The Cowboys officially clinched their first NFC East title since 2018 in one of the strangest ways possible: the Raiders beat the Broncos, and somehow the result of an AFC West intradivisional game sealed the NFC East crown. It was also before the Cowboys even took the field to host the Washington Football Team, last year’s division champion. It didn’t change a thing for Dallas.
What came next was utter domination from the outset, which makes it hard to really pick out five plays that shaped this game. The reality is that this game was over after the first quarter, and the dagger was plunged not too long after the second quarter began. So as much as we’d like to discuss Terence Steele’s awesome touchdown catch or Chauncey Golston’s punt block recovery, it’ll have to wait for another article because this game got out of hand very, very quickly.
Taylor Heinicke tests Trevon Diggs right out of the gate, immediately regrets it
Trevon Diggs needed just one more interception to tie the legendary Everson Walls for most single-season interceptions in franchise history, and for some reason Taylor Heinicke decided to let him do it on the first offensive play of the game for the WFT. Maybe it was that Walls, who was in attendance for the game, had just been shown on the jumbotron before the play.
Either way, Washington opened their first possession of the game with a shot play deep to Terry McLaurin, who was covered by Diggs. It went exactly as you’d expect:
TREVON DIGGS STRIKES AGAIN! #WFTvsDAL on NBC and @peacockTV pic.twitter.com/J7vsA6jWxY— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) December 27, 2021
Just like their last game against Washington, this set the tone early for another dominant defensive performance. The Football Team clearly wanted Heinicke to get into a rhythm early and stretch the field, but testing Diggs deep like that is usually a bad idea. This case was no different, and the Cowboys offense got the ball right back.
Ezekiel Elliott recovers the botched handoff in the red zone, avoids disaster
Following Diggs’ interception, Dak Prescott and the offense got into a rhythm of their own after being forced to punt on their first drive. It wasn’t long before Dallas found themselves looking at first down from the Washington 11-yard line.
That’s when Prescott went to hand the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott, but the connection was off. The ball tumbled down to the ground, just waiting to be pounced on by a defender. Zeke managed to get on top of it and make the recovery at the line of scrimmage, keeping it Dallas’ ball.
Two plays later, Elliott was rewarded for this with a touchdown reception to put the Cowboys up 7-0. But the fumble very easily could’ve turned into a turnover, keeping things tied at 0-0 and resulting in zero points over their first two offensive drives. It didn’t, and instead the Cowboys started firing up the steamroller.
CeeDee Lamb’s tough grab flips the field for Dallas offense
One Washington three-and-out later and the Cowboys got the ball right back feeling hot. A few quick plays moved the chains twice, and that’s when the offense really started clicking.
Facing first and ten from their own 45-yard line, Prescott managed to catch a defender offsides for the second time already. He took the snap and launched a rocket down the seam to CeeDee Lamb, who made a tough catch through contact.
Another great contested catch by Ceedee Lamb! #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/7UpOw6Cjwd— Pro Football Culture (@proftblculture) December 27, 2021
The play itself picked up 22 yards and put the Cowboys just outside of the red zone, but it was perhaps more notable because of who caught it. Lamb took responsibility for several bad drops last week, and vowed to get better. Right before this play, Lamb made a similar catch through contact as well. Both went for first downs, and served as an early indication that the young star was honoring his word.
Amari Cooper’s big third-down catch extends drive, leads to touchdown
Earlier in the week, Amari Cooper was open about his desire to see more targets on third down and in the red zone. He seemingly got his wish Sunday night, culminating in a red zone touchdown right before halftime, but he was also a frequent target on third downs.
After Lamb’s big catch, the Cowboys quickly ran into a third and six at the Washington 19. That’s when Prescott went his top receiver’s way and hit Coop for a 10-yard pickup to move the chains and keep the drive alive.
On the very next play, Dak hit Dalton Schultz for a touchdown to go up 14-0 and take a commanding lead early on. But without Cooper’s clutch catch on third down, Dallas would have been settling for a field goal, and 10-0 just isn’t the same as 14-0. Although what happens next probably makes it a moot point.
DeMarcus Lawrence’s first career pick six shuts things down early
After watching the Cowboys go up by two touchdowns, Washington got the ball back with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. A score here would send a message that they weren’t done just yet, while a failure to do so could potentially take any air out of the Football Team’s sails permanently.
Well, that second thing happened. Not only did they fail to score, but the Cowboys defense scored instead. That’s because DeMarcus Lawrence did DeMarcus Lawrence things before scoring his first career touchdown:
DEMARCUS LAWRENCE INCREDIBLE PICK-6! @TankLawrence— NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2021
: #WASvsDAL on NBC
: https://t.co/RVn6kdfzlm pic.twitter.com/fOPgbcenng
Having the wherewithal to not only bat the ball but then come down with the interception is impressive. But Lawrence takes it a step further by shrugging off a would-be tackler, tip-toeing down the sideline, and going in for the score to make it 21-0 before the second quarter and just about ending this one. Even when Washington scored a touchdown on their next drive, it didn’t change a thing as Dallas proceeded to drop a 40-burger by halftime just for good measure.
The only thing better than Lawrence’s play was Dan Quinn’s reaction to it:
Cowboys DC Dan Quinn reacting to DeMarcus Lawrence’s pick-6 pic.twitter.com/iQB8hbR16O— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 27, 2021