AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) -- During a career spanning nearly 14 seasons -- most of them extremely painful -- with the Browns, kicker Phil Dawson has only experienced a handful of home games in December that have meant something.
The list is short.
But Sunday's game against Washington is on it, and not just because it may be Dawson's last in Cleveland.
The Browns, after a 0-5 start, are playing for more than pride and paychecks. With three straight wins, they've got faint playoff hopes and need a win over the Redskins to keep them alive.
Cleveland has made the playoffs just once since 1999, when Dawson was unproven and had a full head of hair.
"Usually by now all the talk is about the stuff that goes on off the field," Dawson said, "but the conversation has revolved around winning a football game in December. That's refreshing."
The Redskins, too, are fighting for the postseason and will be without rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is sidelined with a sprained right knee.
On Saturday night, the Redskins surprisingly announced that the dynamic RG3, with a blend of speed and charisma rarely seen in the NFL, will not start Sunday after spraining his knee last week when he was tackled after a 13-yard scramble in the closing minutes of regulation against Baltimore.
The image of Griffin's leg whipping back grotesquely as he was brought down by Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata was replayed hundreds of times this week, leading to speculation that he would miss at least one game and maybe more.
Griffin practiced all week and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was expected to use the uncertainty about his young star's playing status to keep the Browns guessing until kickoff.
However, the Redskins said rookie Kirk Cousins will start in place of Griffin. Cousins came off the bench to throw a TD pass and run for a 2-point conversion in Washington's overtime win against Baltimore.
The Browns spent all week preparing for Griffin.
"We fully anticipate that he'll play," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "We're preparing for RG3 to be out there."
Now with Cousins behind center, Cleveland's defense doesn't have to worry Griffin beating them with his arm -- and his feet. He can run, throw and throw on the run. Possessing cat-like quickness, Griffin's nearly impossible to contain. And even when he appears to be cornered, he somehow escapes.
The Browns (5-8) had been concerned about the Redskins' read-option offense, where rookie running back Alfred Morris lines up next to Griffin in the shotgun formation. After taking the snap, Griffin eyes the defensive end and then either gives the ball to his back or keeps it himself. And if Griffin turns the corner, it's tough to run him down.
The Browns say Cousins can be as hard to stop as RG3.
"They run similar plays," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "The one thing about the Redskins offense it's very balance. Their passing game is West Coast in principle. Of course, we've all seen what they've done, utilizing the skill and ability of RGIII. It's multi-dimensional and we have to prepare for that regardless of who is playing quarterback."
With Griffin leading the charge, the Redskins (7-6) are off and running like they haven't in years.
They've won four straight games -- all since their bye week -- for the first time since 2008, and a win on Sunday would put Washington two games over .500 for the first time after 14 games since the Redskins went 9-7 in 2007.
Griffin, for one, said he came back rededicated after Washington's week off. Veteran linebacker London Fletcher said the break may have reinvigorated the Redskins, who knocked off NFC East rivals Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants before beating the Ravens in overtime last week.
"The results will say yes, so it's hard to say it hasn't made a difference," said Fletcher, a 15-year veteran and Cleveland native who will be playing his first game in his hometown.
"Maybe we were a tired group at that point and time, with us having our bye so late in the year, having so many road games so early in the season, so it possibly could have been that we needed to regroup a little bit, refresh, get away and get refocused on what we needed to do."
The Browns have had a similar spurt.
They're 3-1 since their bye week with the only loss in overtime at Dallas. Only time will tell if the late-season turnaround will be enough to save coach Pat Shurmur, whose future rests in the hands of new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. Shurmur could strengthen his case to keep his job and return for a third season with another win or two.