x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

NFL: Time for Cowboys to win or go home in play-off hunt

Dallas need to beat Washington on final week to avoid another late-season slump.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo looks to pass the ball.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo looks to pass the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys should know this drill by now.

The only thing left is figuring out how to win a play-offs-or-bust game at an NFC East rival in the final game of the season.

The Cowboys flopped badly in Philadelphia in 2008, and were better but still not very good last season at the New York Giants.

Dallas get another chance this Sunday night at Washington against Robert Griffin III and a Redskins team (9-6), who could still make the post-season even if they lose.

"You live for games like this," the Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

The Cowboys (8-7) began the second-to-last Sunday of the regular season with control of their play-off fate, and ended it the same way despite losing 34-31 to New Orleans in overtime. That is because the Giants lost at the Baltimore Ravens, essentially rendering the Dallas loss meaningless.

During a run of five wins in six games that revived Dallas' post-season hopes, the only loss was to the Redskins on Thanksgiving.

Griffin engineered the first 28-point quarter for Washington in 13 years, going eight for eight for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter. The first big NFL play in Texas for the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor was a perfect deep throw to Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard score.

"I'll say it again: I was awed with what he did to us in the second quarter out here in Cowboys Stadium," the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "I certainly think that's the type of player we're playing against and team we're playing against."

If the loss to the Saints is any indicator, the Cowboys are in trouble. They could not stop Drew Brees and the Saints until New Orleans mostly stopped throwing with a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys will not say it, but injuries could be wearing on a beleaguered defence. Five starters and their reserve cornerback Orlando Scandrick are out. Replacement free agents have been filling holes.

"A lot of different combinations of players playing for us against a really, really good offensive football team," Garrett said. "I just thought that they fought, fought, fought."

The Cowboys could always just try to outscore the Redskins. Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints, including a pair of 58-yarders to Dez Bryant, who had a career-high 224 yards.

Miles Austin caught a 19-yard tying score with 15 seconds left in regulation - the second of two TDs in the final 3:35 - and Jason Witten broke Tony Gonzalez's NFL season record of 102 catches by a tight end, grabbing six for 60 yards to put him at 103.

"When you get in, anything can happen," said Romo, who has 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the past eight weeks. "I know that. We've seen that far too many times. We just need to do the right things to get in."

Jones acknowledges the injuries on defence, but still thinks the Cowboys are better than they were when they fell 21-0 behind New York in a 31-14 loss last New Year's night that propelled the Giants to a Super Bowl win.