The playoffs are not forthcoming. Anyone who watched the game on Monday night knows this. The Cowboys stumbled and bumbled offensively and barely managed to beat a weak opponent. Anyone expecting a repeat against the Green Bay Packers next week probably needs their head examined (Disclaimer: I have actually picked Dallas to win, so feel free to let fly with accusations of hypocrisy). Nonetheless, for a moment, it's ok to put aside this team's exact place in history (or draft) and revel in a Cowboys victory over the most hated and longstanding of rivals, the Washington Redskins.
But there's more to be pleased with in this victory than mere schadenfreude at knocking the Redskins out of first place. This team needs to find its way again and Monday's victory saw several steps taken in that direction. Consider the following:
- The team got a road win against a division (leading) opponent
- The team got a road win with a -2 turnover differential
- The team got a road win with a -21.4 passer rating (a massive differential)
- The defense, designed to play with a lead, held the team in the game until the final two minutes
- The same defense held the opponent to a total of three points off of three turnovers
- As the defense began to falter, the special teams and offense stepped up and covered them, making the plays needed to win the game
While I'm sure some will say, and say correctly, that Desean Jackson gave away this game, the special teams (led by the incorrectly maligned Jeff Heath) did a great job cornering him to begin with, pushing him into his poor decision. Also, the deep pursuit of Kyle Wilber forcing Jackson back to the 2 yard line had much to do with the final outcome of the play. Finally, we shouldn't overlook the importance of the huge Lucky Whitehead kick return with 44 seconds left, leaving Matt Cassel one of the easiest game winning drive opportunities of his career.
The emergence of Whitehead as a Dwayne Harris/Lance Dunbar-type weapon was certainly a nice development for this game, as was the continued performance of the Sean Lee/ Rolando McClain duo at linebacker, and the not-so-quiet play of a lineman who has been making nice strides all season, DeMarcus Lawrence.
But most important of all was that the team, again, found its way into making plays at key moments. Please note, I'm not suggesting that this is necessarily the start of a trend. But it's a habit that this team needs to develop again, Romo or no, and a critical one. Monday, for all its failures, was a good step in that direction, and that's worth losing some draft ground.