It's the very last game that will be player for the 2012 NFL regular season. It will decide the NFC East Champion. And it is the continuation of one of the most storied rivalries in the league. Here are some of the headlines surrounding the Dallas-Washington game as you get ready for kickoff tonight.
If you don't know what is riding on tonight's Sunday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, I want to congratulate you on coming out of your coma. As the teams square off with the NFC East title and a home playoff game on the line (and the only chance for the Cowboys to advance), here are some of the things making news about the matchup.
First, the weather is going to be cold at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. Like lower thirties dropping into the upper twenties cold. Not exactly what the Cowboys and their cozy domed home stadium are used to, but then the Redskins are not exactly a cold climate squad either. The cold snap in North Texas gave Dallas a chance to get used to working in lower temperatures, and at least one of the Cowboys is ready for a little chill in the air.
Dez Bryant has officially become a man in full this year.
Before we get to the other game day news, there were a couple of headlines about the coaching scene that warrant a little attention here.
Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints have agreed to a five-year contract extension, a league source told ESPN.
A few comments about that. Oh, wait a second while I get my soapbox out.
Since before the season, I have repeatedly stated that all the various rumors about Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones looking for a replacement for head coach Jason Garrett were pointless speculation that showed a lack of insight into Jones or the Dallas organization. Despite all that, with every Cowboys loss, a rash of articles would erupt with various names for who was going to replace Garrett at the end of the season. Barring a first-half-of-2010 type meltdown, there was no way Jones was going to boot his head coach, especially considering his repeated comments about how he did not give Chan Gailey a fair chance as the team's head coach. But the rumors would not go away, and by far the most persistent was that Jones was going to make Sean Payton an offer he could not refuse. This not only flew in the face of everything coming out of the Cowboys organization at all levels, but ignored all the statements coming from people like Drew Brees that Payton was going to be back in the Crescent City.
Now that particular rumor is dead and gone. And if the Cowboys can win the NFC East and add a playoff triumph or two, then just maybe the attention seeking media writers who think Jason Garrett, who has never had a losing record, is absolutely worthless as a coach will be quiet. For a little while.
But probably not.
Cowboys special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is receiving attention for soon-to-be vacant head-coaching positions. For years, he has been regarded as a future head coach, whether on the college or pro level, and this could be his first serious crack at getting interviews.
This is a bit new. Pro Football Weekly cites unnamed sources, but I would be happy for DeCamillis - and not all that crushed to see him go. He has done well by Dallas, but it may just be time for him to move on.
Now, for the more usual articles about the game. Fittingly, there are a lot.
Continuing his second half streak of outstanding games will be a big factor for Dallas. And a little historical perspective shows just how big his season to date has been.
Bryant is starting to show up next to some great names in the Cowboys record books. His touchdown streak is tied for the best in franchise history with Frank Clarke and Bob Hayes from the 1960s, and Terrell Owens. He and Owens are the only players to have the streak in one season. With 12 touchdowns, Bryant is three shy of Owens' club record from 2007.
Dallas faced a winner-take-all game to end last season as well. But against the New York Giants, they did not have running back DeMarco Murray available. And he really is glad to be back where he can contribute to the team.
"It's always stressful not being out there with your teammates and not playing, no matter if it's preseason, practice or anything," said Murray, who missed the final three games of his rookie season with a fractured right ankle. "For me as a competitor and how much I love this team and love football, it's hard to watch. Just being out here, I'm blessed and thankful."
The headline may make you think this is going to be another hit piece on Tony Romo, but the beginning lets you know that this writer probably gets it.
You know they are out there. They are lining up, maybe even like it's Black Friday or something. They are large in numbers, loud and sometimes unruly, especially when calling in to participate on talk-radio shows.
The Tony Romo Haters.
And he confirms it with this.
Truth is, lately that's pretty much what Romo has done -- put the team on his back -- with the Cowboys surging to rally from a 3-5 midseason mark to have a chance to slip into the playoffs on the heel of the New York Giants' collapse.
Talks about some keys to the game, but also pays tribute to the historic rivalry.
Both teams enter the game hot. The Redskins have won six straight, while the Cowboys have won four of six.
Not a bad setting for the 106th edition of this rivalry.
This little anecdote about the history of the rivalry is pretty good. At least from the viewpoint of Cowboys fans.
The station (WTOP) intro'd its Herzog interview this week with an audio file from the 1983 NFC title game, and then asked the longtime Voice of the Redskins about that game.
"There was some concern in the booth that we might go tumbling down into the crowd at one point at RFK," he joked. "You know, it's interesting, that game - and the crowd response - was one of the factors in Jack Kent Cooke building FedEx Field. And he told the builders there he wanted the same acoustics, if not better than RFK, because he wanted the noise. The only thing was, he could never produce a winning football team, and so there was no reason to cheer. So Sunday night may be the first game in which Redskins fans REALLY have a chance and a reason to be a factor in a football game."
