Cowboys Set Up Special Season With Gritty Win Over the Redskins
Dak Prescott runs for a touchdown against the Redskins in September 2016.
The Cowboys did not look great Thursday afternoon. Led by 449 passing yards from Kirk Cousins, the Redskins outgained Dallas on the day 505-353. Washington also managed, despite a typically strong day at the office from Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, to control the clock, keeping the ball for nearly seven minutes more than the Cowboys. Desean Jackson, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder all had banner days against the Cowboys' secondary, the team's best defensive unit. All of that happened, and the Cowboys still won the game, never ceding control on the way to a 31-26 final score.
The win moves the Cowboys to 10-1 on the season. With victories over the Vikings and Giants in their next two games, they will clinch their second NFC East Division Championship in the last three years. Win four out of their last five and the Cowboys will have home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Dak Prescott, who would throw for just under 200 yards on the day without an interception, immediately led a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. It took 3:51 and encountered no fight from the Redskins defense. When Ezekiel Elliott crashed into the end zone from four yards out, any doubts about the Cowboys' offense being less than advertised were out the window. These Cowboys are ruthless in the red zone.
Washington aren't. They missed a field goal at the end of their first possession. On their second, they couldn't score a touchdown after a first-and-goal at the five, continuing a pattern that would persist until the fourth quarter. When the Redskins got into the red zone, they attempted field goals. The Cowboys, on each of their four trips inside the 20, scored touchdowns.
Like each team that's played the Cowboys previously and each team that will play them going forward, the Redskins had no margin for error. The urgency Washington coach Jay Gruden felt manifested itself in a decision that looks awful in hindsight, but essential in the moment.
After Cousins completed a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jackson to cut the Cowboys lead to 24-19 with 9:22 left in the game, Gruden attempted to ambush the Cowboys with an onside kick. The call backfired, Dallas recovered and immediately drove 53 yards for a game-deciding touchdown, but Gruden had to do it. Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the Cowboys' offense are so good that the Redskins certainly weren't going to stop them by kicking deep and playing defense.
Cole Beasley, the Cowboys' slot receiver, was on the receiving end of Prescott's best throw as a pro early in the second quarter, converting a third-and-14 in Redskins territory on a drive that would lead to a Dan Bailey field goal.
Terrance Williams, often the forgotten man in the Cowboys' receiving corps, had a fantastic, toe-tapping touchdown grab two minutes before halftime.
The Cowboys' offense has so much variety — Dez Bryant also had a solid day, catching five balls for 72 yards — that it leaves even the best defenses with a series of unappealing choices. To beat Prescott, Elliott and Bryant, teams are going to have to outscore them. Very few teams in the league seem up to the challenge.
One that does is the Seattle Seahawks, the team that's been the best the NFC has to offer over the last five years. Much like the San Francisco 49ers did for the legendary Cowboys of the mid-nineties, the Seahawks loom as a threat that must be conquered if the Cowboys are to do anything in January or February in the playoffs. The Seahawks' defense — specifically its athletic, big-hitting secondary — is capable of at least slowing the Cowboys' offense and the Seahawks' passing offense, led by quarterback Russell Wilson, is one of the best schemes in football. The Cowboys' secondary that showed up Thursday and got torched by Cousins won't get the job done against Wilson, but Barry Church and Morris Claiborne, both out with injuries on Thanksgiving, should be back in time for the NFC Championship game on Jan. 22.
If things keep heading where they're headed, that's the day the Cowboys and Seahawks will finally take their shot at one another.
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