Cowboys vs. Redskins: Washington's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 17
Beat the Cowboys, win the division.
One game to bring the NFC playoff picture into full focus, and the Washington Redskins did not wilt under the bright lights. An offensive attack led by two rookies, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, toppled America's former team to earn the NFC East crown, a playoff berth and a home game to start the postseason.
There is nothing quite like bidding farewell to 2012 with a victory over the Cowboys, a division title and a chance to defy the odds once again.
No victory is perfect, but nitpicking seems moot in the wake of such a flourish to finish the regular season. Here are the winners and losers for the 'Skins from their 28-18 victory over Dallas.
Winner: London Fletcher
Nothing can stop London Fletcher, not even time. At 37 years of age, Fletcher shouldn't be putting together 130-plus tackles in a season or setting career highs in interceptions (5), let alone turning in two huge sacks on Tony Romo and spending more than a few plays hounding him out of the pocket.
Fletcher got to Romo early, and when he couldn't get to him, he was on his tail. When he wasn't on his tail, he was a lucky bounce away from catching his sixth interception.
It is almost scary to think about how much better Fletcher would be if he wasn't battling an ankle injury, among other things.
Winner: Rob Jackson
When the Redskins needed it most, and since the story all season long has been the absence of noted playmakers Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, Rob Jackson came up with a huge interception that led to the third rushing touchdown for Morris and proved to be the nail in the coffin for Dallas' playoff hopes.
Jackson had four interceptions on the season, but none more important, nor at a more critical time in a game, than the one in this game.
Romo and Co. had just orchestrated a short, but pivotal drive culminating in a touchdown and successful two-point conversion to cut the lead to three before Jackson stepped in front of Romo's pass, which was forced by great pressure up the middle.
Winner: Offensive Line
Before the season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Redskins offensive line. It was a fairly ragtag group of starters: one young stud coming off of a drug suspension, a couple of castoffs in the middle and no real right tackle to speak of.
Sixteen games and 2,435 rushing yards later, and no one is questioning whether Washington's offensive line can cut it against the NFL's toughest fronts.
They owe a lot to Mike Shanahan's patented zone-blocking scheme, but even a perfect scheme is only as good as the guys in the trenches executing. For a unit that got no respect before this season, they certainly earned it by paving the way for Morris and Griffin to the tune of 263 yards and four touchdowns.
Winner: DeAngelo Hall
I've been very critical of DeAngelo Hall throughout this season. He has been a liability both in coverage and when it comes to penalties, but in the biggest game of the season, he showed up against the red-hot Dez Bryant-Tony Romo tandem.
Bryant caught four passes for 71 yards, but Hall played him tight, kept the play in front of him and held him scoreless before he left the game with a back issue.
There's still plenty of room left for Hall to spoil his performance against the Cowboys, but for now, he's earned some respect for finally putting up and shutting up.
Winner: Alfred Morris
From the first snap, Robert Griffin III didn't look quite right. At halftime, he had just five completions on 11 attempts for 43 yards, and ran in a less-than-explosive fashion for 21 yards.
Alfred Morris picked up the slack with 92 yards and a touchdown at halftime, simultaneously putting the crowd back into the game and tying the score at seven.
With Griffin still out of sync with his receivers and unable to make plays with his arm or legs, Morris took control of the game, carrying the ball a total of 33 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Morris finished the season as the NFL's second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson.
Morris took possession of the Redskins' single-season rushing record, previously held by Clinton Portis, and also took hold of a spirited crowd that ended up chanting for Morris instead of RGIII.
The Redskins defense deserves all the credit in the world for their performance against Dallas. For a unit that had given up 300-plus passing yards eight times this season, it is a huge day to hold an explosive offense like the Cowboys to 296 net total yards.
Forcing three turnovers and getting a pair of sacks on Romo don't begin to explain the impact the 'Skins defense had on the game.
If it wasn't Fletcher bursting through the middle of the line on a blitz, it was Josh Wilson on a delayed blitz off the edge or Perry Riley getting a big hit as Romo released the ball. The Redskins defense brought the kind of pressure Jim Haslett was supposed to be able to bring With Orakpo in the mix, and he did it with aggressive calls and persistence rather than prudence late in the game.
Hats off to Haslett and the defense!
The Redskins are NFC East champions after winning seven games in a row, finishing the season with a 5-1 division record, their best since 2005, when they won five in a row to finish the season and make it into the playoffs.
There are no losers, except for the Dallas Cowboys.