It was at times a real nailbiter, but in the end, the Dallas Cowboys got a hard fought win in the rain over Washington. The 33-19 victory had its share of mistakes by Dallas (eight penalties for 89 yards being among the worst), but it all turned out for the best. Here are some things we learned as the Cowboys got back above .500 and kept the Philadelphia Eagles in sight in the race for the NFC East.
A lot of people were looking for the Cowboys to really blow out the injury-plagued Washington squad. Well, that usually doesn’t happen in division games, and until the Byron Jones pick-six to put a bow on things, it was a much closer game that most expected. But make no mistake, the myriad injuries to the other team (which just kept piling up during this contest) played a crucial role. Although the Cowboys only wound up with four official sacks (the Orlando Scandrick tackle of Kirk Cousins after he fumbled and then picked up the ball was apparently ruled a tackle for a loss), they still had Cousins under a lot of pressure. They didn’t get more sacks because Jay Gruden had a really good game plan, using a lot of quick passes to help Cousins. Cousins also helped himself with some good mobility. Still, you could feel how Dallas was wearing them down as the game went on.
And the only injury of note for the Cowboys was a possible concussion to Cole Beasley. They are simply enjoying excellent health for this deep into the season. As long as that continues, they should have a real chance of getting into the playoffs.
“It’s a game of inches” is not just a cliche
It is the absolute truth. Had Tyrone Crawford not gotten his hand on the field goal attempt late in the second quarter, the Cowboys would likely have been facing a nine-point deficit going into the second half, with Washington receiving the kickoff. That would have completely changed the complexion of the game. Dallas would have been forced to pass more playing from behind. They couldn’t have put things so squarely on Ezekiel Elliott. The blocked kick was itself set up by a problem handling the snap, again a matter of inches. Instead, the Cowboys took a slim lead into the third quarter, and never trailed the rest of the way. That was unquestionably the turning point of the entire game. And it was so close to never happening.
There were also two plays that didn’t go Dallas’ way that were matters of inches as well, but they both were almost big moments for a couple of players. Taco Charlton came so close to pulling in an interception, and was followed just moments later by Jaylon Smith going through the same thing. Either would have been very close to ending the game. Keep at it, young ‘uns. Maybe you will get the big play soon.
Yeah, the Cowboys have a pass rush now
Four more sacks. Two for David Irving, another for Demarcus Lawrence, who has reached double digits just seven games into the season and has had at least one sack every game, and another for Tyrone Crawford, who is looking to be worth his paycheck at last. The Cowboys now have 25 sacks, with nine games left to add to the total.
That projects to about 54 sacks on the season, which would be a huge total. And something we have longed for.
The team really can’t afford to lose Zeke
We may learn if Elliott will be able to play the rest of the season this week. The Cowboys really have to hope he can. He had almost exactly half the total offense for the team. 154 yards (including his one reception for four) out of 307 total. It is questionable whether Dallas could have pulled a win out without his 33 carries and two touchdowns. Late in the game, he helped eat up the clock and put Washington in a desperate situation leading to the pick-six cherry on top. He did have the fumble to open the game, but after that, he clung to the ball in pretty bad conditions. Just coming back from that opening gaffe shows what kind of player he is.
Mike Nugent was a great signing
At least for one week. After missing his first field goal attempt, a 49-yarder, he settled down and knocked the next four through, gradually building the lead as the Cowboys had trouble in the red zone. Given the weather conditions, it is not that surprising that the touchdowns were hard to come by (except for the scintillating five-play, 75-yard drive on their second possession). And that makes the four field goals even more noteworthy. Don’t forget Chris Jones in the equation, either. He did not have any of the issues his counterpart did in getting the ball down cleanly. And he had his normal excellent afternoon of punting, with the help of a seeing eye bounce that netted 51 yards on a short punt that may have been partially blocked.
The special teams were again special
A blocked field goal. Two takeaways. Four field goals and three extra points. And no big plays given up. A special note for Bene Benwikere, who recovered one of the forced fumbles. He has been an afterthought this season, but he had his moment in contributing to the win.
Winning the turnover margin
The Cowboys won three to one, and that was huge in the game, with all three leading to points. More importantly, after that first play, Dallas did an excellent job protecting the ball the rest of the way. That is something that Dak Prescott deserves a lot of credit for. He continues to be very good at taking care of the ball, and given the conditions, that was no small task in this game.
That is seven big lessons we learned. And there may be more. Tell us what you took away in the comments.