- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 3, 2016

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jason Hatcher knew he was not going to play in the Washington Redskins‘ 34-23 win against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but the veteran defensive end did his part to make sure the team heard coach Jay Gruden’s message loud and clear.

Sure, the regular-season finale was meaningless in the sense that the result would not change the fact that the Redskins won the NFC East last week with a win against the Philadelphia Eagles. It would not change the fact that the Redskins were heading to the playoffs a year after going 4-12.

There was an opportunity to rest some starters, which the Redskins did, but not until they made sure a victory was in their grasp. While there was some debate in the locker room last week about the benefits of resting players versus sustaining a winning streak, the Redskins were able to accomplish both on Sunday.

“We talked to each other and we understood that this game didn’t mean nothing, but we never — coach said it best — don’t ever disrespect the game of football,” Hatcher said. “It’s been good to us. We understood that and we went out and played like that. We’re never going to treat anything like a preseason game. When we’re out on the field, we play hard for each other and never disrespect the game.”

It was clear that message was received. The Redskins were rolling in the first quarter after quarterback Kirk Cousins completed eight of 10 passes for 114 yards and three touchdowns to take a 21-0 lead. In the second quarter, he connected with wide receiver Jamison Crowder for a 28-yard gain, which broke Jay Schroeder’s team record of 4,109 passing yards in a single season.

Cousins completed two more passes to tight end Jordan Reed to bring his season total to 4,166 yards before he exited the game. Cousins finished 12-for-15 with 176 yards and a 155.1 passer rating.

SEE ALSO: Jamison Crowder finishes productive rookie season in Redskins’ win at Cowboys

“It’s gratifying, but what I think, is it is a reflection of our entire offense,” Cousins said of setting the record. “You couldn’t be able to put up a statistic like that without phenomenal play-calling, preparation, coach’s game planning, really talented weapons to throw to and getting the protection I got from the offensive line. I’m at the mercy of the guys around me, and the fact that we were able to accomplish a little record like that speaks volumes of the environment I’m in and the opportunity I have around me.”

The Redskins‘ offense was in a great rhythm in the first half. Cousins did not want to leave the game after setting the record, and backup Colt McCoy said he even felt bad replacing him.

“He was in the zone,” McCoy said. “You hate to see guys come out when they’re on fire.”

After one of the passes to Reed, a Cowboys player rolled into Cousins’ shins. At that point, it became obvious there was no sense in risking Cousins’ health ahead of the playoffs.

The Cowboys chipped away at the lead by scoring twice in the second quarter, but it was never really close. In the fourth quarter, McCoy hit Rashad Ross with a 71-yard touchdown pass to give the Redskins a 34-14 lead.

After Cousins was pulled, other starters trickled out of the game after halftime. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and inside linebacker Will Compton exited in the third quarter. Reed, who caught four passes for 45 yards, had taken off his pads and jersey in the third quarter. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was active and in uniform but never played a snap.

Entering the week, the Redskins were adamant about wanting to win their fourth consecutive game. They finished the season having won five of their last six games, including three consecutive road victories.

They also finished 9-7, which even though they already made the playoffs, has a better ring to it than 8-8.

“I’m very proud the way this team handled the situation that we were in,” Gruden said. “Everybody’s talking about who’s going to sit, who’s going to rest and all that stuff. Nobody really blinked. They just came to practice and worked and they handled the substitution pattern.”

Now, the Redskins can rest with a victory — if only for a few hours — before preparing for their first-round playoff opponent, which will be the Green Bay Packers.

How different the circumstances were just a year ago, when the Redskins lost to the Cowboys, 44-17, in Week 17 to ensure a 4-12 record.

“It’s awesome, man,” Compton said. “We fought through a lot of adversity this year, but handled our business well this game. … It obviously didn’t mean anything, but even our starters, keeping our focus, we did a good job. You want to handle your business, even when it doesn’t mean something.”

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