LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Well aware that his Washington Redskins entered recent Decembers with nothing to play for, DeAngelo Hall figured a little in-your-face motivational material couldn’t hurt now that the team is in position to pursue a playoff berth.
So Hall grabbed some sheets of paper posted in meeting rooms at Redskins Park and taped them up in the locker room.
One, aimed at Monday night’s game against visiting Dallas, had the word “Cowboys” in capital letters and read: “They have the BEST Offensive Line in the NFL. ... and the best Left Offensive Tackle.”
Another, related to the previous week’s opponent, was a photocopy of a New York tabloid page featuring the headline: “Giants set sights on outlasting weak foes.”
“I just felt like we needed to see it,” Hall said. “Going into meetings and seeing it, that’s one thing. But to be in your comfort zone in the locker room and looking at it, that’s a little different. Just a friendly reminder.”
Coming off a victory over those Giants, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins (5-6) entered this week surprisingly atop the lackluster NFC East, while the Cowboys (3-8) are in last place and minus their franchise quarterback, Tony Romo.
“When the games mean something in the standings, it’s just a whole new sense of joy, sense of pride, sense of urgency, really,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “The past two years, we weren’t playing for anything in the standings at this point in the season.”
Washington is trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season, but has five consecutive home victories.
Dallas, meanwhile, has not won a game without the injured Romo, and will have Matt Cassel at QB instead Monday.
And yet, to hear the Cowboys tell it, they matter. Tight end Jason Witten referred to his team as “still in the hunt.” Defensive end Jeremy Mincey declared: “We’re definitely capable of being contenders.”
Washington finished last in six of the past seven years. The last two seasons? The Redskins went 3-13 and 4-12.
Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams described those Decembers as “miserable,” calling the locker room “dead.”
“It was a dark place to be,” Williams said, “to know that you come into work for a whole month, month and a half, knowing that the games were basically meaningless.”
Here are other things to know about Monday’s game:
DESEAN’S ROLE: One key for the Redskins is a healthy DeSean Jackson; he missed practice Saturday with an upper-respiratory illness and was listed as probable. His speed can lead to long TD passes — he had a 63-yarder against the Giants — and forces defenses to account for him at all times. “He’ll jog right by you,” Washington CB Will Blackmon said, “so you have to play deep, which opens things up for everyone else.”
OH, BROTHER: Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s brother, Jon, will announce the game on ESPN. And afterward, Jon, who coached Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title, might have a thought or two for Jay. “He offers any advice that I ask for, but he doesn’t really seek me out to tell me I should’ve done this or should’ve done that,” Jay said. “He just has been very supportive.”
WATCHING ROMO: Cassel, 33, was pressed into the starting job three weeks after arriving from Buffalo in a trade because the Cowboys didn’t think Brandon Weeden was the answer as Romo’s replacement. Cassel learned by watching Romo prepare during the star’s brief time healthy. “The little nuances to it or the cadences,” Cassel said, “the simple things that he does at the line of scrimmage.”
HEALING TIME: During the extended break after losing to Carolina on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys went from 15 players on the injury report to three. WR Dez Bryant is still on there — but was listed as a full practice participant for one of the few times this season. “This is the best I ever felt ... since I’ve been back playing,” said Bryant, who missed five games with a broken right foot.
COACHES-IN-LAW: Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is the father-in-law of Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry. “We’re not going to talk until after the game,” Barry said. When Marinelli was asked whether there’s anything special about Washington’s DC, he deadpanned: “I’m not quite sure who that is.”