It's fitting than in the last week of the regular season, the Dallas Cowboys will travel into Washington with the NFC East title in play.
This will be the 8th time in NFL history that both teams meet in the final week of the regular season, and the fourth time that the match will be in the nation's capital (the Redskins have won all three previous times at D.C.).
Let's review those past seven games:
December 21, 1969:
In what would become the last ever game of Vince Lombardi as a Head Coach in the NFL, the Cowboys won 20-10 at the Cotton Bowl in a game they never trailed, led by 135 combined rushing yards by Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison. The Cowboys had secured the NFL Capital Division title by then, and finished with a 11-2-1 record and a playoff berth (they lost at home to the Cleveland Browns the following week), while the Redskins finished 7-5-2 in second place and with their first winning season in 14 years.
December 12, 1976:
The Redskins won 27-14 at Texas Stadium to finish 10-4 and clinched the NFC Wildcard playoff berth. The Cowboys led 14-13 entering the 4th quarter, but touchdown runs by former Cowboy Calvin Hill and John Riggins in the fourth quarter made the difference, and the Over the Hill Gang Defense left Roger Staubach with only 91 yards passing. The Cowboys had secured the NFC East with an 11-3 mark, but both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs (the Cowboys lost at home against the Los Angeles Rams, while the Redskins lost at Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium).
December 16, 1979:
In one of the most memorable regular season games ever, the Cowboys overcame two 10-plus point deficits and went on to win 35-34 at Texas Stadium on a Tony Hill 8-yard reception with 39 seconds remaining. Both teams were tied with a 10-5 mark and needed to win: the Cowboys wanted to capture the NFC East title and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Redskins needed to win to have a Wildcard spot (the Philadelphia Eagles had already clinch a playoff spot, and the Chicago Bears were leading by points in the tie-break for the other Wildcard spot) and with a loss they would be out.
The Redskins jumped out with a 17-0 lead, as Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann ran for a touchdown and threw a 55-yard pass to Benny Malone for another. But the Cowboys came back, and with a Ron Springs 1-yard touchdown run and a 26-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to a diving Preston Pearson, they were trailing by 3 points by halftime. In the third quarter, Dallas finally had the lead, with a Robert Newhouse 2-yard touchdown run.
But in the fourth quarter, Washington came back, first with a Mark Moseley field goal to close within a point, 21-20, then regained the lead, thanks to John Riggins two rushing touchdowns, thye second a career-long 66-yard run (he finished the game with 151 rushing yards) to put the Redskins up 34-21. And then, with 4 minutes remaining in the game, and nearly assuring the victory, Redskins running back Clarence Harmon fumbled at the Dallas 42 and Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White recovered the ball.
Then Staubach (in what became his last regular season game) turned a miracle comeback. First, he completed three passes for 59 yards, the last a 26-yard touchdown to Springs with 2:20 remaining. Then the Cowboys forced the Redskins to punt, and Staubach (with 1:46 remaining) guided the Cowboys with another three completions for 67 yards to put the ball on the Washington’s 8-yard line. Then Hill beat All-Pro cornerback Lemar Parrish.
The Redskins had a last chance, advancing into the Cowboys 42-yard line but time ran out after a completion and Theismann couldn’t call a timeout to give Moseley a chance for a 59-yard field goal try to win it, and Washington’s season ended in dramatic fashion. The Cowboys, on the other hand, were favored to advance to Super Bowl XIV, but as in 1976, Dallas lost at home against the Rams in the divisional playoffs, 21-19.
December 22, 1996:
At Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the Redskins thrashed the Cowboys 37-10, powered by Terry Allen’s three rushing touchdowns, and Gus Frerotte’s 346 passing yards. Dallas, at 10-5, had already clinched a playoff spot, while Washington was already eliminated from the playoffs with a 8-7 mark. With the Cowboys’ loss, the Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC East thanks to a tie-break. Dallas beat Minnesota 40-15 in the Wildcard playoff game at Texas Stadium, but lost the following week at Carolina, 26-17.
December 27, 1998:
The Cowboys beat the Redskins 23-7 on a Sunday Night at Texas Stadium, thanks to Emmitt Smith two touchdown runs, and 157 rushing yards combined between Smith and Sherman Williams. Dallas had already clinched the NFC East title, finishing with a 10-6 record, while Washington’s loss put them at 6-10. However, in a major upset, the Cowboys lost their playoff game at home against the Arizona Cardinals 20-7, a team they had beaten twice in the regular season with a combined 73-38 score. The Cowboys didn’t won the NFC East title again until 9 years later, in 2007.
December 29, 2002:
The Redskins won 20-14 at Fed-Ex Field powered by five sacks of Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson, and LaVar Arrington two fumble recoveries (one of them recovered in the Dallas end zone for a touchdown). Redskins’ running backs Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson combined for 156 yards rushing. Both teams missed the playoffs, Dallas finished at 5-11 (they fired head Coach Dave Campo after the game, and brought Bill Parcells next season) and Washington at 7-9. It was Washington's first win over Dallas since October 13, 1997, and the final game for Redskins Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green, after 20 seasons in Washington.
December 30, 2007:
In what was the final regular season game for Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs, Washington beat Dallas 27-6 to secure a Wildcard spot with a 9-7 record (Dallas had already clinched the NFC title and finished with a 13-3 record). Washington’s running back Clinton Portis ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns and Santana Moss caught 8 passes for 115 yards and another score, while the Redskins defense limited the Cowboys to just 1 yard rushing for the entire game. Both teams lost their first playoff game, however: Washington at Seattle 35-14, and Dallas at home against the eventual Super Bowl champions New York Giants, 21-17.
While both teams haven’t had postseason success when they meet in the last week of the season, this match-up will be decisive in the playoff picture.