December 24, 2014

Thanks to the Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys believe they are still in the NFC East race.

The way Kirk Cousins is playing at home, that may no longer be the case soon.

Cousins has been nearly flawless during a five-game home win streak heading into Monday night's matchup against a visiting Cowboys team that will once again be without Tony Romo.

Dallas (3-8) will play for the first time since last Thursday's 33-14 loss to Carolina in which Romo suffered a small fracture in the same collarbone that had already sidelined him for seven games. That means Matt Cassel will start Monday.

The Cowboys have lost every game Romo did not start, with Brandon Weeden going 0-3 before Cassel dropped his four starts. Dallas will not place Romo on season-ending injured reserve since it's only two games out of first place.

''It's part of our message to provide perspective,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''Often times you have to provide a perspective about where we are, where we are, where we want to go and how we want to do it. So that certainly will be part of the message."

The reason the last-place Cowboys are so close to first is that Washington (5-6) won 20-14 over the New York last Sunday to forge a tie for the division lead. A Giants victory would have left Dallas three games back and given New York a one-game lead and the tiebreaker over Washington.

Instead, the Redskins, who have finished last in six of the past seven seasons, are in control of their destiny in the East.

''I'm proud of the team to be in this position, how hard they worked, how much they've overcome from a week-to-week basis," coach Jay Gruden said. "Overall, we have a lot of work to do, obviously, and we're going to continue to get better. That's our goal.''

The Redskins are riding their longest single-season home win streak since 1991 thanks in large part to Cousins, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns with no interceptions and posted a 76.0 completion percentage and 121.2 passer rating in his last five home games.

Cousins was 20 of 29 for 302 yards with a 63-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson last Sunday. He also found tight end Jordan Reed eight times for a season-high 98 yards.

"He's an elite tight end," said Cousins, second in the NFL with a 68.4 completion percentage. "He's the real deal as an receiver. As long as he's here, we'll feature him and try to get him the football."

Cousins has only been sacked 11 times and wasn't dropped last week. The Redskins, though, will have their hands full with end Greg Hardy, who has a team-high 4 1/2 sacks.

"He's a great player," said left tackle Trent Williams, who will draw the primary assignment on Hardy. "He jumps out on film all the time, he's very disruptive. He's a strong guy with a lot of athleticism."

The Cowboys also expect cornerback Morris Claiborne to return after missing two games because of hamstring and ankle injuries.

Cassel has thrown for 809 yards in his four starts and was 13 for 19 for 93 yards and a TD his last time out in relief of Romo.

''He came in, had to learn quickly, had to learn during the season,'' Garrett said. ''So there's a lot of things you're kind of catching up on when you come into a football team at that position at that time.''

With Romo out for the majority of the season, Dallas has the fewest completions of at least 20 yards in the league with 24. Washington is fifth-worst with 31.

It's difficult to know what to expect out of Darren McFadden, whose rushing yardage totals in his last four games are 117, 32, 129 and 11.

Dallas is last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-12 and turnovers forced with seven.

Gruden said that he will allow Jackson to return more punts in this game after the receiver served in that role for the first time last Sunday.

''We'll see a little bit more of him. I think he's a great punt returner. I mean, historically,'' Gruden said.

These rivals split their 2014 meetings, with Dallas winning 44-17 on the road Dec. 28 for its fifth win in seven games at FedEx Field.

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