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Cowboys fall 20-17 in Washington, as offensive woes strike again

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We keep seeing this story over and over.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

It was a crushing defeat for the Dallas Cowboys as they fell 20-17 to Washington. They had a bad performance from their offense once more as the road continued to be terribly hostile to them. The Cowboys mounted a last minute charge, only to miss out on sending the game to overtime by mere inches.

The table was set for this game by the defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles by the Carolina Panthers in the early slot. The come-from-ahead loss, where the Eagles gave up a 17 point lead in the fourth quarter, meant that the winner of this game would be all alone in first place in the NFC East. It came down to who wanted the division lead the most.

But that turned out to be Washington, who dominated the line of scrimmage all day. Speaking of which, Adrian Peterson lived up to his AD nickname, getting almost 100 yards while Ezekiel Elliott was stymied, only totaling 31 yards on 14 carries. Dak Prescott was under constant pressure, including the back-breaking strip-sack touchdown given up late in the fourth quarter, while Alex Smith was only sacked once by the Dallas pass rush.

It was a continuation of the road woes that have plagued the Cowboys all season. There were clear breakdowns in communication on the offensive line, and multiple big plays for Dallas were called back by holding penalties. After showing so much promise in the win last week, things reverted back to the bad, and once again this looks like an 8-8 team, at best.

There was a brief flurry by the offense as time wound down in the game, including converting a fourth and 13 on a pass to Blake Jarwin. But it took too many plays to score, leaving only 1:37 on the clock. The drive was gritty and determined, but also too little and too late. Dallas managed to get it down to a field goal attempt, but a false start added five yards to the attempt, and Brett Maher doinked it off the upright.

The Cowboys got off to a bad start in the game. On their first possession, a 22 yard run by Dak Prescott was wiped out by a Tyron Smith hold, and Dallas wound up punting. Washington took advantage of an uncharacteristically bad punt by Chris Jones to quickly march in, getting a 23 yard touchdown on a screen pass to Kapri Bibbs. Things kept going badly as Elliott struggled to gain yards, then on fourth and one, the ball was knocked loose from Prescott just as he got the first down, giving Washington the ball on the Cowboys’ 45 yard line.

There was a very scary moment late in the first quarter as Prescott tried to run for the first down sticks and took a blow right to the head on the sidelines just short of the sticks. He had to go through the concussion protocol, but was cleared and returned to the game on the Cowboys’ next series, and threw a 22 yard strike to Michael Gallup on his next pass. And on a third and four play, he showed he was not afraid to run after his hit, diving to get the first down on a scramble.

Meanwhile, Sean Lee returned to the field after missing three games due to injury and looked back to his normal self, snuffing out a screen play early in the second quarter to help stop Washington. That is perhaps even more important after Leighton Vander Esch left the field with an injury in the second half.

However, the struggles were real for the Cowboys. Smith continued to struggle as he and Connor Williams were still having communications issues. Penalties kept hurting Dallas, and even Chris Jones was having a bad day with short punts or putting them into the end zone for touchbacks. Meanwhile, Peterson looked like he was 23, not 33, at times, making something out of nothing and putting some wicked moves on Dallas defenders. Pass protection was also in the home team’s favor in the first half, as Prescott was sacked while Smith wasn’t. An indication of how self-inflicted the damage was for the Cowboys was that they controlled the ball in the first half, notching a 17:07 to 12:53 advantage in time of possession, and limiting Washington to only one third down conversion in the first two quarters.

But inside the two minute warning of the first half, the offense finally came alive. After Elliott barely converted a third and one, Dak got some protection and hit a streaking Michael Gallup down the left side for a 49 yard touchdown to even things up at 7-7 with a minute left to play.

After having far too many mistakes, and Washington just missing on a couple of touchdown throws as the first half wound down, Dallas went into halftime tied, with the division lead still up for grabs.

The Cowboys quickly let the momentum from the Gallup touchdown dissipate in the second half. First, Washington got the ball on the kickoff and drove down for a field goal. Dallas would be totally ineffective on offense, only running six plays in the third quarter as the pass rush kept the pressure on Prescott and Elliott continued to struggle. Then Washington would add another three points early in the fourth, but again the defense held in the red zone to prevent a touchdown. According to the CBS announcers, that made seven consecutive times the Cowboys’ defense has held opponents to just a field goal on red zone trips. Finally, Dallas got a little something going on offense to set up Brett Maher for his own 47 yard field goal. Then on the next Washington series, Sean Lee showed up again, to stop an option play that had worked earlier for and get the ball back for the offense with 6:18 left in the game. But disaster would strike. After a third down conversion to Cole Beasley was called back on a hold by Connor Williams, Dak would get sacked on the goal line and stripped of the ball, which was recovered for a touchdown by Preston Smith. That pushed the lead to ten points with not enough time for the Cowboys to come back. It was another road flop for Dallas, and a golden opportunity squandered.