Even after two disastrous losses have left them a game back of the NFC East lead, the Dallas Cowboys control their playoff fate with two games to play.
They'll try to remain in that position with a road win Sunday over the Washington Redskins in their final game before a potential Week 17 showdown with Philadelphia for the division title.
The Cowboys (7-7) have made things difficult on themselves with consecutive losses to backup quarterbacks at Chicago and at home in particularly crushing style against Green Bay. But they now get a shot at the struggling Redskins (3-11), who have dropped six straight and are electing to end the year with their backup quarterback on the field.
"We still control what we feel like we can get done," quarterback Tony Romo said. "It just doesn't feel like it right now because we let it slip away."
Had Dallas held a 26-3 halftime lead Sunday against the Packers, it would be in position to clinch the NFC East this week. That didn't happen, so a loss or tie against the Redskins would keep the Cowboys out of the postseason for a fourth straight year if the Eagles beat Chicago on Sunday night. Otherwise, Dallas would play in Philadelphia next Sunday for the division crown.
"The trend's not going to continue because we're going to do what we need to do," said wide receiver Dez Bryant, who set season highs with 11 catches and 153 yards against the Packers. "This whole group in this locker room, we believe and we're going to keep working."
The 37-36 disappointment against Green Bay was the latest example of the Cowboys' late-season, end-of-game futility guided by Romo. He threw two interceptions in the final 3 minutes, the first of which set up the Packers' go-ahead touchdown with Dallas in position to potentially run out the clock with a five-point lead.
Romo and the Cowboys have now lost their last four December games after closing 2012 with back-to-back losses.
While the focus for the late-season struggles inevitably gets piled on Romo, the Dallas defense hasn't done him any favors. The Cowboys are 2-3 since Nov. 10, and they've allowed a league-worst 35.2 points in that time. They let Josh McCown and the Bears score on every possession until a late kneel-down in a 45-28 loss in Week 14.
"If you have the right kind of guys on your team, you handle the inevitable adversities of the season better than if you don't," Garrett said. "If you put emotion into something, passion into something and it doesn't work out, sometimes that's hard to swallow. But again, you have to regroup."
For the season, they're allowing a league-worst 427.3 yards per game, 297.4 of which come through the air.
They'll get a third straight shot at a backup quarterback in Washington, which chose last week to sit starter Robert Griffin III for the final three games of the season.
Kirk Cousins, however, didn't have much trouble moving the ball against Atlanta, another bottom-five defense, in a 27-26 loss that was a failed two-point conversion attempt away from ending the Redskins' losing streak. Cousins went 29 for 45 with 381 yards, three TDs and three of the team's seven turnovers in his first start of the year.
"Those are four plays right there, if they go differently, it was probably a much better result," said Cousins of the turnovers and failed conversion. "It's a tough one to swallow right now, and we'll learn from it and get better."
In 29 career starts, Griffin hasn't come within 50 yards of Cousins' yardage total, which opened the door for questions on whether there was room for competition entering next season. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan reiterated Griffin is the starter, but didn't shut that door entirely.
"The thing that you want on your football team is that you want competition, legitimate competition," Shanahan said. "The better players you have, the more people compete. When you look behind your shoulder and you know that guy's pretty good, it makes you work a little bit harder."
Cousins' audition continues against a Cowboys team that beat Griffin 31-16 on Oct. 13 in Dallas despite being outgained 433-213.
Dallas' defense, already in bad shape, placed linebacker Justin Durant on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday due to a hamstring injury suffered against the Packers.
The Cowboys played most of the game without their top four linebackers, and they'll be without star Sean Lee for a second straight game Sunday due to a strained neck.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne won't play with a hamstring injury, linebacker Ernie Sims is doubtful with groin and hip injuries but corner Brandon Carr will go after missing two days of practice with an illness.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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