- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2012

It’s a recipe for what DeAngelo Hall called “pandemonium.” It’s Dallas Cowboys at the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field with the NFC East title on the line, in prime time and on national television.

“This is probably the biggest game we’ve had here in the last, what, the last 20 years?” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said.

It is a pretty big deal, and the biggest game of Robert Griffin III’s career. But the rookie quarterback is trying to play it cool.

“It is the biggest stage. None of us are looking at this that way. It’s another game that we have to go out and win. That’s the way we look at it,” Griffin said. “Every moment in your life is the biggest one at that time, so we look forward to having many more of these, but we’ve got to make sure we take care of this one.”

Getting geared up for Sunday night shouldn’t be an issue for Griffin and the Redskins. The bigger challenge is reining in the excitement and maintaining an even keel with a raucous crowd in a rivalry game and the playoffs hanging in the balance.

“You have to. Football’s an emotional game, you’re at home, you’re playing for everything,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “But if you lose it, you can lose control of the game really fast: Penalties and turnovers are things that come as a result of a lack of focus.

“You have to be controlled, but you definitely need to play with an edge. You have to play like when that clock strikes zero, you’re either going to the playoffs or you’re going home for a long offseason. You’ve got to find a balance.”

Enter Griffin, the 22-year-old who is a leader in the Redskins‘ locker room despite having just 14 games of NFL experience.

“Whenever you play the moment up too much, it can become too big to seize the moment. You just want to make sure you don’t make something so big that you can’t grab a hold of it,” Griffin said. “So I think a lot of guys are not necessarily downplaying the game, but are not going to talk themselves up like this is the most important game of our lives. We’ve just got to go out and win a football game. That’s what they pay us to do, and that’s why we play.”

That message has trickled down to other Redskins players, even veterans with plenty of experience in win-or-go-home games.

“I think for football and for fans and for people around the league, this is an amazing thing,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “We’re going to treat it like we’ve treated every week. And we have to. I think as a player you have to treat it as a business or a professional type of deal.”

Fullback Darrel Young said he doesn’t think it’s possible to keep emotions from getting too high. Still, he’s not worried.

“As a competitor, you’re excited,” Young said. “But you don’t overwhelm yourself because we’re just doing what we love to do.”

The Redskins have been loving winning for the past six games, putting themselves in this spot. Washington can clinch a playoff spot before kickoff if the Chicago Bears lose to the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings lose to the Green Bay Packers.

If that does not happen, the Redskins will have to beat the Cowboys just to get in. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon lamented that it all comes down to this, saying he wished the division was clinched earlier.

But it’s not, and the pressure is on.

“I think a lot of these veteran players, they get used to it over time, or veteran coaches, but you’re not always sure about the younger players,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “So you’ve got to make sure that they’re grounded and understand that they’ve got to take care of the business at hand.”

The business at hand includes playing the rival Cowboys, too. Cofield said that as soon as he got to town he was “immediately put on notice” that beating Dallas was a priority.

But Cooley said he and his teammates can’t get too caught up in the rivalry. To maintain composure, Redskins players can’t get caught up in the gravity of the situation, either. Even with everything on the line.

“I think naturally everybody’s going to be motivated,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “Once the clock starts going, everybody’s going to be even-keeled and know what we’re supposed to do.”



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