Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) scores a touchdown on a pass (that was reviewed and ruled a touchdown) as Washington cornerback David Amerson (39) tries to defend in the first quarter as the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Dec. 28. Washington Post photo by John McDonnell)
JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — DeMarco Murray passed Emmitt Smith with a change-of-direction that left a safety flat-footed.
Dez Bryant moved ahead of Terrell Owens by getting the left tiptoe down in the end zone, a touchdown that didn’t count until the replay showed what a superb catch it was.
And Tony Romo? How about a 4-0 month that might help dispel the notion that the Dallas Cowboys can’t be a December team.
The Cowboys prepped for the playoffs Sunday with a 44-17 win over the Washington Redskins, with Murray and Bryant breaking a pair of prestigious franchise records along the way and the team as a whole maintaining momentum heading into its first postseason appearance since 2009.
“Right before people’s eyes,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “we have basically torn it up in December.”
That’s a change of pace from recent history, when Dallas capped three consecutive season 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.
Sunday’s game didn’t have the same magnitude. The result mattered only if at least one of the later games ended in a tie, which didn’t happen. The Cowboys would have also received a first-round bye with losses by both Arizona and Seattle, but that didn’t happen, either. Instead, they will host Detroit next Sunday.
With the pressure off for the game against the Redskins, Dallas (12-4) did just fine — and didn’t pack it in. The Cowboys went 8-0 on the road for the first time in team history.
“I’ve been speaking on it the whole year, we’ve got to grow and mature,” Dallas defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “It’s clear as day these seeds are turning into flowers, and I’m happy, man. Coach is going to continue to give us sunshine and rain, and we’ll be all right.”
Coach Jason Garrett deployed his full complement of available resources, opting not to give 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.
Romo played nearly the entire game, completing 22 of 34 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. For the month, he completed 75 percent with 12 touchdowns and one interception, and his 114.4 season passer rating is sixth best in NFL history.
Romo has a 1-3 career record in the playoffs. Asked what’s different this time, he said: “I’m different, so I’m excited about that aspect. I’m a different player than I was — now you got to go out and do it.”
Murray rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, passing Smith for the team single-season mark on a 32-yard first-quarter run with a nice move in front of safety Ryan Clark. Murray ends the season with 1,845 yards, bettering Smith’s 1,773 yards in 1995.
Also in the first quarter, Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards to give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Owens’ team record of 15 set in 2007. The 65-yarder was a screen in which Bryant juked cornerback David Amerson at the line of scrimmage and took off for the end zone.
After the game, Bryant was less concerned about his record and more focused on giving props to Romo. Bryant made a “Shhh!” gesture aimed at the quarterback’s critics.
“That man showed his (butt) in December,” Bryant said. “And I give it to him.”
Robert Griffin III capped a tumultuous year for the Redskins (4-12) 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 Anthony Spencer took 5 yards for a touchdown.
Griffin missed six games this season 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.
“I want to be here to help this team win, to help turn this thing around and change the culture,” Griffin said. “If coach Jay and the organization wants me to be around, I’ll be ready to go.”
The Redskins lost seven of eight to finish last in the division for the sixth time in seven seasons.
This season ended with 100 or so protesters outside the stadium condemning 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.
“We need to change a lot,” Gruden said. “I honestly think if you don’t change something, you’re probably going to get the same results.”
Notes: Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens left with a right ankle injury in the second quarter, and DT Henry Melton suffered a knee injury. … The Redskins lost three linemen: T Trent Williams (high ankle sprain), T Tom Compton (knee sprain) and G Chris Chester (sprained toe), forcing TE Logan Paulsen to line up at tackle late in the game.