Twelve months ago, the NFC East champion Cowboys visited the Redskins for the finale of the regular season and dismantled Washington in front of their home fans, who had already packed it in for an early offseason.
That scenario may seem familiar today in Arlington as the unlikely division champs wearing burgundy and gold visit town to put the 2015 Cowboys' season to rest. In a four-team division, Washington has managed to finish in last place six times in the last eight seasons. But those other two occasions -- 2012 and 2015 -- the Redskins won the NFC East. They will host a playoff game next week.
After starting 3-5 this season, Washington has found another gear. The Redskins are 5-2 over their last seven, having passed for 307 yards and scored 33 points on average in the five wins. Additionally, their opponents have an average of 26 minutes of possession time during that stretch.
Perhaps the biggest signing for the Redskins to ignite this season was hiring general manager Scot McCloughan, who now looks like a front-runner for executive of the year for putting a team on the field that surprised the division.
Let's examine three of the players he has brought in to help this turnaround season:
OLB Preston Smith
After snagging Brandon Scherff in the first round, it was vital that McCloughan find quality in the picks that were to follow. Early in the second round, the Redskins grabbed another pass-rushing end in Smith to add to Ryan Kerrigan and join last year's draft pick, Trent Murphy. The idea has worked wonderfully as Smith is consistently putting pressure on the quarterback and has seven sacks as a rookie to lead the 2015 draft class. At Mississippi State, he showed versatility to move around from position to position, but lacked that top-end athletic burst that would put him in the first round. But his relentless drive and arsenal of moves have him looking like another valuable piece to a Washington front that has become increasingly more difficult to handle.
WR Jamison Crowder
Oakland's Amari Cooper is surely the superstar to emerge early from the 2015 draft class at receiver, and when the dust settles there are many more that have a chance to be special. But, for value, the job Duke's Crowder has done from the fourth round is impressive. The question about Jamison was always going to be his size (5-8, 185), which is two inches shorter than his diminutive and explosive mate, DeSean Jackson. But Crowder appears to have many of the same characteristics as Jackson in fantastic catch skills out of the slot, electric return ability and a large helping of confidence. He ranks second for rookie receiver receptions and fifth for yards in the league, so his career already has an impressive start for someone passed over until pick No. 105 in last April's draft.
NT Terrance Knighton
Knighton was brought in to anchor the 3-4 and stand his ground on early downs. At more than 350 pounds, "Pot Roast" has played his best football in December and it has helped Washington's defense go on a run that has put the Redskins over the top. McCloughan did not break the bank in free agency, but instead targeted a few veterans to plug holes or improve depth, and Knighton fits both descriptions on a one-year deal after a fine few years in Denver. He is a massive load to deal with.