Thank Santa that the Cowboys have something – albeit slim – to play for on Sunday. Because the last time they headed to Washington for a meaningless season finale it didn’t go too swell.
After winning the NFC East last weekend, the Cowboys will likely be the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and host the Lions at AT&T Stadium in the first round. They’d need to beat the Redskins and get upset losses by the Seahawks (against the Rams) and Cardinals (to the 49ers) and/or a rare tie between the Packers-Lions to clinch a first-round bye.
But that’s enough of a carrot to care on Sunday. As if history isn’t enough of a teacher about packing it in prematurely.
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In 2007 the Cowboys were similarly rolling into the postseason. That team sent a record 11 players to the Pro Bowl – Dallas had six selected on Tuesday night – including quarterback Tony Romo. They were 13-2 and had clinched home-field throughout the NFC Playoffs in Week 16.
In Week 17 (on Dec. 30) they headed to Washington, and head coach Wade Phillips faced a dilemma: Risk injury or induce rust via rest.
Phillips decided to half-ass it against the 8-7 Redskins, who needed a win to sneak into the playoffs. Romo played only the first half. Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn didn’t play a snap. Not surprisingly, the unmotivated Cowboys – led by Sam Hurd as their leading receiver and with Brad Johnson throwing half of their passes – were overwhelmed, 27-6, managing just two Nick Folk field goals.
No problem, right?
Of course, during their first-round Bye weekend Romo and some teammates sneaked off to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico for a quick vacation and the Cowboys subsequently lost to the Giants the following week to shockingly end their season. To this day Jerry Jones calls it his most painful loss in 25 years as owner of the Cowboys.
Don’t think that history lesson hasn’t been re-taught this week at Valley Ranch.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.