With pressure off, Cowboys top Redskins 44-17
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- Take the pressure off, and the Dallas Cowboys can handle the end of the regular season just fine.
The Cowboys prepped for the playoffs Sunday with a 44-17 win over the Washington Redskins, with DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant breaking a pair of prestigious franchise records along the way.
The result was impressive but meaningless for postseason purposes unless at least one game played later in the day ended in a tie.
The Cowboys (12-4) had clinched the NFC East a week earlier, their first playoff berth since 2009.
Win or lose against Washington, Dallas would get a first-round bye with losses by both Arizona and Seattle.
Nevertheless, coach Jason Garrett deployed his full complement of available resources, opting not to give Tony Romo's ailing back some extra rest nor to play it safe with Murray, who broke his hand two weeks ago. The Cowboys scored on their first five possessions to take a 27-7 lead, throwing in a successful onside kick along the way.
The past three Dallas seasons had ended with win-or-fail losses to NFC East rivals in the final weekend, yielding back-to-back-to-back 8-8 records that fueled more doubts about Romo as a big-game quarterback.
Romo has answered his critics with room to spare this season, entering Week 17 with one of the top season passer ratings of all time.
On Sunday, he completed 22 of 34 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. In December, he completed 75 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and one interception.
Romo's success this year is tied to that of Murray, the league's leading rusher. Murray rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries Sunday, passing Emmitt Smith for the team single-season mark on a 32-yard first-quarter run with a nice cutback that left safety Ryan Clark flat-footed at the line of scrimmage. Murray ends the season with 1,845 yards, bettering Smith's tally of 1,773 yards in 1995.
Also in the first quarter, Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Terrell Owens' team record of 15 set in 2007. The 65-yarder was a screen in which he juked cornerback David Amerson at the line of scrimmage and took off for the end zone.
Anthony Spencer returned a fourth-quarter fumble for a touchdown for the Cowboys, who went 8-0 on the road for the first time in team history.
Washington's Robert Griffin III capped a tumultuous year by completing 27 of 41 passes for a career-high 336 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, both in the Dallas red zone. He also lost the fumble that Spencer took 5 yards for a touchdown.
Griffin added a 2-yard score in the fourth quarter for the Redskins (4-12), who lost seven of eight to finish last in the division for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Griffin missed six games with a dislocated ankle and later was benched by first-year coach Jay Gruden, and the franchise's hopes for next year will likely hinge on whether the Gruden-Griffin partnership can win in Washington.
This Redskins season ended with 100 or so protesters outside the stadium contesting the team's nickname, the inside of the stadium well-populated by Cowboys fans as the game took on a preseason feel in the second half, and owner Dan Snyder hardly the picture of joy as he took it all in seated next to Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
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