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Seventh-Straight Victory Delivers NFC East

Posted Dec 30, 2012

Redskins RB Alfred Morris rumbles for 200 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense picks off Tony Romo three times to clinch the NFC East crown.

Redskins.com’s Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday Night’s Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField:

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The Redskins looked to cap off a miracle run with a victory lap tonight at home, in front of a national television audience, against a bitter division rival.  As Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall noted this week, there are easier roads to the playoffs, but no one could write a more exciting script.

Simply put, every positive step forward this season brought the Redskins to this point. However, anything short of victory tonight would ultimately seem disappointing, as the Redskins controlled their own path to the playoffs.  The game started out physically, and lived up the expectation of one of the greatest games in this rivalry’s history.

REVEALING MOMENT

Redskins running back Alfred Morris had his coming out party today, setting a new standard for excellence at running back in Washington. His third touchdown of the day came with 1:09 remaining in the fourth quarter and his team up by three points. It was the shortest of his runs on the day—one yard up the middle—but it sealed the biggest regular season team victory in FedExField history.

PLAY OF THE GAME

Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson dropped back in coverage late in the fourth quarter, before realizing that the lob pass from Tony Romo was underthrown. Positioning himself under the pass, Jackson had his fourth interception of the year, setting the Redskins offense up at the Dallas 25-yard line with under four minutes remaining in the game. The Redskins converted for the game-sealing touchdown.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Only 20 games ago, Redskins running back Alfred Morris was a surprise starter in Buffalo for the first preseason game of the year. More than 1,500 yards later, he is one of the top running backs in the league, the crown jewel in the NFL’s top rushing attack, and the top single-season rusher in Redskins history. Morris wasted little time in joining elite company in Washington, and did not disappoint today, gaining 200 yards on 33 carries. He busted off seven runs of greater than 10 yards today. His 1,613 yards on the season are the most by a rookie running back since Eric Dickerson rushed for 1,808 yards in 1983.

UNSUNG HERO

Redskins safety Reed Doughty has been the subject of criticism during his time in Washington, but each coaching staff he plays for loves him for his ability to play special teams and any position in the secondary. Doughty started 21 games in the last two seasons, including tonight in place of DeJon Gomes. After Madieu Williams was injured in the second quarter, Doughty and replacement Jordan Pugh took over.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

--Despite throwing for only 100 yards on nine completions, Robert Griffin III looked improved this week as the offense returned to the read option. Griffin III scrambled for 63 yards yards on the ground and found the end zone on the ground for the first time since Week 6. The Redskins had 20 rushing touchdowns between Griffin III and Morris this year.

--In another life, Redskins punter Sav Rocca was one of the best Aussie Rules football players to ever take the pitch in Australia.  Because of this experience, Rocca is not an average specialist, and relishes the rare opportunity for contact. He got two opportunities today, twice saving Dwayne Harris returns from being sure-touchdowns.  The first Cowboys drive ended with a Richard Crawford interception, and the second yielded a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The penalty hurt the Redskins, but it was better than yielding a touchdown, and Rocca did his job as the last defender.

--Redskins linebacker London Fletcher has played the entire second half of the season on a bad ankle, practicing in a limited capacity and showing up on gameday. Today was no exception, as he finished with nine tackles, two sacks and a pass defensed. Fletcher is the heart and soul of this defense even when he doesn’t register stats, but his performance tonight justified the respect he is shown.

--Rookie cornerback Richard Crawford continues to excel, both as punt returner and cornerback. His interception tonight kicked off a bad night for Tony Romo and kept the Cowboys off the scoreboard. This was his second takeaway in as many weeks and his first career interception.

--Santana Moss has earned the reputation as a Cowboys killer in his 12 seasons in the NFL. In 15 career games against Dallas, he has a career-high 84 receptions for 1,189 yards, by far his best production against any team. Moss has been a big-time player in some of the best Redskins-Cowboys games over the last decade. Even in a season when Moss has taken on a reduced role in the offense, his presence has never been more valuable.

-- With his first-half touchdown, Redskins running back Alfred Morris broke the rookie franchise mark for touchdowns (10), set by future Hall of Famer Charley Taylor in 1964. Individual accolades aside, Morris has scored seven touchdowns in the last four weeks, his best stretch of the season. If not for Robert Griffin III, Morris would be the talk of Washington, and remains a viable candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year.

--Crawford wasn't the only gem in the Redskins’ secondary, as cornerback Josh Wilson stepped up with another Romo interception. This was the Silver Spring-native’s second takeaway against the Cowboys this season, as he forced a fumble in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

--The Redskins' defense intercepted three passes on the day, two in the first half, quickly securing the team’s seventh multi-interception game of the season.  This is the most by the Redskins since 1999, the last time the Redskins hosted a home playoff game.

--Redskins kick returner Niles Paul has been inconsistent since taking over kick return duties, but made an impact in tonight’s game with his first long return of the season. Late in the fourth quarter, Paul helped in the battle for field position with a 48-yard return to the Redskins’ 46-yard line.

--Redskins receivers caught only half of Griffin III’s pass attempts, but were clutch in moments of need. Veteran receiver Pierre Garçon caught three passes for 46 yards, converting for a first down on each of his three catches tonight.

--Redskins safety Madieu Williams shook off an arm injury early in the game to lead the team in solo tackles, with eight. Williams may not have been slated as a full-time starter in training camp, but his consistent play at the back end of the defense is a major reason why the Redskins find themselves playoff-bound.

WHAT WENT WRONG

--Cowboys receiver/returner Dwayne Harris had a big day on the Redskins, logging a 112 return yards and a critical 25 yard reception on the first touchdown drive.  The Redskins have struggled against speed in recent weeks, most notably giving up a 69-yard touchdown to Cleveland Browns returner/receiver Travis Benjamin in Week 15.

--The Redskins’ struggles against tight ends have been masked by wins this season, but the defense struggled again this week against former All-Pro Jason Witten.  Coming into today’s game, Witten had 87 receptions for 1,004 yards and five touchdowns against the Redskins in 17 career games. He extended those numbers, hauling in seven receptions for 56 yards and the first touchdown of the game.

STATS GEEK

The Redskins led the NFL in rushing for the second half of the season, and rode a monster performance to their first NFL team rushing title since 1933. The Minnesota Vikings were the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL and finished with 2,634 yards, keyed by Adrian Peterson.

The Redskins also set the franchise team rushing mark, surpassing the 2,625 from 1983.

WHAT’S NEXT

With a win, the Redskins secured their first trip to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and will host the Seattle Seahawks at FedExField next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on FOX. As most fans will remember, the Redskins have had each of their last two playoff runs cut short in Seattle, but the Redskins will look to reap the benefits of the home team in this year’s game. The game will feature two rookie quarterbacks enjoying stellar seasons, with Robert Griffin III leading the Redskins against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

LAST WORD

Since the team’s Week 10 bye, the Redskins have found a calm, businesslike demeanor in their victories. Never pausing to celebrate more than 24 hours, the Redskins have won seven-straight thanks to an unparalleled focus on and off the field.

Tonight’s victory was the biggest victory of all because it put the Redskins in the playoffs for the first time in an NFL generation. Riding the rookie performances of Alfred Morris, Robert Griffin III, Richard Crawford and others, the Redskins swept their arch-rival in the ultimate do-or-die contest.

The Redskins are the NFC East Champions for the first time since 1999, and will look to continue their winning streak next Sunday at home. It may have seemed hard to believe when this team was 3-6 at the bye week, but this is starting to look like a team of destiny. With any luck, bigger wins are still to come.

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