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Cowboys News And Notes: Monday Night Win "A Roller Coaster" Affair

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All the news that's fit to print, plus a bunch of stuff from Redskins.com. Today's top storylines: A behind-the-scenes look at the Cowboys mid-season; game recaps; The Senator hits the four-digit mark; DeSean Jackson's boneheadedness; is the 2015 NFC East the worst division of all time?

Ladies and gentlemen: the lastest member of the 1,000 Catch Club.
Ladies and gentlemen: the lastest member of the 1,000 Catch Club.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Sure, we have game recaps to get to. But before we turn to these, I want to start with the best piece of Cowboys writing since Don Van Natta's expose of Jerry Jones come at the end of training camp in 2014:

Without Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys just can't lose the crazy - Tim Keown, ESPN

A terrific, must-read piece from Keown, who I used to follow when he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1990s. For this piece, he spent a month or so with the team, a month that essentially spanned Matt Cassell's starts. There are many, many worthwhile moments in the article. Here's an extended rumination of the effect of Romo's injury to the team's psyche:

I come to know the many aftereffects of the moment Romo walked off the field Sept. 20 saying "It's broken" after being hit by Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks. I watch that moment metastasize, week after week, until Romo's absence becomes a bigger presence than any actual human on the field. Sure, quarterbacking has become fetishized in the NFL, but the Cowboys have been acolytes longer than most. Meredith, Staubach, Aikman, Romo -- hell, even Clint Longley owns a chapter in their mythology. So it only stands to reason that every deficiency through seven straight losses is attributed to life without Romo. Offense, defense, playcalling, special teams -- doesn't matter. His void fills every void.

By Week 7, when backup Brandon Weeden and his three straight losses are shoved aside in favor of newly acquired Matt Cassel, Romo's absence is brought up so much it feels like an airborne narcotic, something being pumped through the ventilation ducts. They lost by failing to convert a third down here or hit a wide-open receiver there, and none of it would have happened if Romo were playing.

Eventually, I call a source close to the team to see whether I am missing something. Even taking into account the vast talent difference between Romo and Weeden/Cassel, is it possible for one player to leave such a chasm? "There were plenty of cracks in this team's foundation that would have led to struggles with or without Tony Romo," the source says. "But Romo overtook everything."

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Before the game, we were treated to a bunch of nonsense, and this:

How running back woes have hampered Dallas Cowboys - Jon Gruden, ESPN

Chucky with some thoughts on why the Cowboys aren't as good this season. He makes some good points about the running backs and blitz pick-up:

Losing Murray in free agency was bad enough, but losing Lance Dunbar to a torn ACL and MCL against New Orleans in Week 4 made things much worse for the Cowboys, from a pass-protection standpoint. Dunbar was very good on screens and draws. He could mismatch against linebackers. Both Dunbar and Murray were willing and able to contribute in blitz-pickup situations.

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Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys 19, Washington Redskins 16 - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Toddzilla with the general assessment:

It was hardly artistic. The Cowboys could not do much offensively, nearly going their fourth game without an offensive touchdown this season and the third time in Matt Cassel’s five starts. The defense was at its best for most of the game but cratered late. The special teams giveth (Whitehead's return) and taketh away (a long kick return and facemask penalty set up the Redskins' only touchdown drive).

But it was a win.

Cowboys Win 19-16 Over Washington, But Do Not Look Like Champions Doing It - Tom Ryle, Blogging The Boys

The Estimable Ryle directs our attention to the clouds hovering above the silver linings:

The Cowboys are still not mathematically eliminated. But the Dallas team that played in this often boring affair is going nowhere this season unless something changes. The loss of Tony Romo and all the other injuries to key players early in the season may just be too much to overcome. They were unable to convert third and one multiple times in the game. They failed on trips into the red zone. The offensive impotence is not going to do anything in the NFL. There would have to be a massive improvement offensively, and the chances of that happening seem very, very remote.

Bailey Kicks Game-Winner In Thrilling 19-16 Victory Over Redskins - Kurt Daniels, The Mothership

Daniels with some good news on the defensive performance:

But while Dallas struggled to move the ball, so too did the Redskins offense, thanks to a stingy Cowboys defense. They held Washington to just 267 total yards and allowed only 6-of-16 conversions on third down. Sean Lee, in particular, was outstanding, finishing with 13 tackles and a sack, while DeMarcus Lawrence recorded two sacks of his own as well as a tackle for loss...

Five thoughts: Cowboys win a strange one, now just 1 game back in NFC East - Jon Machota, DMN

"Matches" with five post-game observations. Here's some love for the Cowboys 2014 second-rounder:

3.) What got into DeMarcus Lawrence? He entered Monday night with three sacks on the season. He had two on the game's opening series alone. Lawrence also added a tackle-for-loss early in the third quarter, which forced Washington to settle for a field goal. His first sack came on the game's first play from scrimmage, resulting in a five-yard loss. The second one came two plays later as he brought Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins down for a loss of 10. Sean Lee also got involved on the fun, adding a sack of his own in the third quarter. The pressure improved, however, the defense was still unable to force a turnover.