This is a very good look, with diagrammed screen shots, of how the Redskins scored one of their touchdowns on the Cowboys in the first game, and how the Cowboys need to adjust to stop them.
No one, outside of maybe the Washington coaching staff, and of course Bob 3 himself, really know. But the answer to that question is, well, kinda important.
As the (Washington) Post points out, the typical recovery period for Griffin's injury is 1-4 weeks. Sunday will mark three weeks. So, it's likely Griffin's knee will feel better vs. the Cowboys than it did against the Eagles. But will Griffin be the same Rookie of the Year candidate that he has been all year, the same guy who can lead a multi-dimensional offense that has made the Redskins so difficult to defend? The game's result might lie in the answers to those questions.
Whether you like Mike Shanahan as a coach or not, you have to give him one thing.
But if (the Cowboys) don't slow down running back Alfred Morris, it won't matter.
DeMarcus Ware went so far as to say stopping Morris is the key to a Dallas victory because of how Mike Shanahan uses the run to set up the pass.
It's been a formula that Shanahan has used for a long time. He seems to be able to find runners where nobody else can.
Did you realize that 10 of the 16 games on Sunday have some playoff implications (mostly in seeding)? That means a lot of interested viewers to drive the ratings. It is not an accident.
Think you have trouble following all the playoff and seeding possibilities? The N.F.L. spends months - and lots of bandwidth - early in the year constructing its regular-season schedule, taking into account everything from team requests not to play in too much heat to baseball playoff games that could take up shared parking lots. But it has just one day - last Sunday - to set the order of play for the final day of the regular season, so that the maximum number of teams take the field with something on the line, and the maximum number of viewers can see each game.
I don't agree with his conclusions, but Dan Graziano gives about as concise an explanation of the way the media sees Romo as any I have seen.
I sided with Griffin, and not because I don't respect Romo or the way he's playing -- which is basically as well as any quarterback in the league over the second half of this season. My point was that word "trust." If Griffin were to throw a terrible interception that cost his team the game, you'd be kind of shocked, since you haven't seen him do that yet. If Romo did it ... well, you've seen him do that before. That might not be fair, and it might simply be a reflection of the fact that Romo has the larger body of work, but it's the way it is.
This looks to be fun.
This season, only two defenders have been burned more than Hall has. This season, Hall has conceded 60 receptions for 994 yards and five touchdowns while playing in a secondary that has been woeful at times. Expect Bryant to have his way Sunday.
I wish my gut was as positive as theirs. They all see a Cowboys win.
Bryan Broaddus: Despite all these injuries on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys, my gut feeling tells me that Rob Ryan and this defense do a much better job of not allowing the Redskins to make big plays in this game and that is what their offense is based on.
The best defensive player on the Cowboys (well, at least until the emergence this year by Anthony Spencer), Demarcus Ware, is banged up coming into the game.
The Cowboys are playing Sunday night at FedEx Field against the Washington Redskins with the NFC East title and a playoff berth on the line. Ware will wear a harness to protect his injured right shoulder and he is expected to have his reps limited, according to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News.
Not a real positive take on things. But it has one factoid I did not know.
Last season, the Cowboys had two of the most promising young kickers in the NFL. Now they have one and the Redskins have the other. Dallas kept Dan Bailey, who has made 28 of 30 field-goal attempts this season and has already converted seven game-winning tries in 31 NFL games. But it unloaded Kai Forbath, who was signed by Washington in October and set an NFL record by making the first 17 field goals he has attempted in his career.
I put this up every week, but don't really know that I learn much most times. Just take a look, and see if any of these "keys" is a surprise to you.
This says one thing that is a very big reason why I really, really want the Cowboys to win.
Many pundits believe Romo will stumble and fall flat on his face.
I want to see mass consumption of crow.
On this, I just have to say (at least for the parts I quoted): Hell, yeah!
The Cowboys' best hope to win - the only one that they can actually strive for as opposed to hoping that breaks and loose balls bounce their way - is for Romo to come out firing.
Dez Bryant is the hottest scoring receiver in the league with 10 touchdowns in seven games. Let him direct his anger at being overlooked for the Pro Bowl (he can manufacture some if he doesn't really harbor a grudge) at one of the most porous secondaries in the league.
Let Jason Witten take the single-season record for receptions he set last week and put it out of sight for future tight ends. Let Miles Austin - somehow the forgotten man in this mix - remind people he caught the Cowboys' most recent touchdown pass, a fourth-down desperation heave that sent the New Orleans game into overtime.
That is the stuff I thought would be worth a read. Hope it helps you pass the time as we countdown to kickoff.