Eyes on the (Consolation) Prize

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Back-stabbing, anonymous sources? Coaches with sinister agendas? Organizational turmoil? Pfffft. Who wants to talk about THAT stuff? It's Dallas Week!

A mere five minutes after the conclusion of Washington's 27-26 loss to Atlanta last Sunday, I found myself embroiled in a heated lukewarm argument with a fellow Redskins fan over the ending of the game.

"They are not trying to win.  Period.  Disrespectful to a loyal fanbase," he argued.

I pointed out the absurdity of his accusation, considering the fact that he lobbed it immediately following Washington's attempt of a game-winning two-point conversion in lieu of a tying PAT.

He insisted the Redskins - specifically, the Shanahans - "have an agenda," which apparently means they aren't "trying to win."

Then, I checked Twitter, where Steve Czaban (whom I like) and others were tossing more logs on the conspiracy-theory fire.  Czaban tweeted that the two-point conversion was part of a Shanahan plan forged out of "desperat[tion] to keep [the] daily narrative off of his failed regime."  The Post chimed in with the usual ode to dysfunction.  Jason La Canfora at CBS argued that the Redskins' problems are the result of "staff inexperience," citing a bunch of anonymous sources inside the organization who were only too happy to drag Kyle Shanahan and company further through the mud.

Never mind that a nearly identical coaching staff took Washington to the NFC title a year earlier, when it was even less-experienced.  Imagine that!

But this column isn't about that.  Quite the opposite.

I said last week that the gossipy, anonymously-sourced stories are the work of people who have to fill airtime and column space.  I understand it.  I don't enjoy or care about those stories, but I understand why they exist.

What I do care about, however, is that it's Dallas week.

If there is any modicum of dignity to be salvaged at the end of a season Redskins' fans would like to put behind them, it would be a home win over the reeling Cowboys.

Dallas is incredibly only 7-7, despite having the fourth-highest-scoring offense in the NFL and playing in a weak division (IN CASE YA HADN'T HEARD!!!).  The Cowboys are just 3-7 against teams outside the NFC East and are also coming off of a stunning home loss to the short-handed Packers, who trailed 26-3 at halftime.

Needless to say, Dallas would have its playoff hopes dealt a serious blow if the Redskins manage to win on Sunday.

Yes, Washington is reduced to a spoiler role, and fans are left to tether much of their rooting interest to the last refuge of the bitter sports fan: schadenfreude.

But helping to knock Dallas out of the playoffs - paving the way for a "lesser-of-two-evils" Philadelphia team to win the division - would be a little joyous, wouldn't it?

As bad as things have gotten in Washington, there is still reason to believe the Redskins can have a playoff contender in 2014.  At least I believe that.  Most of the Redskins' best players are young.  The division, as mentioned above (and 5,283 other times this year), doesn't include any dominant teams.  My feeling is that a change at the coordinator level or higher could be enough to get this team refocused and competitive.  And let's not forget the teensy-weensy problem that Robert Griffin III was never healthy.  If nothing else, at least he should be back to 100% in 2014.

Dallas has a much different problem.

The Cowboys are perceived - fairly or unfairly - as a team talented enough to win, but unable to do so in the most important situations.  Tony Romo is perceived - fairly or unfairly - as a quarterback who falls apart when his team needs him most.  Jason Garrett is perceived - fairly or unfairly - as a once-talented play-caller who has been molded into an ineffectual, well-groomed puppet of meddlesome owner Jerry Jones (with no play-calling duties or job security to show for it).

There's also more of a sense of urgency (read: panic) with the Cowboys, as every 2012 Pro Bowler will be over 30 by next season.  And Romo will be 34.

A Washington win over Dallas would do about as much good as is possible at this point in a 3-11 season.  To summarize:

1. It would make it very difficult for second-place Dallas to make the playoffs after falling to 7-8.  In fact, if Philly wins, the Cowboys would be eliminated.

2. It would end the embarrassment of being winless in the worst division in football.

3. It would send London Fletcher out with a victory in what is "99% certain" to be his final home game.  No one deserves it more.

4. It would shift the national spotlight and scrutiny from Washington to Dallas, at least for a week.  That would be a nice respite for all of us exhausted by the increasingly-TMZ-esque focus on the Redskins' internal machinations, real and imagined.

5. It would continue to increase the trade value of Kirk Cousins, who would clearly have to play well for the Redskins to have any chance against the high-scoring Cowboys.

6. Even without any of the above, beating Dallas is enough in and of itself.  You don't need any other reasons.

So, let's keep our focus where it belongs.  Not on arguments over whether the Redskins' coaching staff is actually trying to tank games, or whether Dan Snyder is evil incarnate, or whether Robert Griffin's dad is going to be the Redskins' next head coach, but on the Dallas Cowboys.

Beating Dallas would be the best we can hope for in Week 16 of a year we'd rather forget.  But at least a win over the Cowboys could provide us with one enduring, positive memory from an otherwise-atrocious season.

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