October 22, 2014

Even though his Washington Redskins can't improve their playoff position, coach Jay Gruden insists he won't just sit starters in the regular-season finale.

At the same time, he doesn't want to lose key players heading into the playoffs.

That's the quandary facing Gruden as the visiting Redskins look to extend their longest winning streak in three years Sunday against the banged-up Dallas Cowboys.

After six last-place finishes over the previous seven years, including a 4-12 showing last season, surprising Washington (8-7) clinched its fifth trip to the postseason in two decades with a 38-24 win at Philadelphia on Saturday.

The Redskins have come alive offensively behind Kirk Cousins, averaging 32.3 points and 407.7 yards during a three-game winning streak that's their longest since a seven-game run that led to their last division title in 2012.

Selected in the fourth round of the draft prior to that season, Cousins has thrown for 285.6 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and three interceptions as the team has won six of nine. He's posted a career-high three straight 300-yard efforts and has tossed eight TDs without a pick in his last two.

Cousins threw for six touchdowns and eight interceptions during a 2-4 start.

''I'm very satisfied to see how the tables have turned,'' Cousins said. ''Now we look forward and say, `Where can we go from here?' and `How high can we take it?'''

Tight end Jordan Reed has played a major role as Cousins' top target with 25 receptions for 333 yards and five touchdowns during the winning streak.

With the Redskins (8-7) locked into a home game in the wild-card round, Gruden says he's started getting ready for possible playoff matchups. He's trying to balance resting some hurting starters with the desire to keep his club rolling heading into the postseason.

Reed is among the many banged-up Redskins with a sore shoulder. Right tackle Morgan Moses is nursing a foot injury, receiver DeSean Jackson has been playing through a knee issue and running back Matt Jones has a hip injury.

''There's a couple of different ways to look at this," Gruden said. "It's important for us to be healthy come playoff time but also to have some kind of momentum going in. I'd like to end (the regular season) on a four-game winning streak."

Washington is also looking to avoid getting swept by the rival Cowboys for the fourth time in seven years following a 19-16 home loss in Week 13. After Jackson's tying touchdown catch with 44 seconds remaining, Matt Cassel led Dallas on a drive that was capped by Dan Bailey's 54-yard field goal with four seconds left.

The Cowboys (4-11) limited Cousins to 219 yards and one touchdown while sacking him three times. They're fifth in the NFL in pass defense at 223.0 yards per game.

Dallas was in the thick of the division race after the December meeting, but has since fallen out of contention while totaling 29 points in three straight defeats. It's on the verge of its worst finish since going 1-15 in 1989.

''I think you have to have convictions about what you're doing,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''Those convictions won't be shaken at all by the result - good, bad or indifferent. You're always trying to grow and evolve and get better.''

Cassel was benched in favor of Kellen Moore in the second quarter of 19-16 home loss to the New York Jets in Week 15. Moore, the fourth quarterback to start for the Cowboys, will get another opportunity after going 13 of 31 for 186 yards and one interception in last Sunday's 16-6 loss at Buffalo.

Moore won't have Dez Bryant again as the star receiver is expected to have ankle surgery and another procedure on the right foot he broke in the season opener. Bryant played in eight straight games before sitting out against the Bills.

Darren McFadden was limited to 53 yards on 14 carries against the Redskins, but he's totaled 310 on 7.0 per carry over the past three games. He needs three for his first 1,000-yard season since 2010 with Oakland.

Washington ranks 26th against the run, allowing 124.1 yards per game. However, it held Philadelphia to 45 on the ground for its second-best total of the season.

The Redskins have won two of their past three at Dallas, the most recent a 20-17 overtime victory Oct. 27, 2014.

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