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Cowboys @ Washington: Blocked field goal saves the day in 33-19 win for Dallas

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It was not dominant or pretty, but it was a crucial victory for the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Orlando Scandrick had a huge part in the play of the game.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

They say you can never be too sure what is going to happen when divisional rivals play each other in the NFL, and the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington was clearly evidence of this. A battered but game opponent kept it closer than it should have been, but Dallas managed to hang on to a sloppy, wet 33-19 win in pretty bad weather. It was not truly decided until David Irving got a hand on a pass with under a minute left in the game, and Byron Jones picked the ball off and ran it in to pad the score.

The Cowboys were supposed to be able to make mincemeat of the patchwork offensive line Washington was forced to field due to multiple injuries, but they had a lot of difficulty getting pressure on Kirk Cousins early. The penalties certainly didn’t help Dallas, as they were repeatedly flagged, especially for offensive holding calls (at least one of which was rather questionable, while negating what would have been the third Ezekiel Elliott touchdown of the day). Elliott himself got things off to a bad start for the Cowboys by fumbling on the first play of the game. And the unexpected star unit for Dallas was the special teams, contributing a blocked field goal late in the first half by Tyrone Crawford that Orlando Scandrick scooped and ran all the way inside the five yard line, and recovering a fumble on a kickoff in the third that led to a Mike Nugent field goal for a seven point lead.

The penalties continually killed Dallas offensive drives, and there was too much inconsistency for the team even without the flags. The one thing that was working well was the running game, at least when Elliott was in. He went over 100 yards with a couple of minutes to spare in the third quarter. While the Cowboys did not feast on the injured offensive line of Washington early, the game definitely had the air of Dallas wearing their opponent down as it progressed. The pass rush stared to have a greater effect, with Demarcus Lawrence joining David Irving and Crawford in sacking Cousins on the last play before the end of the third quarter. Irving had the first two sacks of the game for Dallas, and Crawford had a big game given that his sack in the third quarter resulted in a fumble (recovered by Lawrence).

And injuries continued to pile up for Washington, with Jordan Reed and Niles Paul both leaving the game. That left Washington with only one tight end to put on the field. The Cowboys did not go unscathed, as Cole Beasley left, apparently to enter the concussion protocol. But Ryan Switzer had a good moment in relief, keeping a drive alive with a very Beasley-like reception on third down.

It is hard to say just how much the wet conditions (it rained all game) had on things, but the blocked field goal near the end of the first half was almost certainly due to the wet ball. It was the second kick in a row that the holder had trouble with, and it appeared to throw the timing off, allowing Crawford to close and make the block. That was the crucial play of the entire game. Had Washington made the field goal, they would have had a nine point lead, and were getting the ball on the first possession after halftime. Instead, the long return by Scandrick set up Elliott for his second touchdown of the game, and gave the Cowboys a one point lead that they never relinquished. That was the start of 19 unanswered points until Washington made it close with a touchdown at the 4:35 mark.

Those same wet conditions may have contributed to the sporadic performance by the offense, but it just looked more like the team was not fully in sync. The lack of efficiency in the red zone was a real change from what the team had done the past few games, but it did emphasize the value of Dallas signing Mike Nugent to fill in for Dan Bailey. He missed his first attempt, from 49 yards, but settled down and started knocking them through with the efficiency Cowboys fans expect. Nugent’s kicking turned out to be the real difference in the game.

It looked initially that the Cowboys would be dominant on offense. After the defense held Washington to a field goal following Elliott’s fumble to start things off, Dallas marched 75 yards on only five plays, slicing effortlessly through the defense. But that did not hold up though the game. Still, the Cowboys had more than Washington in the end and pretty much just ground them down.

There were three plays in the fourth quarter involving first year players worth noting. First, Xavier Woods, who had played very well at times, failed to stop the receiver on fourth down, a play that would have likely ended things. Then Taco Charlton nearly came up with an interception, but the ball hit the ground. Jaylon Smith completed the trifecta with another near-pick that slipped through his hands to hit the ground. But all failed to stop the drive. It allowed Washington to get down to the two yard line after another questionable penalty, this a pass interference on Anthony Brown that looked an awful lot like mutual hand-fighting, and they followed it up with a touchdown to Josh Doctson that let them close to within seven - but a missed extra point kept the margin there. And that allowed the Cowboys to ride Ezekiel Elliott and burn the clock down before Jones had the pick six to preserve the win. Elliott almost put his team in a huge hole with the fumble at the beginning, but he was the big offensive weapon for Dallas, getting 150 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. It just brings home how important he is to the Cowboys, and why we are all holding our breath to find out the next development in his ongoing legal battle.

It was not the beatdown so many were hoping for from the Cowboys, but it was a crucial win they really needed to keep pace behind the surging Philadelphia Eagles. There were frequent miscues, but also big plays by all three units for the Cowboys. You just cannot predict things when Dallas and Washington get together - and it is still a win. Sometimes, that is all you can really hope for.