ASHBURN, Va. (AP) _ For the Washington Redskins and their fans, any game against the Dallas Cowboys is a big one. This one is bigger than usual: It's the regular-season finale, and it's win-and-you're-in for Washington.
Improbable as it seemed only a few weeks ago, and despite everything they've been through, the Redskins can earn a trip to the playoffs by beating the NFC East champion Cowboys on Sunday.
``This is going to be a first-class, big-time football game, if I had to guess. Certainly Dallas is a big deal for everybody here,'' coach Joe Gibbs said Monday. ``Everything that we've worked for, for 15 weeks, goes on the line this weekend.''
Hard to fathom, given where the Redskins were in early December.
Away from the field, they were reeling from the death of teammate and friend Sean Taylor, the Pro Bowl safety shot during a burglary at his home in Florida. On the field, they were 5-7, tied for last place in the division, losers of four consecutive games. The injuries and tough-to-swallow defeats were mounting.
``I don't know of a team _ I haven't been a part of one _ that's overcome this much,'' Gibbs said. ``It's almost like they're going to overcome whatever's out there. It's also caused a certain camaraderie and chemistry.''
His club blew a halftime lead in five of its losses, including a 17-16 heartbreaker against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 2, Washington's first game after Taylor was killed. Buffalo's go-ahead field goal in the final seconds came after Gibbs forgot a rule and drew a penalty for calling back-to-back timeouts in a bid to ``freeze'' the kicker.
The next day, low as could be, the Redskins traveled to Taylor's funeral.
Then, emotionally and physically drained, and without the benefit of a full practice, Washington faced the Chicago Bears three days later. Making things more daunting, starting quarterback Jason Campbell left in the first half with a dislocated kneecap.
Somehow, the Redskins managed to focus on football and turn things around. By beating the Minnesota Vikings 32-21 on Sunday night, the Redskins won their third game in a row with backup Todd Collins to get to 8-7.
And now: Dallas.
``It's going to be a great game, because it's a rivalry, it's Redskins-Cowboys, it's at our place,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. ``I guess you can't really write a better script.''
Since 2001, the Redskins have only one winning streak of four games or longer _ and that was in 2005, when they ended the regular season with a 5-0 run to make the playoffs.
That was the only postseason berth of Gibbs' second stint; another is one win away. Actually, even if Washington loses, it could still face the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs _ as long as Minnesota and New Orleans also lose Sunday.
``After all we've been through, we're still in position,'' running back Clinton Portis said, ``so we have to finish it out.''
It could help that Dallas (13-2) already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Cowboys will rest Terrell Owens (sprained left ankle) _ who scored all his team's touchdowns during Dallas' 28-23 victory in Week 11 _ and might limit Tony Romo (injured throwing thumb) and other starters.
Dallas coach Wade Phillips spoke plenty Monday about ``the integrity of the game'' and playing to win _ but he also noted that even backups will be playing to win. Phillips also offered up this factoid: The past three NFC champions lost their season finale.
Then again, the Redskins don't want to pay too much attention to those sorts of things.
``Regardless of what's going on with them, we can't worry about that. We've got to take care of us,'' wideout Santana Moss said. ``Regardless of if they're playing nobody, we've got to go out there and win the game.''