not exactly sitting pretty right now ourselves,” Taylor said. “We’ve lost two games at home [to St. Louis and Pittsburgh] and we have to defend our turf.”

The oddsmakers think they won’t. Dallas is favored by 1 1/2 points.

“They’re a team we beat … at their place,” Blache said. “They come into our place and still we’re the underdog. I take it personally. I hope the guys take it personally.”

That’s usually the case when the Redskins duel with the Cowboys.

“I hate the Cowboys,” five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. “I’ve hated them since birth, and playing them when we’re both going for the playoffs just adds to the game.”

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