LANDOVER, Md. — Tony Romo’s fourth-down, game-winning pass to DeMarco Murray doesn’t erase the December stigma.
Because it won’t mean a thing unless the Dallas Cowboys can win one more.
The Cowboys (8-7) assured themselves of a winner-take-all matchup for the NFC East with a 24-23 victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins. Romo’s clutch fourth-quarter passes were caught by his teammates and not opponents, ending a two-game skid as well as a four-game losing streak in the year’s final month.
Now the Cowboys face a make-or-break, end-of-regular-season test for the third consecutive year. In 2011, they lost by 17 to the New York Giants. In 2012, they lost by 10 to the Redskins. Dallas finished 8-8 both times.
Next Sunday, they hope to avoid the dubious trifecta, playing the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) for the title. Unlike the last two, at least this one will be at home.
"We’re the only team that keeps getting themselves in position to win the NFC East every year — that’s a credit," Romo said. "It’s also a negative in the fact that we didn’t do it the last couple of years."
Still, for one day at least, Romo stymied his reputation for cooling off with the weather. He rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit. He scrambled several times to keep plays alive, including the 10-yard, last-chance pass to Murray that settled the game with 1:08 remaining.
"We just had to make a play," Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said. "Tony did a Houdini."
Here are five things of note — magic or otherwise — from Sunday’s game, the second consecutive one-pointer for both teams:
Romo melted down big-time the previous week against the Green Bay Packers, throwing two interceptions in the waning minutes as the Cowboys blew a 23-point lead. Against the Redskins, he had his worst moment when he threw a pick in the third quarter, leaving enough time for a comeback.
He also played much of the game with back pain, limping noticeably after a couple of plays in the fourth quarter.
"There’s a measure of vindication there," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said, "when he comes in and makes the plays."
DALLAS DOES D
The worst defense in the NFL had one of its best games of the season, holding the Redskins to 297 yards despite nearly running out of linebackers. It’s only the second time an opponent has failed to reach 300 against the Cowboys.
"It’s the same theme I’ve been talking about — being your best regardless of circumstances," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.
In a season full of lows for the Redskins (3-12) — who lost their seventh straight — receiver Pierre Garcon established a new high, breaking Hall of Famer Art Monk’s franchise record for most catches in a season by getting to 107 with a game to go.
Garcon eclipsed Monk with his 11th — and final — reception Sunday, a 19-yard gain on a pass from Kirk Cousins that came with about six minutes left in the third quarter. That gave Garcon one more catch than the 106 Monk had in 1984.
"It’s pretty cool, but with the season going on, it’s pretty hard to celebrate anything right now," said Garcon, a sixth-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts out of Division III Mount Union in 2008.
If the Cowboys had lost, much of the heat would have been pinned on Murray, who decided to try to make nothing into something by reversing field on third-and-goal at the 1 with less than two minutes to play. He lost 9 yards, making the decisive fourth down about 10 times harder than it needed to be.
"My first instinct was to try to make a play," Murray said. "I should’ve just eaten it there."
Never mind. Murray made the winning catch on the next play. He also ran for 96 yards, becoming the first Cowboys back to rush for 1,000 yards since Julius Jones in 2006.
Walking off the field for what is expected to be his last home game in the NFL, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher took a moment to wave to the fans.
Then, as if he couldn’t bear to peel off his uniform, Fletcher attended his news conference in full game regalia, right down to the grass-stained gloves.
Fletcher has played in all 255 regular-season games during his 16 years in the league — including 214 starts in a row, a record for a linebacker — and said No. 256 next week at the New York Giants might actually be less difficult psychologically than Sunday’s penultimate outing.
"This was the last time I could wear the burgundy and gold in front of the fans here," Fletcher said. "Next week, it’ll be emotional, but I think this one was more emotional."