Team Tank has now fully usurped Team Win as the race towards football cessation enters its final laps, and an ominous checkered flag looms in the distance. The Cowboys’ most recent outing vs. the Washington Football Team stamped an emphatic checkmark on what’s been a particularly downtrodden season for America’s squad.
Despite a shocker victory in Minnesota (which can be chalked up to incidental fluke, or perhaps what beckons in future slates should this team figure out a way to get its ducks in a row), and a bewildering near-miracle against Pittsburgh, the ‘Boys succumbed once again to complete catastrophe on Thanksgiving.
The average person takes around 60 days to form a new habit, and for D-Town, winning ways have long been removed from redundancy as they continuously spiral downward.
They playfully toyed with our emotions throughout the matchup’s first three quarters as they remained neck and neck with their opponent. A questionable decision to fake a punt on a 4th & 10 on their own 24-yard line, though, exposed the Cowboys team we’ve grown so accustomed to nauseatingly enduring all season.
The score line at the time of the disaster was nearly even: 20-16.
The final tally makes my stomach churn: 41-16. Washington outscored Dallas’ entire game output in just 12 measly minutes.
And now the Cowboys find themselves in familiar territory: the NFC East’s bottoms.
But despite the disintegration, several competitors showed up and showed all the way out.
Here are your top three.
3. Jaylon Smith
#54 was absent from the field for an entire defensive series in one of the game’s early drives. Mike Nolan’s reasoning behind the choice to withhold Smith remains unclear.
What’s not though, is this: Smith wouldn’t be held dormant for the remainder of the tilt, and whatever he did to sour Nolan’s outlook towards his on-field value was quickly dismissed after his next few breakout plays.
The first could’ve forced a smile from the most vehement Smith cynic.
It even induced a glowing beam from #54 himself, who flashed a glittering ear-to-ear cheeser after an errant Alex Smith pass found his unsuspecting mitts.
Smith resembled a kid in a candy store as he took possession of the misplaced golden ticket. He raced back towards Dallas’ end zone like a lashed racehorse - fully aware he was reveling in one of the few opportunities he’d get to show off his running back skills as defense turned to offense.
Smith would charge 40+ yards in the opposite direction before being tracked down by Washington’s Terry McLaurin, and although Dallas was unable to find pay-dirt in their ensuing possession, the interception was able to net them three points, and substantial momentum heading into the final quarter.
He continued to ride the hot wave after his big takeaway, scorching his way to consecutive punt-forcing tackles during Washington’s next drive.
Smith finished with his lowest combined tackle total up to this point (5), but where he lacked in statistical production, he more than sufficed in energy and impact.
And the latter is far more important.
2. Donovan Wilson
DallasCowboys.com’s mailbag series posed a particularly striking fan question to the site’s writers this past week: why wasn’t Donovan Wilson starting (earlier)?
And quite frankly, after seeing the type of damage he’s done to opposing offenses in the ‘Boys most recent outings, the question deserves ample inspection. You can't watch the Cowboys play defense without seeing Donovan Wilson somewhere near the football.
He’s like a bloodhound seeking out notorious criminals, and his greatest attribute by far is his potent nose for sniffing out enemy whereabouts. Wilson’s done nothing but perform since being inserted into D-Town’s starting foray in Week 5.
He had his best game a week ago vs. Minnesota, squishing receivers and running backs like bugs on his way to two massive forced fumbles.
So how did he follow up that career display?
With more consistency, of course - and at this point, he’s one of the few Cowboy defenders we can expect to see unmistakable quality from on a week-to-week basis. Wilson continued to etch his starting spot in stone Thursday. He traced and hunted his way to 10 combined tackles - which matched his season-high, and was a disruptive force in Washington’s deceptive offensive dogma for a majority of the game.
Nearly every pad-crunching hit he makes resonates the ears like a sonic boom.
If you haven't heard of Wilson yet, just listen closely the next time Dallas brings out their defense. He’ll provide one blatant overt introduction - one that you’ll have to unequivocally associate with him, and only him.
1. Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper looked unguardable Thursday. As a matter of fact, looked doesn’t do him rightful justice. He was unguardable. And for some reason, little to no adjustments were made in coverage strategies on #19 once the message became brazenly clear that he was going to have a whirlwind field day against Washington’s shaky backline.
Their first mistake was leaving him in one-on-one slotting vs. former Eagles corner Ronald Darby. Darby, who spent three seasons in Philly, has had plenty of introductions to Cooper’s lethal route-running, one-cut and breakaway ability. Still though, familiarity does not signify aptitude to slow him down, and Darby was wholly at Cooper’s mercy on Thursday.
Coop must’ve been shorted portion-wise in his early breakfast meal, because the way he was carving through Washington’s secondary emanated of a yearning hunger for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey apportioned to the game’s annual winner.
He torched Darby on a good old backyard fly route - no glitz, no glam - just speed, and ran right past him to bring in a 54-yard touchdown grab for his team’s first score of the day.
Kellen Moore opted for the same exact pattern near the second half’s close, this time netting a pass interference flag from Darby - who again looked depleted in his attempts to keep up. There’s no need to fix things that aren’t broken, and Cooper probably could’ve have scurried past Darby on a few more go-routes had Moore chosen to look his way.
Coop ended up with six catches for 112 yards on a whopping 18.67 yard per reception total, his highest of the year. It marks his third 100-yard game in 2020.
There was no man that could slow him down Thursday, and if he keeps at this pace, he’ll run smoothly right into another 1,000 yard season.