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December 30, 2012

Cowboys-Redskins rivalry to decide NFC East title

WASHINGTON — As the only Washington Redskins player born and bred in the nation’s capital, Joshua Morgan went up against the Dallas Cowboys many times in his imagination long before he did so in the NFL.

“I was either Art Monk beating the Cowboys,” Morgan said. “Or it was Jerry Rice in the Super Bowl.”

Redskins fans will forgive the Rice fantasy for now. The part about beating the Cowboys? It’s rarely been more urgent than right now.

The NFC East rivals have met 105 times over 52 years. Some have been classics. Some have been duds. Twice they’ve met in the NFC championship game. Eight times they’ve met to end the regular season, including a 1961 Washington victory that kept the Redskins from going winless and the last NFL game at RFK Stadium in 1996.

Only once have they met in the final week with playoff implications for both teams. Dallas beat Washington 35-34 on Dec. 16, 1979, rallying from 13 points down in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes from Roger Staubach. The Cowboys finished 11-5 and won the NFC East. The Redskins dropped to 10-6 and stayed home.

Neither Morgan nor anyone else on either roster was alive for that game, so Sunday will be a new experience for all when the Redskins (9-6) and Cowboys (8-7) play winner-take-all for the division crown.

“You have to get up for this game more than any other game,” Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams said. “We’ve had to get up for all of them, but I think this one has a little special place.”

The Cowboys have to win to return to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Redskins, absent from the playoffs since 2007, could lose and still get a wild-card berth, but only if both the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings lose earlier in the day.

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