On a day when many Americans gathered at home, on a holiday marked by food, family, and perhaps most importantly football, the Washington Redskins began the first game of a three week road stretch and were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys 31 to 26. With the loss the Redskins fall to 6-4-1 and the Cowboys improved their record to 10-1.
After winning the opening toss, Dallas took the field on offense to begin the ball game. Four straight runs moved the ball quickly into Redskins territory and three plays later, Ezekiel Elliott picked up the first score of the contest as the Cowboys spanned 75 yards in just 3:51 to take the 7-0 advantage. The Cowboys’ 58 yards on their opening drive, their most on an opening drive this season.
Seeking to hit the reset button, Washington counter-punched and moved into the redzone before being backed up by penalties, and having to settle for a Dustin Hopkins attempt from 43 yards out that he missed wide left.
If the goalpost was a touch longer, the field goal might have grazed it. pic.twitter.com/7SU1dFaTsR— michael phillips (@michaelpRTD) November 24, 2016
Prior to the kick, the Redskins lined up with only ten men on the field, and after Morgan Moses was unable to take his position on the line, Washington was forced to take timeout, effectively icing their own kicker.
On the next Washington drive, a deep crossing route from Jamison Crowder netted 38 yards, setting up a Vernon Davis catch out to the flat for first and goal from the five to end the first quarter. Once again, the Redskins were unable to capitalize in the redzone, as Dustin Hopkins connected on his second attempt of the game, this time from 24 yards out to make it 7-3. More demoralizing than the inability to get a touchdown after a second solid drive, was an injury to Jordan Reed who appeared to hit the turf hard on his shoulder going up for a pass on third down.
Washington’s redzone woes were just getting started, and despite entering the game as the 2nd best team in the league in total offense, they are 28th in red zone production.
The defense missed a golden opportunity as Duke Ihenacho was unable to haul in a gift-wrapped tip-drill interception on third and long, which allowed Dan Bailey to convert from 46 yards out to give Dallas a 10-3 lead.
Battling the sun that was glaring in his eyes through the glass windows (why??) at the other end of the field, Dustin Hopkins missed a 55-yard attempt with under four minutes remaining.
It's kind of bright in AT&T Stadium pic.twitter.com/knBOfr8fqA— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) November 24, 2016
The Cowboys capitalized on the field position off the missed kick, as just inside the two minute warning Dak Prescott connected with Terrance Williams who tiptoed inside the pylon to cap off a 6-play, 55-yard scoring drive that lasted just 2:06, making it 17-3 in favor of the hosts.
The Redskins’ 14 point deficit was their largest since their week 1 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Redskins took over with 1:53 remaining in the first half, desperately needing a score. Two catches apiece by Vernon Davis and Jamison Crowder set up the offense again on first and goal. After spanning 10 plays and 73 yards, they suffered the same fate as their previous trips inside the ten, and were unable to punch it in on three straight pass attempts. Dustin Hopkins booted home the kick from 20 yards out to make it 17-6 into the break.
Missed opportunities marred the first half, despite leading 16:43 to 13:17 in time of possession, and outpacing Dallas 240 to 170 in total yards, Washington’s 0-for-3 in the red zone plagued Washington as they had their work cut out for them in the second half.
On defense, there were struggles all around with a seeming inability to bring down Prescott and defend receivers down the field. Perhaps most notably, Kendall Fuller was targeted 5 times, allowing 4 catches for 50 yards.
After burning a timeout on second down with 8:45 left to go, while on defense, Washington held on the Cowboys’ first possession of half number two. The Redskins converted on 4th-and-2 to move into Dallas territory. Then on the following third down from the 36, Jordan Reed came back from what was diagnosed as a separated AC joint to make a one handed grab setting up first and goal inside the five.
How did Jordan Reed catch that? https://t.co/Bm99WyEIZA— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) November 24, 2016
Out of the break into the fourth quarter, Kirk Cousins connected with Jordan Reed on a pass to the flat in one-on-one coverage from Byron Jones. The two-point try was intercepted in the endzone to keep the deficit at 5 points, 17-12.
