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Three Good/Three Bad: Cowboys I

The Redskins dropped a heartbreaker in the game they could have, and should have, won.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Oh man, it just seemed like it had to happen, didn't it? Things were going too well, and a win would have been too significant for the Washington Redskins, who really hate to make life easy on themselves.

Washington is still considered by many to be the favorite to win the NFC East, but a win against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football would have dramatically altered the landscape, not just on paper but in the minds of people watching. A convincing win would have allowed Redskins fans to bitch if they're listed as underdogs to the Bears and Bills in the next two weeks; after losing, at home, to a Cowboys team that had yet to win without Tony Romo, it's only fair for the Redskins to be underdogs in those two games.

Anyway, at least it wasn't a beatdown like Washington's two previous losses (three, if you count the New York Jets winning by 14 and leading by 21 with five minutes left). And as awful as the DeSean Jackson fumble was, it does say something about the Redskins that they were able to come back and tie it up after that lapse. Special teams, though, is a tricky bastard.

To the lists.

The Good

#1. Mason Foster

Filling in for a banged-up Keenan Robinson, Foster earned his first start with the Redskins and made the most of it. He recovered a Darren McFadden fumble shortly after the second half began, then he forced one of his own on Devin Street shortly after the fourth quarter began. He racked up seven total tackles while playing in all but 10 defensive snaps, and he didn't get horribly exposed in coverage, all of which are positive signs for the inside linebacker. Foster had five interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his 57 games in Tampa Bay, and it seems he's off to a good start in Washington.

#2. SwaggyRoast

The Chris Baker/Terrance Knighton power combo is back, and the duo had a hell of a game against the Cowboys. Baker was the bigger star on paper, finishing with four tackles and a forced fumble. He also made a great play on 3rd-and-goal with about five mentions left in the game to stop McFadden from getting into the endzone, and the fumble he forced was frankly amazing. He swiped it from Matt Cassel's hand at an impossible angle, and it forced a 10-yard loss.

Knighton also had a strong outing, though he didn't rack up any traditional stats. He did a nice job of clogging up the middle and was part of the reason McFadden only managed 53 yards despite the Redskins not stacking the box.

#3. Tress Way

I don't care, I'm putting him here. The man keeps drilling punts and giving opponents terrible field position, and while you could argue he out-kicked his coverage a few times, I would argue his coverage isn't very good. And did you see that tackle he made? And the terrible snap he corralled and still managed to get down? #TressWay4MVP

Honorable Mentions: Bashaud Breeland, Ryan Kerrigan, Will Compton, Ricky Jean-Francois

The Bad

#1. DeSean Jackson

Alright, so Jackson had to make this list for the play that set the loss in motion, but I don't put nearly as much blame on him for the loss as many people do. Yes, that punt return was an atrocity. But, in his defense, he's one of the very few players qualified to even attempt such a thing, as he's just stupid fast and has a game-winning punt return for a touchdown already on his resume. Also, he was already clearly pissed off about not being used correctly throughout the game — so much single coverage, so few attempts to make Dallas pay — and it seemed inevitable he would try to put the team on his back there. That's not to say it's right, but if you have a volatile player who can make plays, and knows he can make plays, in a position to make a play, you have to expect him to do whatever he can to make a play. He's not the guy who will make the smart, conservative decision; he's a home run hitter, and he'll either hit one or miserably, embarrassingly strike out.

But damn, did he strike out.

#2. Offensive play-calling

I don't think this can be ignored. The Redskins have, at times, looked much better in the past six weeks or so largely because their play-calling has been creative and risky. Remember the onside kick against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? That wasn't offense, but it's the same concept: doing what isn't expected. Washington ran the ball on 16 of its 25 first downs — one was a Kirk Cousins run, the other 15 were running backs. Not surprisingly, the Redskins faced 13 third downs with at least five yards to go, 10 of which came in the first half.

We can complain about Jackson's punt return all week, but the reality is Washington probably wouldn't have even been in that situation if he had been targeted on a few deep balls early. Cousins threw deep to Jackson once all game before the 28-yard touchdown in the final minute, and that was as he was getting hit and simply launched a prayer that only barely sailed past the speedy receiver.

Jay Gruden and Sean McVay looked completely out of touch with the game, just a week after they called a terrific game against the New York Giants. It continues their trend of either being excellent play-callers or totally inept.

#3. Defensive play-calling

I don't know who to put this on. I think Joe Barry is primarily to blame, but I wasn't in the meetings and practices as the Redskins were preparing for the game. I hated how much respect the Redskins defense gave Matt Cassel. This is a guy who hasn't shown anything worth respecting all season, yet Washington hardly stacked the box all game. Runners had room to maneuver and Cassel was hardly ever under pressure. The Cowboys offense is basically Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, yet the Redskins played a deep, conservative defense for much of the game. I felt a riskier, dare I say Haslett-esque, defensive approach was appropriate for this particular game, because the last thing you want to do with a quarterback who is struggling is give him time and a running game to work with.