- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The last time Washington faced a win-and-in game with the playoffs at stake, Kirk Cousins did what he absolutely couldn’t afford to do: He threw an interception to cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with less than two minutes left. The turnover sealed the win for the New York Giants and kept the team out of the playoffs.

Washington will look for better luck this time around. When Washington faces the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday, the team needs to win in order to the clinch the NFC East.

Since 1978, when the NFL expanded to 16 games, Washington is 5-4 in Week 17 games in which the playoffs were still on the line. Of those five wins, only three resulted in a playoff berth — tiebreakers kept Washington out of the postseason in 1997 and 1985. Of those four losses, Washington actually still made the postseason once thanks to a tiebreaker, a scenario that can’t happen Sunday.

A look back at each game:

2016 — 19-10 loss to the Giants: This was brutal for Washington, which blew a chance to make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the time since 1991 and 1992. Even worse, the Giants (11-5) had nothing to play for as they had already won the division. Cousins, though, tossed two interceptions and was sacked four times in a disappointing afternoon for Washington. The final turnover came when a driving Washington was only down three.

2012  — 28-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys: There was arguably no higher moment of the Robert Griffin III era when the sensational rookie helped lead Washington (10-6) to a “Sunday Night Football” win over Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards, including a game-sealing 1-yard touchdown with just over a minute left. The win gave Washington its first division title since 2007 — knocking Dallas (8-8) out of the postseason in the process.

2007 — 27-6 win over Dallas: Shaken by the death of safety Sean Taylor a month earlier, Washington ended up winning the last four games of the season to clinch the NFC’s last wild-card spot. To do so, the team beat a first-place Cowboys team, which rested their starters in the second half. Washington, it turns out, would have made the postseason anyway with losses by New Orleans and Minnesota, but didn’t know that heading into the game. Two of Taylor’s closest friends, wide receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis, led on offense as Washington dominated the contest.

2005 — 31-20 win over Eagles: If Washington had lost, the Dallas Cowboys could have had the chance to knock Washington out of the postseason the next day with a win over St. Louis on “Monday Night Football.” Taylor and Co. didn’t let that happen. Taylor returned a 39-yard fumble for a touchdown to seal the victory on “Sunday Night Football” at Lincoln Financial Field— one of six forced turnovers from Washington’s defense.

1997 — 35-32 win over Eagles: Washington did its job, but unfortunately for them, the team did not get the necessary help from the rest of the league. Washington needed Minnesota or Detroit to lose — neither of which happened. The team finished 8-7-1, but were kept out of the postseason.

1992 — 21-20 loss to the Raiders: Though the scenarios didn’t break Washington’s way in 1997, five years earlier, the team got a lucky break. Despite losing to the Oakland Raiders, Washington was bailed out by the Minnesota Vikings who beat the Green Bay Packers the next day. The Vikings helped ease a brutal loss for Washington: The Raiders’ Tim Brown caught the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left.

1985 — 27-16 win over St. Louis Cardinals: For an afternoon, Washington became Cowboys fans. After beating the Cardinals — then in St. Louis, Washington’s playoff hopes depended on the Cowboys beating the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys jumped out to a 13-0 lead, but the 49ers rallied for a 31-25 win. Washington missed the playoffs at 10-6.

1979 — 35-34 loss to the Cowboys: Like this week, it was “win-and-in” for Washington in 1979. Standing in the way was the Roger Staubach-led Cowboys. Staubach proved too much to handle — throwing two touchdowns over the final two-and-a-half minutes as Washington choked away a 13-point lead. The Cowboys won the NFC East, while Washington was eliminated.

1978 — 14-10 loss to the Chicago Bears: In the NFL’s first season with 16 games, Washington needed a bunch of scenarios to break right in order to make the playoffs. For one, the team had to beat the Chicago Bears — which squashed any postseason hopes with a 14-10 win. The loss was Washington’s fifth straight to end the year.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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