The last time Washington and Dallas played this meaningful a game this late in the season, George Bush was in the White House. The other George Bush.
That was Dec. 13, 1992, when coach Joe Gibbs' Redskins beat Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys 20-17 for the Hall of Fame's coach last victory at RFK Stadium on safety Danny Copeland's recovery of quarterback Troy Aikman's late fumble in the end zone.
Both defending Super Bowl champion Washington and Dallas, which would take the title that season and the next one, qualified for the playoffs. That has happened just once since (1999).
On Sunday, Dallas (8-5) visits Washington (7-6) with plenty on the line. The Cowboys, who led the Redskins 13-0 with four minutes to go at home in Week 2 but lost on a pair of Mark Brunell-to-Santana Moss touchdown bombs, lead Minnesota (8-5) and Atlanta (8-5) for the last NFC playoff spot. The Redskins are trying to stay in the race by sweeping the Cowboys for the first time in a decade.
"It's a good position to be playing games with three games to go that mean a lot," Gibbs said. "That's exciting. I'm glad we get a chance to play a real big game."
Indeed, Washington hasn't been 7-6 since 2000, when that record got coach Norv Turner fired.
"A lot of teams out there don't even have a chance, but we have a chance, so I'm happy," said offensive tackle Chris Samuels, still waiting for his first playoff game in his sixth season.
Guard Randy Thomas found out how much Washington fans want to beat Dallas the day after the Redskins held on for a 17-13 victory at Arizona.
"I (went) to McDonald's and people are talking about the Dallas game," Thomas said. "They're not talking about the game we just won. At 7-6, I can't say we're on our way or we're not. We're just trying to win games. We've been through some tough times, but we're together right now. Our confidence should be pretty high coming off two wins on the road. But we haven't played one of our big games lately. Hopefully, we're saving it for this week."
The Redskins aren't as fortunate as Jacksonville, which finishes up against doormats San Francisco, Houston and Tennessee. Instead, they get their three division rivals: Dallas, the New York Giants (9-4) and defending NFC champion Philadelphia.
"We don't want it any other way," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "We've got three division games. You can't ask for anything better. It will tell us a lot about our team."
SERIES HISTORY: 92nd meeting. The Cowboys lead 54-35-2 and had won 14 out of 15 until Brunell and Moss teamed up in Week 2. There have been so many memorable games in "America's Rivalry," including the Cowboys' stunning last-minute home victories in 1974 on Thanksgiving Day (24-23 led by the unknown Clint Longley) and in the 1979 finale (35-34 to win the NFC East and knock the Redskins out of the playoffs), the 1982 NFC Championship Game won by Washington 31-17 at home and the 14-7 Redskins victory in 1973 at RFK Stadium sealed by Hall of Famer Ken Houston's tackle of Walt Garrison at the goal line. But the top of the list belongs to the Redskins' 26-3 pounding of the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys in the 1972 NFC Championship Game on New Year's Eve at RFK because that was the game that really established the teams on an equal footing for the next two decades.
Quotes and Notes
--Asked about his incredible December-January record (54-18, .750), coach Joe Gibbs quipped that the secret to that success was "good players" before adding, "If you've got something to play for, it helps. It really does."
--Asked how he handles the stress of so many close games, Gibbs said he throws up before games and loses himself in preparing for the next week afterward.
"You don't have much time to sit back and think about it," Gibbs said. "You're working so hard, it kind of takes your mind off it. That's probably good. I get nervous about it because it's my nature. It's like a piano recital or a baseball game or whatever, you get nervous."
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Points separating the Redskins and Cowboys in their three games matching coaching legends Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells. 9 -- Years since Washington and Dallas both finished over .500.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's good for football to have the Cowboys and Indians playing for something this late in the season." -- Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, who has yet to make the playoffs during his six-year career.
--CB Shawn Springs didn't practice Wednesday because of the back and groin injuries that knocked him out of the second half of Sunday's game at Arizona. However, Springs said he will start against Dallas.
--CB Carlos Rogers didn't practice because of the left biceps he injured against the Cardinals. However, Rogers said he'll play Sunday.
--CB Walt Harris, who missed the Arizona game, didn't practice Wednesday but said he'll be ready for Sunday.
--OT Chris Samuels, who sprained his right knee and right ankle against the Cardinals, didn't practice Wednesday but said he'll start against the Cowboys.
--LB LaVar Arrington, who missed the Arizona game with a bruised thigh, returned to practice Wednesday and should start against Dallas.
--DT Joe Salave'a, who has missed the past two games as his left foot recovers from a torn plantar fascia, practiced Wednesday and should start on Sunday.
--DT Cedric Killings, who has missed the past two games with a groin injury, practiced Wednesday and should play against Dallas.
--S Matt Bowen, who bruised a knee against Arizona, didn't practice Wednesday but expects to play Sunday.
--WR James Thrash, who has been sidelined with a pulled hamstring, returned to practice Wednesday and should be available against the Cowboys.
GAME PLAN: Although WR Santana Moss burned the Cowboys in Week 2, he has had just three catches of at least 30 yards the past seven weeks, so the Redskins can't expect a repeat of what transpired at Texas Stadium. They'll try to pound Clinton Portis and reserve RBs Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright at Dallas' 13th-ranked run defense. Portis has averaged 113 yards the past five games while Cartwright had his first 100-yard game two weeks ago at St. Louis. Ball control is critical since the Cowboys lead the NFL in time of possession (32:59).
Washington allowed just 61 points the past four games and held three of those opponents to less than 63 yards on the ground. Given Dallas' success through the air last week against Kansas City and the banged-up status of Washington's top three cornerbacks (Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Walt Harris), the Redskins likely will try to pressure Drew Bledsoe into mistakes with myriad blitzes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Redskins cornerbacks and FS Sean Taylor vs. Cowboys WRs Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson and Patrick Crayton. With Springs (groin, back), Rogers (biceps) and Harris (calf) all ailing, the Redskins are down to one healthy corner, the little-used Ade Jimoh. All of this could mean plenty of time spent covering wideouts for Taylor. He has the athleticism to do so but has been burned for long touchdowns in each of the last two games against Dallas -- Crayton's last-minute game-winner last Dec. 26 and Glenn's flea-flicker score this Sept. 19.
--Redskins RB Clinton Portis vs. Cowboys ILB Scott Shanle and Bradie James. Portis is in the midst of his best stretch as a Redskin, averaging 113 yards the past five weeks. First-year starter James and Shanle, replacing the injured Dat Nguyen, will try to keep Portis from controlling the clock and popping the big runs that have hurt the Dallas defense.
--Redskins special teams vs. Cowboys special teams. Despite losing return specialist Ladell Betts and James Thrash and kicker John Hall for extended periods and coverage/blocking demon Mike Sellers for a game, Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith has the NFL's top coverage units (third on punts, fourth on kickoffs), and Betts and Antonio Brown took kickoffs to the house in two of the last five games. Dallas is 12th in kickoff returns and 10th in kick coverage.
INJURY IMPACT: If more than one of the corner trio of Springs, Rogers and Harris can't play, and play effectively, the Redskins will be in serious trouble.