LANDOVER, Maryland — There was no mailing it in, no resting the starters. This edition of the Dallas Cowboys had worked too hard to end the regular season with another clunker, even if the result had no bearing on the playoff picture.
The Cowboys played to win and did so emphatically, beating the Washington Redskins 44-17 Sunday to cap a 12-4 season that firmly puts to rest the 8-8s of the last three years.
"I think for a core group of us that kind of took it on the chin for the last three years, we knew we had to go do it," tight end Jason Witten said. "And it wasn't about anybody else but us and going and proving that."
The Cowboys will host the Detroit Lions (11-5) next Sunday in the wild-card round, their first playoff appearance since 2009. There had been a slim chance of a first-round bye had other results on Sunday gone their way, but they'll more than settle for a 4-0 December in which they won every game by double digits.
Owner Jerry Jones told a story from his childhood when asked about his team's recent late-season miseries. He said when he spilled something his father would say: "Jerry, you're going through the clumsy stage" — even if it was only an isolated incident and not any worse than anything he had done previously. It's hard, he concluded, to break a reputation.
"When you get those characteristics of faltering or fading in December, there's not but one way to cure it," Jones said. "It's when you need to grow right before people's eyes. Now this one should be in the vision of a lot of fans and media for a long time to come: Right before peoples' eyes, we have basically torn it up in December."
Here's more to know about Dallas' biggest win in the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry in 11 years:
RECORDS FOR DeMARCO & DEZ: DeMarco Murray ran for 100 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries to break Emmitt Smith's franchise single-season rushing mark. Murray ends the season with 1,845 yards, bettering Smith's 1,773 in 1995. Murray passed Smith during a 32-yard first-quarter run that included a nice change-of-direction in front of safety Ryan Clark.
It was also Murray's 12th 100-yard game this season, breaking another team mark held by Smith.
Also in the first quarter, Dez Bryant caught scoring passes of 65 and 23 yards to give him 16 touchdown receptions on the season, breaking Terrell 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.
ROMO'S MONTH: Tony Romo completed 22 of 34 passes for 299 yards with 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.
SMOOTH ROAD: The Cowboys became the sixth team with an 8-0 regular-season road record since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. Four of the other five advanced to the Super Bowl.
COWBOYS INJURIES: Linebacker Anthony Hitchens left with a right ankle injury in the second quarter. Jones said it was a high ankle sprain — which often can sideline a player for several weeks — but the owner added that "it may not be that serious of an injury." Defensive tackle Henry Melton suffered a knee injury.
ROTTEN REDSKINS: The Redskins (4-12) lost seven of eight and finished last in the NFC East for the sixth time in seven seasons. This year 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," first-year coach Jay Gruden said. "I honestly think if you don't change something, you're probably going to get the same results."
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