The bottom line: We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NFL and came just a few plays short of victory. Losing is always disappointing but we played strong and deserved to leave that stadium with our heads up. At 5-5 we are a game behind the Lions for that wildcard spot with a tie breaker against them. We have a game at Tampa Bay to challenge them for a tie breaker should they fall into 2nd in the South, which they won't. All we have to do is win some football games on the easier side of our schedule and nothing I saw from the game yesterday convinced me that wasn't possible. I saw a team that looked very tough.
Specifically, I saw one that outgained the 2nd most prolific offense in the NFL 423 yards to 359. Let's talk about our Offense:
Jason Campbell had what I consider to be his best performance. He went 33 of 54 for 348 yards, 2 touchdowns, and one interception. Most impressive was his ability to handle the no huddle offense late in the game and keep us in it. It was hard to tell whether our moving the ball so well was due to the Cowboys ceding the underneath stuff too much or just his own ingenuity, but being able to move the offense efficiently, regardless the defense presented, late in the game is an extremely valuable skill to have in a quarterback. He proved to me that we can give this kid the ball 50+ times and still be successful, challenging the prevailing wisdom that we need to set up the run to take pressure off JC. He can handle whatever we ask him to do.
Was he flawless? No. He had a huge fumble (that resulted in a punt by Dallas) and the interception to Newman was a mistake, no question. There were other options available, like running (it was 3rd down I believe). He also could have made a better pass. But it was an anomaly in an otherwise outstanding game; we have our quarterback.
Santana Moss finally looked like Santana Moss, catching 9 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Chris Cooley owned the beginning of the game to finish with 89 yards on 8 catches and a touchdown. Keenan McCardell looked a good bit younger than he really is and had 5 catches for 76 yards, Randle El added 7 for 53 yards (and a clutch 19 yard pass after a pretty the business scramble) and Sellers, Betts, and Portis were all involved with receptions as well.
I mentioned the roar of the crowd earlier, and they were effing loud. In spite of this, the Redskins were penalized just 3 times (ok, for 71 yards) and none of them were noise related. I kid you not: zero false starts on 73 offensive plays. No delay of game penalties. What we did have: 10 yard offensive holding on Mike Sellers, that we survived anyways by converting on 3rd and 15. Intentional grounding by Jason Campbell, just moments after converting a 3rd and 10 even while getting roughed by Demarcus Ware. And a 51 yard defensive pass interference call on Reed Doughty. This was a huge momentum changer in the game (as my girlfriend's brother pointed out) as it was the play immediately after Rocky McIntosh's interception that got called back. The swing was Redskins on the three yard line one second, 1st and 10 on our 22 just moments later. They would score on that drive. All Reed Doughty had to do was turn around, he was in a position to make a play on the ball by staying close enough to
T.O. Patrick Crayton (who still beat him, but the pass was a little itsy bitsy behind him) yet decided to just tackle him anyways. I was not happy about that penalty.
We never got our running game involved with just 17 rushes for 73 yards (3.6 YPC). But since there is no dicta stating that yards must be gained on the ground, who cares? The value of rushing is that it eats clock as passing can't, since incompletes stop the ticker, and that it opens up the passing game. But the passing game was plenty effective without a robust running game and at the end the clock was not our friend. I'm not saying we abandon the run completely, but when the passing game is moving chains I say stick with it. We had 22 first downs from the passing game.
I liked the play calling. It showed a confidence from the coaching staff in Jason Campbell that we've only seen pieces of, and he handled the responsibility with distinction. Keep letting him control the game and I say Do It in support of the no-huddle offense.
What'd we do wrong on offense? We need to finish more drives with points. Our red zone efficiency was 2 of 4, don't like that. Suisham lined up for 4 field goals that should've been 7 points and missed one. If even one of those drives goes for a touchdown all JC needs to do at the end is get us in field goal range for the game winning kick.
Impressed by the offensive line, Chris Samuels, even if Ben wasn't. 55 passing plays with only 1 sack is impressive against a Cowboys defense that ranks 3rd in the NFL in sacks. Per Football Outsiders, the league average for sacks given up per passing play is 6.5%. The Redskins averaged 4.2% as of the 14th. Yesterday we gave up 1.8%. Per Blogging the Boys quoting some other article that I couldn't find, Ware on Samuels:
Ware received two IV's from the training staff following the game after cramping badly in the fourth quarter.
"That guy's a beast," Ware said. "I'm not even going to lie; he's one of the best tackles I've ever faced."
I was pleased with the defense but also pissed. We held the Cowboys to fewer yards than they're averaging in spite of a herculean performance by Terrell Owens. Their longest rush was 13 yards and the line of scrimmage tackling was outstanding. We were missing our best defensive player in Sean Taylor and it showed, as Shawn Springs, Reed Doughty, and pretty much our entire secondary took turns not covering him. What I saw from the stands were our safeties lining MILES off the ball presumptively to keep the big play in front of them. Didn't work; Owens had 31, 46, and 52 yard touchdowns. Per the video hat tip to BTB, that last TO touchdown really shows a flaw in our strategy. The safeties are so far back that they aren't even close to making a play on the ball. In fact, the nearest one isn't close enough to make a tackle on Owens who had enough time to catch and set his feet and fly forward. The gap between defender and receiver needs to close before the ball gets there, not after a reception and a few YACs. Result: Go ahead touchdown for the Cowboys and they never looked back.
There was a lot to be learned from the team yesterday that looked stronger in defeat than it has in victory, specifically against Miami, the Jets, and even Arizona. After the New England game there was really no telling just how far this team could fall in a game against a top notch opponent, and we acquitted ourselves quite well. If we played as well as we did at Texas Stadium every week I am confident this team can win at least four more football games. I see Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Chicago, and Minnesota as very winnable. For now we look forward and hope for the best next week, and I've got to hit the books.
Others said: Ben hits on six plays that changed the game and misses Sean Taylor; me too. So does Redskin Report. Jason La Canfora has a long post loaded with info but agrees with Ben, and not me, that Samuels was handled by Ware. Hog Heaven sees no shame in this defeat that was "Soooooo" close per Running Redskins. We sure did get torched by T.O. Sigh says Riggo's Rag. Quotes quotes quotes from the Bog. Gamblers unite, we covered.
Sorry if I missed you, but I'm straight beat. More to come tomorrow.