Cowboys edge Redskins on Bailey's FG, send NFC East further into chaos - Chris Burke, SI.com

Burke adds to the litany of post-game assessments:

It's hard to argue that they didn't earn the Monday night win, either. Demarcus Lawrence sacked Kirk Cousins twice on Washington's opening possession, and an unexpectedly blitz-heavy Dallas defense stayed in Cousins's face for much of the night. The offense was far from brilliant. Cassel, though, did manage to hit a couple of key deep passes—one to Terrance Williams, another to Bryant—and hooked up with Bryant twice on the game's final drive, thereby giving Bailey a shot.

NFL Recap - Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins - Howard Fendrich, CBSSports

Fendrich focuses his lens upon the game's frenzied final minutes:

After combining to score 18 points in the first 58 1/2 minutes, the teams combined for 17 the frenzied rest of the way. Dallas scored the game's first TD with 74 seconds remaining to lead 16-9 after recovering Jackson's miscue, Washington tied it on Jackson's 28-yard TD catch, and then Bailey hit the go-ahead kick.

''A roller coaster,'' Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins called it.

Cousins was all like this dude riding a coaster backwards (fast forward to 1:25 mark):

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Strange Cowboys season just got a little weirder after inexplicable ending - David Moore, DMN

Moore's postgame article, in which he reminds us of one more positive from Monday night's win:

Something to keep in mind: the Cowboys are the only team in the NFC East with three victories within the division. As hard as it is to believe, the Cowboys currently own the tiebreaker if they ever manage to climb into a tie with one of those other three teams.

Cowboys stay alive after all hell breaks loose, finally win without Tony Romo - Tim Cowlishaw, DMN

Cowlishaw with a sobering reminder about what lies ahead, in case you are now thinking about Dallas' chances for a playoff run:

The road gets tougher. Dallas has a short week of preparation to get ready for the Packers, rested and riding high off their Hail Mary victory in Detroit Thursday night. With the Jets and Buffalo to follow, the Cowboys don't face another team currently below .500 until the Redskins come to Dallas in the season finale on Jan. 3.

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Lost in the tedium of the game's first 58 minutes was an historic moment:

Jason Witten of Dallas Cowboys reaches 1,000 career receptions - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

As we all should, Archer takes a moment to praise The Senator:

Witten holds the NFL records for catches in a season by a tight end (110) and catches in a game by a tight end (18). He is the Cowboys' franchise leader in receptions and is second to Michael Irvin (11,904) in yards. He has 59 career touchdown catches, which ranks fifth all-time among NFL tight ends and third in Cowboys' history.

Witten has recorded at least 50 catches in 12 straight seasons. Only Gonzalez had more as a tight end, with 16.

Watch the final years of Number 82's career closely, y'all, and relish every moment. We aren't likely to see his quality come through here again any time soon...

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54 yards to win late: Hard for most kickers, but not for Dan Bailey - Mark Simon, Stats & Info- ESPN

Simon (no Simple Simon, this) with some interesting material on the rarity of Dan Bailey's game-winning boot:

Bailey did what he does -- kick field goals more accurately than anyone in the NFL. He’s the active leader at 90.8 percent.

This one was a little different though. The probability of success was high only because it’s Bailey. Entering Monday, there had been 46 regular-season and playoff field goal tries that met the following conditions: - 54 yards or longer - Score differential of three points or less (including ties) - 20 seconds or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime

Kickers were 16-of-46 (34.8 percent) on those kicks, including 2-of-9 dating to the start of last season.

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Where does DeSean Jackson’s absurd backward fumble rank on his list of all-time stupid plays? - Chris Chase, For The Win

Chase ranks the top five DeSean Jackson knucklehead moments of all time, going all the way back to a high school All-Star game. After weighing the evidence, Chase decides that Monday night's wacky punt-return-cum-fumble tops the list. My favorite part is that each of the first four end with the same phrase:

Jackson learned a valuable lesson he’d never forget.

Washington Redskins blow chance to take control of NFC East race - John Keim, ESPN

Keim, ESPN's Redskins beat reporter, opens his game recap with this concise opener:

It wasn't DeSean Jackson's fumble that cost Washington a chance at victory. It was everything that happened in the 58 minutes that preceded it. And it's why the Redskins are just like almost every other team in the NFC East: in first place, but perhaps not deserving of that standing.

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The NFC East Could Produce A 6-10 Playoff Team - Neal Paine, FiveThirtyEight

Paine runs through the percentage chances that the NFC East champion will finish with worse than an 8-8 record (there is a 2% chance that the champ will come in at 6-10), and then remarks upon other statistical anomalies that define the division this year:

What’s striking about the NFC East, though, is just how bunched together the teams are. Through 13 weeks of the season, the standard deviation of its teams’ Elo ratings is the fifth-lowest of any division since the NFL expanded to eight divisions in 2002. Translation: This year’s NFC East is unique in that every team is almost exactly the same amount of meh as the others. That parity in available talent is a major reason why every NFC East team is within a game of each other in terms of their records within the division.

So, um, you're saying there's a chance?