Dallas though regained momentum, marching 75 yards on 5 plays, 41 coming from Elliott, and capped off the drive with a six-yard scramble into the endzone by Prescott to double up the Redskins 24-12 inside of 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
Just 1:27 later on 3rd-and-1, with the sun no longer a factor, Kick Cousins identified a mismatch on the outside, and found a wide open DeSean Jackson who was all alone down the sideline for 67 yards to bring the deficit back to 5, 24-19.
With the catch, Jackson put up his 21st career a 60-plus-yard touchdown to tie Devin Hester for second-most total touchdowns of 60 yards or more in NFL history. Jackson also recorded a touchdown pass in a second straight game for the first time since a three-game stretch in Weeks 11-13 of the 2015 season.
The Redskins couldn’t catch the Cowboys napping on a well-placed surprise onside kick, which set up the Cowboys on their own 45 yard line to start the following drive. Dallas moved down the the 27-yard line and Prescott broke free of the pocket to connect with Bryant inside the 5. Elliott pounded it in for his second rushing score of the day, and the Cowboys regained a 31-19 lead with 6:29 left in regulation time.
With his 4th multi-touchdown game of the season, Elliott established a Cowboys rookie record, and drew even for 7th all time among NFL for rookie running backs in scoring.
The Redskins moved to the hurry up, and marched into enemy territory and then converted on a 4th-and-1 from the 34, advancing to the 8-yard line at the two-minute warning. Jordan Reed continued his superhuman performance, elevating to collect the ensuing pass in the back of the end zone, and bringing the game back to 5, 31-26 with 1:53 remaining.
Hopkins was unable to keep the onside kick in bounds, and with one first down, Dallas picked up the win.
Kirk Cousins finished 41-of-53 for 449 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. The performance was his second straight game with over 350 passing, becoming the first Redskins quarterback to accomplish the feat since Jay Schroeder in 1986. In addition, Cousins claimed sole possession of the most career 400-yard passing games in team history surpassing Sonny Jurgensen and Mark Rypien, while becoming the first player in team history to record multiple 400-yard passing games in a single season.
Cousins also became the fifth Redskins quarterback to produce back-to-back 20-touchdown seasons in team history (Joe Theismann in 1983-84, Sonny Jurgensen in 1966-67 and 1969-70, and Sammy Baugh in 1947-48).
To the credit of the Redskins highly-touted and recently grooving offensive line, Cousins was not sacked on the afternoon.
Desean Jackson was the leading receiver with 4 grabs for 118 yards and 1 score. Getting in on the action in the receiving game was Jordan Reed (10 catches, 95 yards, 2 TD), Jamison Crowder (8 receptions 88, yards) and Vernon Davis (5 catches, 68 yards).
On an afternoon when he came back from nursing a shoulder injury in a sling during the first half, Reed passed Don Warren (2,536) for fourth-most career receiving yards by a tight end in team history, and tied Clint Didier (19) for fourth-most at the position in Redskins history.
On the ground, Washington struggled. Rob Kelley followed up his 137 yard/ 3TD performance against Green Bay on Sunday Night with just 14 rushes for 37 yards, and the team only recorded 56 total rushing yards in the contest.
Defensively, the Redskins had their hands full with Dallas’ triple-threat offense that not only has two of the league’s top rookie stars in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, but also features one of the best wide receiving corps with weapons that include Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten. All of this was backed up by the consensus best offensive line unit in the NFL this year.
Prescott finished 17/24 passing for 195 yards with 1 touchdown, adding 39 yards on the ground with a score. Elliott recorded 120 total yards on the afternoon, while Bryant led the Cowboys in the receiving game with 72 yards on 5 catches. Both Dallas rookies benefitted from tremendous blocking all afternoon, helped in no small part by an injury to Anthony Lanier in the first half.
In addition to being a rivalry game, this week was built up to feel like much, much more. Squaring off against any team with the NFL’s best record, one that had emerged victorious in their week 2 matchup earlier this season, let alone on a national stage would have been enough to make this game feel season-defining. But in addition there were the added elements of their division rivalry, and the 66-year history between these two franchises and their fan bases, all of which made elevated the stakes even higher.
The Redskins now must regroup knowing that they can do no worse than being in their current position as the sixth seed in the NFC at week’s end. With two tough road games still to come, starting next against the Arizona Cardinals, and two more NFC East divisional matchups against the Eagles and Giants on the horizon, the Redskins are still very much in the driver’s seat as they seek to secure a spot in the postseason.