Cowboys & Indians, With Meaning

contest with Mark Brunell touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards to Santana Moss in the final four minutes to wipe out the Cowboys' rather dominating, 13-0 lead. Bill Parcells vs. Joe Gibbs, the veteran coaches hooking up in a game of consequence once again. Two veteran quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe vs. Brunell.  

And least of which, the game being played in the nation's capital, er, almost, where the Cowboys' buses heading to the stadium on Sunday will encounter many a single-finger salute from the Redskins faithful. Some even double-barrel from that rabid bunch. 

But hey, the Redskins haven't been 7-6 since Norv Turner got fired in 2000 the week of the Cowboys game, and as Redskins guard Randy Thomas discovered early in the week, "I go to McDonald's and people are talking about the Dallas game. They're not talking about the game we just won." 

Heck no. That's ancient history. This is Cowboys Week, and for that first time since 1992, there are playoff implications on the line for both teams. 

"In my book," said Cowboys guard Marco Rivera, "the playoffs are here now. We need to go to the Redskins and win, or there is no playoffs." 

Now there might not be quite that much finality involved in this game for the Cowboys because who knows how all the other games involving playoffs contenders these final three weeks will turn out. But it's close. Real close. 

Cowboys lose, the odds are seriously against them overtaking the Giants for the NFC East title. A loss would drop the Cowboys' division record to 3-3. The Giants will finish no worse than 4-2. And since the two teams split their head-to-head games, division record is the next tiebreaker. So for the Cowboys to even have a chance at winning the division under this scenario, the Giants would have to lose their final three games. Good luck with all that. 

As bad, if not worse: Lose to the Redskins, and the Cowboys, who would be tied with Washington at 8-6, now would be on the short end of the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Skins since they beat the Cowboys the first time around, 14-13. They would have to finish a game better than the Redskins, or else. 

And this doesn't even account for the other wild-card contenders: Minnesota, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and who knows, possibly every one of those nine NFC teams with at least seven victories - other than Seattle. Because certainly Chicago has nothing cinched in the NFC North. 

So for practical purposes, Rivera has a pretty good book. 

All this then to be accentuated by Cowboys and Indians, that feud that began in 1960 the minute the Cowboys stepped foot in the NFL, and was fueled by the Washington-based cronies of Cowboys original owner Clint Murchison and such characters as George Allen and Diron Talbert and Harvey Martin and Dennis Thurman and Joe Theismann and Randy White. 

So big rivals? Now this one won't be quite like those in the good, ol' days. These are not the same players playing against each other year after year after year. But don't you worry, those Redskins fans will make sure the Redskins understand this rivalry. And the Cowboys, well, as Bledsoe says, he sees a difference "in terms of the attention" the game is receiving this week. 

Must-win? You bet, because of the playoff implications. 

Big Game? Don't even ask. 

But then, win or lose, guarantee you next Saturday's game at Carolina will become even bigger.   

MICK SHOTS

   
  This will be only the second time in the past 10 games the Cowboys aren't facing an offense currently ranked among the top 12 in the NFL. Washington is 14th. But look here, the Cowboys have played nine of their 13 games against teams currently ranked at least 12th offensively, including No. 1 Kansas City, No. 2 Seattle, No. 6 Denver, No. 7 Giants (twice), No. 8 San Diego, No. 11 Arizona and No. 12 Philadelphia. And they still have No. 9 St. Louis to go. The Cowboys are 6-3 in those nine games. 
  You realize the

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