On a night when rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris led the Washington Redskins to the top of the NFC East, team owner Dan Snyder sought out a long-suffering veteran during the postgame celebration.
"He said you've known how it's felt around here the last seven years," defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "So this is a sweet time."
The Redskins are division champions for the first time since 1999, beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-18 Sunday in a winner-take-all end to the NFL's regular season. Washington (10-6) has won seven straight games and will host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday.
How long ago was 1999? It was six Redskins head coaches ago.
"I've been here for the 4-12, the bad times, almost being the joke of the NFL," said Golston, who came along in 2006. "But to do this with this group of guys — the old and the new — it's good to be here."
Certainly, Sunday night was mostly about the new. Morris, the out-of-nowhere sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, ran for 200 yards and had touchdown runs of 17, 32 and 1 yards. He was so dominant that the Cowboys — missing their five best run defenders due to injuries — fell hook, line and sinker nearly every time the Redskins faked the ball to him.
Morris finished with 1,613 yards for the year, breaking Clinton Portis' franchise single-season record of 1,516 in 2005. By the end of the game, the fans who usually chant "R-G-3!" for Griffin were trying out a new chorus: "Alf-red Mor-ris!"
"I'll tell you what: Alfred Morris became a star tonight," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "He deserved it. He's a phenomenal football player."
To which Morris answered: "I'm never a star. I'll never be a star. Other people might think I'm a star, but I'm just Alfred."
Griffin, seeking to regain his explosiveness after spraining his right knee four weeks ago, ran for 63 yards and a touchdown. With the running game working so well, he didn't have to throw much, completing just 9 of 18 passes for 100 yards.
"Move the chains," Griffin said. "That's all they asked me to do."
Washington is the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 to make the playoffs since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.
The Cowboys (8-8), meanwhile, will miss the playoffs for the third straight season, having stumbled in a make-or-break end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.
"We have to look where we are within our division and see exactly how to approach a team with the good players like they've got and a good coach like they've got," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "And we have a big challenge ahead of us. They are, of course, in the tournament, and we have to sit at home and think about how to get in the tournament. This is very disappointing."
Tony Romo threw three interceptions — matching his total from the last eight games combined. A poor throw was picked off by Rob Jackson when the Cowboys had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final minutes.
"I feel as though I let our team down," Romo said.
Romo completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards, and his career is now further tainted by post-Christmas disappointments, including Week 17 losses to the Philadelphia Eagles (44-6) in 2008 and the New York Giants (31-14) last year. He's also 1-3 in playoff games.
"Your legacy will be written when you're done playing the game," Romo said. "And when it's over with, you'll look back. ... It's disappointing not being able to get over that hump."
The Cowboys also dealt with in-game injuries to receivers Miles Austin (left ankle), Dez Bryant (back) and Dwayne Harris (lower leg). Bryant, who had a torrid second half of the season despite breaking his left index finger, had four catches for 71 yards.
Washington's slow start this season prompted coach Mike Shanahan to dismiss playoff hopes and declare that the remaining seven games would determine which players would be on his team "for years to come."
Griffin and his teammates had other plans, and the coach quickly changed his tune. Now the Redskins will be playing in January.
"All odds were against us," Morris said. "But we believed in each other."
NOTES: Griffin set two more NFL rookie records. His 102.4 passer rating topped Ben Roethlisberger's 98.1 in 2004, and his 1.3 percentage of passes intercepted is better than Charlie Batch's 1.98 in 1998. Griffin had already set the league mark for rushing yards by a rookie QB (815). ... Washington also set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season with 14, fewer even than the 1982 team that played only nine regular-season games because of a players strike. ... The Redskins will be playing a third consecutive playoff game against the Seahawks. They lost at Seattle as a wild card team in the 2005 and 2007 seasons.
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