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The Redskins face a potential season-defining game in Dallas on Thanksgiving

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A scant 30 days ago, our Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s an understatement to say that a lot has happened since then.

The Redskins will enter the rematch with as many as five different starters on offense compared to the unit that squared off against the Cowboys just a few weeks back. The most recent—and devastating—change comes as the result of a grisly injury suffered by Alex Smith in Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Houston Texans. Thirty-three years to the day that Joe Theismann suffered a similar catastrophe, well-wishers from both teams paid tribute to Smith as he left the field for the final time in 2018.

These aren’t the same Cowboys Washington beat four weeks ago, either. Dallas made an eyebrow-raising trade for the RaidersAmari Cooper before the deadline, a deal widely criticized as overly costly for the Cowboys. Nonetheless, the Dallas offense has been more successful since Cooper arrived, as his field-stretching abilities have generated more opportunities through the air and on the ground. Dallas also has its first two-game winning streak of the season after squeaking by the same Atlanta Falcons team that beat the Redskins by 24 points.

With Colt McCoy now at the controls, first-place Washington will clash with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Although we regard Redskins / Cowboys Thanksgiving games as a notable part of NFL’s best rivalry, the reality is that Dallas has dominated. To be fair, the Cowboys always get to play at home. Yet, the fact remains that the only Thanksgiving game the Redskins have ever won against Dallas came via Robert Griffin III’s magical performance in 2012.

But the stakes are too high to dwell on a largely irrelevant past. A win by Washington on Thursday would complete a sweep of Dallas. That victory would give the Redskins at least a two-game lead in the division, which would amount to a three-game lead over the Cowboys due to the tie-breaker, likely an insurmountable gap.

A loss would mean chaos. Dallas would pull even with Washington, the Eagles would remain on playoff life-support, the delusional Giants would still technically have a path forward, and a second loss in five days might push the Redskins’ already-cynical fanbase toward full-blown fatalism.

Fear not, Redskins fans. While the Cowboys have clawed their way back to .500, the Redskins continue to show that they seem to have positive qualities that can’t quite be captured in a box score. Each time Washington has faced adversity this season, the team has responded. Look at their performances in games following a defeat so far this year:

Lost to Colts 21-9 / Beat Packers 31-17

Lost to Saints 43-19 / Beat Panthers 23-17

Lost to Falcons 38-14 / Beat Buccaneers 16-3

Offensive and defensive metrics are useful.

But there’s no metric for resilience.

That’s why I’m surprisingly, defiantly optimistic about Thursday. Throw out the terrible record against Dallas on Thanksgiving. Throw out the short week. Throw out the injuries. Yes, even the injuries. Throw them out.

The Redskins have a back-up quarterback who has been with the team (and, critically, with the same coach) since 2014. I have no doubt that Colt McCoy will be mentally prepared to play—and win. The offensive line, all things considered, is surprisingly effective. The defense . . . well, the defense is as tough and gritty a unit as the Redskins have had in a long time.

I know we’re supposed to be jaded. I know we’re supposed to look at Alex Smith’s shattered lower leg and think, “it figures,” or “typical,” or “here we go again.” I know we’re supposed to assume the Redskins will lose to the Cowboys and play just well enough the rest of the way to finish 8-8 or 9-7 and miss the playoffs by a game.

I don’t buy it.

I think this team is different.

They’ve shown me enough now to believe that.

If the Redskins want to solidify their position at the top of this division, the next (biggest) step is to beat the Cowboys. Dallas is solid, but they’re not the Rams or the Chiefs or the Saints. Not even close.

Washington should expect to show up, give maximum effort, and win this game. And I believe that they do.

Players and fans alike should relish games like these. There’s pressure, yes, but that’s the price for stakes. For opportunity. For glory.

By midway through Thanksgiving night, we’ll have a much better idea about whether this is the Redskins team we’ve been waiting the better part of three decades for. I can’t wait to find out—because I believe that it is.

Poll

What happens Thursday?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Redskins win and take control of the division for good
    (550 votes)
  • 31%
    Redskins win, but the division will still come down to the final two weeks
    (434 votes)
  • 5%
    Cowboys win, but the Redskins still wind up winning the NFC East
    (74 votes)
  • 23%
    Cowboys win, and the divisional title eludes the Redskins
    (323 votes)
1381 votes total Vote Now