It was a game that went from a comfortable lead to a bit of a nail-biter before the defense came through one more time in a contest where they were the heroes. The Dallas Cowboys delivered on Mike McCarthy’s guarantee with a 27-20 win over the Washington Football Team. They now sit at 9-4 and have a near lock on the NFC East playoff spot.
The first half was all Dallas. They took the opening kickoff, with Corey Clement handling return duties in the absence of Tony Pollard, and marched downfield methodically before stalling in the red zone. That last thing was one of the few real negatives for the Cowboys, but they were able to cash in with a Greg Zuerlein field goal from 35 yards out to take a 3-0 lead.
Then it was the defense’s turn, and make no mistake, they were the stars of the first half. First they almost got an interception on the first Washington possession when Anthony Brown couldn’t quite get the ball hauled in as he was also worried about keeping his feet in bounds. The, after Dak Prescott threw an interception, Randy Gregory got the ball right back for them, knocking the ball straight up in the air and then bringing it in for his first career interception. After he returned the ball to the Washington 41, the offense managed to drive down and score on a seven-yard touchdown reception by Amari Cooper. Dallas had a little help from the referees on the drive, including a roughing the passer call on the touchdown. Mike McCarthy loves flags when the team scores, because it allows him to go for two from the one-yard line. He did so, and Ezekiel Elliott punched it in for a rare 11-0 lead.
A penalty for a hit out of bounds by Malik Hooker helped the Football Team get to the Dallas 46, but they faced a fourth and two from there. Ron Rivera elected to go for it, and then Micah Parsons happened. He came blowing through the line to sack Taylor Heinicke and force a fumble that Dorance Armstrong scooped and rumbled 37 yards into the end zone. Parsons was hardly done for the day, as he would get a second sack on the next drive.
The Cowboys’ offense continued to move the ball between the twenties, but would not be able to cash in on two more trips. Still, Zuerlein was consistent with mid-range kicks and built the lead to 24-0 going into halftime.
And it was a total domination by Dan Quinn and his defense. The halftime stats were staggeringly in favor of the Cowboys. They had 214 yards of offense to only 29 for Washington. Yes, you read that right. Part of it was limiting Heinicke to only 29 yards on two completions for twelve attempts passing, plus the two sacks for Parsons. Just as important was how Dallas shut down Antonio Gibson, who had just 17 yards on eight carries. Nothing was working for the fighting Teams, including only one for eight on third downs.
It was still a game where Prescott seemed off on too many passes, but one very good sign was that he pulled the ball down and ran for the sidelines on a play where he got the ten needed for a first down. That is an element that has been sorely missing from his game since his calf injury, and it may be a good sign going forward.
With a big lead, the one concern was letting Washington get some confidence and think it could get back into the game. That became a real danger after the Cowboys stalled on their first drive coming out of half and the the Football Team began to get some offense going. Gibson had his best run by far of the day, and Heinicke started connecting. Then he went deep for a 43-yard touchdown to Cam Sims. Trevon Diggs had solid coverage, but just got beaten as Diggs was unable to pull the ball out of his hands. They added a two-point conversion where Heinicke just got the ball to the pylon, and it was 24-8 with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
The offense would fail to keep the next drive alive after one first down from Cory Clement. DeMarcus Lawrence would blow up a screen, and then the ball would pop loose on a pass to Gibson. Jourdan Lewis had the forced fumble and the recovery to set his offense up at the WFT 25. The red zone would continue to be a problem, and Tyron Smith would get hurt as it looked like Connor McGovern rolled up on his leg. But Zuerlein was not an issue, and he pushed the lead to 27-8 with his fourth field goal of the game.
Lawrence would get his first sack of the season just before the end of the third quarter to lead to another three and out for Washington. A short kick set the Cowboys up at their own 39, but they too would do nothing and punt it back. Gallimore would get his first sack on that drive, and it would leave Heinicke and center Tyler Larsen both injured. Heinicke would get up, but was limping noticeably and had to be replaced by Kyle Allen, while Larsen had to be carted off the field. It would pretty much spell the end of any hopes for the Football Team, or so we thought.
On the ensuing Dallas possession, JaQuan Hardy would come in and get his first NFL action as the Cowboys felt no real pressure to drive down the field and score again. Still, they were not going to go quietly, as Prescott would roll out of heavy pressure and complete a tight throw on the sidelines that would have gotten a first down, but La’el Collins would be disqualified after jumping in to defend his quarterback after what he felt was a late hit. That took away the conversion, and with the Cowboys having to go with backups at both tackle positions, they wound up having to be content to let the defense carry things the rest of the way.
With Washington’s offense so banged up, Dallas thought they just had to slow things down a bit and let the clock run down. They would allow a touchdown afterwards, but that took 4:15 off the clock and still left a 13-point margin with just over five minutes to go. Then disaster struck as Prescott would throw his second interception of the game, throwing late to a wide open Dalton Schultz. Cole Holcolmb would take it all the way back for a touchdown. Washington had a chance to cut it to a six-point game, but the attempt was blocked. After a near disaster when Clement fumbled the kickoff before picking it back up, Elliott came back in, yet the Cowboys still could not get a first down. They were forced to punt it away, leaving the Football Team just 70 yards away from tying or winning the game. Randy Gregory then made a huge play by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jayron Kearse at the Washington 28. The Cowboys would force the Football Team to use up all of its timeouts before the two minute warning, and Dak Prescott would seal the win with a third-down run for a first down.
Leighton Vander Esch has taken a lot of criticism of late, but he seemed to have a much better performance this game, and deserves a bit of a shout out.
It was a dominant performance by the defense, with three takeaways and four sacks. The offense was far less impressive as Prescott still seems out of rhythm and the running game is mediocre at best. The injuries on the offensive line are something that could be a real problem after the team had gotten almost back to full health, especially the one to Smith, which seemed the most serious and kept him out for the remainder of the game. The offense clearly has a lot still to work on, but this defense may just be good enough to carry them for a while. It may have to, but if things just click a little more for the other side of the ball, then this could be a scary team going forward.
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