We may be back to Team Tank again, after the Dallas Cowboys dropped their annual Thanksgiving Day game to the Washington Football Team 41-16. It was close most of the way before things collapsed on the Cowboys late. A Montez Sweat batted ball/interception return for a touchdown just put an exclamation point on how badly this game wound up going.
The most significant development of the game was not the plays on the field, but the return of devastating injuries for Dallas. It started with Cameron Erving going down on the Cowboys’ first possession, bringing Brandon Knight in to play left tackle. That was bad enough, but then on a failed third down play in the red zone later in the series, Zack Martin went down with what was later announced as a calf injury, but one that would take him out for the game. Erving’s problem was a knee, and he was questionable to return. The defense would have its own problem, as Randy Gregory was poked in the eye, but he was ready to come back in later. The big question is how much time Martin will miss. He is the best player the team had coming into the game. If he winds missing several games, the suddenly good chance Dallas had of winning the NFC East just got a whole lot harder. And with this loss, it may have vanished entirely.
The Cowboys were daring on fourth downs, but did a terrible job. Before the half. After a little forward handoff to CeeDee Lamb came up inches short on a third and one, McCarthy elected to go for it on fourth from the Dallas 34. CeeDee Lamb appeared to clearly be interfered with on the pass, but the refs missed that. They didn’t overlook an unnecessary roughness call on Dalton Schultz, and that not only turned the ball over on downs, it moved the ball all the way to the Dallas 19. Despite a first down sack of Alex Smith by Randy Gregory, the Football Team soon had a touchdown reception from Logan Thomas and retook the lead. It was a huge swing in the game that put Dallas in a real hole. Then in the fourth quarter, they went for it again from their own 24, this time on fourth and ten, and the Football Team was completely ready for it. They stuffed the complicated looking play, and just needed one play to take an eleven point lead early in the fourth, against a once again banged up Cowboys offense that was struggling to find ways to move the ball against a Washington pass rush that we knew was going to be a problem, and a secondary that played much better than it has at times this season.
Dallas got its lone first half touchdown on a 54 yard pass to Cooper, who just flat beat the coverage. He looked like he was about to do the same thing, so Ronald Darby was forced to do some grabbing to maintain the lead for Washington. Throughout the game, Kellen Moore and Andy Dalton seemed to be working on Darby, with some good success at times.
But too many times the Cowboys would settle for field goals rather than touchdowns, as the old red zone problems returned. That included a chance to tie the game up at halftime that came up short.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, another issue would reemerge after halftime, as the turnover bug once again bit Ezekiel Elliott. He was lunging for the first down sticks when the ball just slipped out of his grasp on the way to the ground, and Johnathan Allen would beat Brandon Knight to the recovery. That again set the Football Team up in Dallas territory, at the 33. But they only were able to net three points themselves, because DeMarcus Lawrence just perfectly timed his rush, getting through the line to Alex Smith before he could even move and forcing the field goal.
Most of the game game, Alex Smith was very accurate. As is his brand, he didn’t throw deep much, but worked the Cowboys over with passes to his backs and tight ends. They were doing a good job finding open spots and getting yards after the catch. Antonio Gibson was a problem both running and catching. He didn’t get much in the way of yards most of the time, but always seemed to be just getting to the first down mark. His breakaway 37 yard touchdown as the Cowboys tried to clog the box and get the ball back was the real backbreaker, with Sweat’s TD just added insult.
Smith’s only problem was pressure, as he would be sacked twice by Randy Gregory and that perfectly timed rush by Lawrence. And pressure by Aldon Smith led to an interception by Jaylon Smith. It should have been a touchdown, but Terry McLaurin chased him down from behind, and a questionable play call plus an uncharacteristic drop in the end zone by CeeDee Lamb left the Cowboys settling for a field goal and still trailing by four at that point.
While some of the high expectations coming into this game may look at first like our typical overreaction to temporary positive things, but no one expected to lose both starting tackles on the first drive of the game. While there were certainly other issues, that had a huge impact on both the running and passing games. With Alex Smith playing a cautious yet effective game, it was up to the Dallas offense to keep up, and things were just a bit too much. That may have led to the overaggressive plays on fourth down, as well as going for a bit too much trickery.
There were certainly far too many errors on both offense and defense by the Cowboys, but with the team having lost two more offensive linemen so early, it was possibly just too much to ask. Martin is just crippling, and although he may return, there seems no chance for this team to figure out how to win more games.