LANDOVER, Md. -- As his teammates celebrated a thrilling victory over a hated opponent, Jason Witten sprinted over to his coach and gave Jason Garrett a long, tight hug.
The emotion was pure.
Their embrace spoke to a season filled with emotional highs and lows. It spoke to the relief of winning because a loss coupled with a Philadelphia win would've ended their season.
And it spoke to the love and respect the men have for each other after the Cowboys rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit.
"To win a game like that is what it's all about," Witten said. "He and I are part of a core group that's put a lot of emotion into these games. There's a lot of dialogue and communication and you just love him as a head coach."
Dallas 24, Washington 23.
Well, the Cowboys find themselves in a win-and-get-in playoff situation for the third consecutive season. Two years ago, the New York Giants ended their season. Last year, Washington did it.
Each of those games was on the road. Sunday's game against Philadelphia is at AT&T Stadium. What else could the Cowboys want?
Get it done. No excuses.
Besides, losing will have dire consequences. Everyone at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex understands jobs and careers will be impacted by the result of Sunday's game.
The difference between 9-7 and 8-8 is as wide as the chasm between liberals and Tea Party conservatives.
Beat the Eagles and the Cowboys will make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and Garrett will have tangible evidence of the Cowboys' improvement.
Lose and the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has happened since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. If that happens, no one will be surprised if Jerry fires Garrett and his entire staff.
The Cowboys' season still has meaning because the $100 million quarterback redeemed himself for last week's debacle against Green Bay -- when the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead -- and led the Cowboys on a game-winning 85-yard drive.
The playoffs remain a possibility because DeMarco Murray, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season on Sunday, overcame one of the dumbest plays you'll ever see a good player make with a 10-yard touchdown catch on fourth down with 1:08 left in the game.
And the defense, pathetic much of the season, held an opponent to fewer than 300 yards for just the third time this season.
Ordinarily, these kind of dramatics aren't required to beat a team that enters the game with a 3-11 record and six consecutive losses. These Cowboys, though, rarely do anything easily.
The Cowboys needed Romo to deliver yet another game-winning drive in the fourth quarter because of their third-quarter ineptitude. FYI: Since 2011, Romo has a league-leading 12 fourth-quarter, game-winning drives.
Leading 14-6 at halftime, the Cowboys' three third-quarter drives ended with a fumble, an interception and a three-and-out. One play into the fourth quarter, Washington led 23-14.
That's usually when Garrett and playcaller Bill Callahan panic and abandon the running game. This time they didn't.
Murray carried eight times for 26 yards on the 15-play, 73-yard drive that took 8:47 and resulted in a 25-yard field goal by Dan Bailey that pulled the Cowboys within 23-17.
Then the defense finally made a play after allowing scoring drives on 13 of its last 14 second-half possessions. Orlando Scandrick deflected a third-down pass, forcing a punt.
All Romo needed to do was drive the Cowboys 85 yards in 3:39 and his fourth-quarter interception against Green Bay would be forgotten. A gimpy Romo, who tweaked his back in the first half, needed only six plays to move to the Washington 1.
On third-and-goal from the 1, Murray headed off left guard. Washington stuffed the play and Murray tried to reverse field. You can't do that at the goal line with the season on the line.
Washington tackled him for a 9-yard loss, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 10.
Romo found Murray in the right flat, and the running back maneuvered his way into the corner of the end zone, igniting a wild celebration on the Cowboys' sideline. Bailey's extra point gave the Cowboys a one-point lead.
After the game, Garrett wanted to talk about his club's mental toughness and its resolve. The Cowboys are 5-0 in the NFC East, and if they beat Philadelphia, they'll win their first division title since 2009.
If that happens, the players will put on commemorative T-shirts and hats and bask in the glory of their triumph. No one will care that about the NFC East being one of the league's worst divisions.
"A core group of us have been in this situation a couple of times before, and we've come up short," Witten said. "It doesn't mean the third time is the charm. We have to exhaust ourselves in our preparation this week and then come out and play our best football.''
If the Cowboys can do that, Witten and Garrett will share another long hug Sunday.