Now that the NFC East Division championship comes down to the final game of the year, EVERY Redskin fan is already printing their playoff tickets. “We already beat you convincingly on Thanksgiving at your place. This will be a breeze”, is typically the general tone of their comments I’ve seen on Twitter. No doubt the final score had them winning by 7 points, 38-31, but they are forgetting a lot of key points that played into that final score. Most NFL fans understand that a prior game rarely has any impact on the next game and that sweeping division opponents – especially in the always tough NFC East – is no easy task. In any event, I thought I would refresh everyone’s memory of the game from just over a month ago.
1. The game started well enough for the Cowboys. The Redskins received the opening kickoff and went 3 and out. The Cowboys took the ball on their first possession and drove to the Washington 7. Miles Austin, doing what he had done a lot lately, dropped what would have been a touchdown at the back of the end zone. He was also injured on the play with a hip strain and did not return to the game. The Cowboys settled for a 3 point lead instead of the 7. On their second possession, Washington managed to get 1 first down before punting the ball away but were not generating any offensive rhythm.
2. The Cowboys second possession started well enough but they could not overcome 2 consecutive penalties – the traditional false start on Doug Free followed by a delay of game penalty forcing the Cowboys to punt from their own 36-yard line after a 3rd down pass to Vickers came up well short.
3. Washington started their third possession at their own 7-yard line. They made 1 first down before the disastrous 2nd quarter started. One minute and 3 seconds into the 2nd quarter, there was a blown coverage by safety Danny McCray and corner Brandon Carr and 68-yards later Aldrick Robinson scored on a wide open bomb and the ‘Skins had a lead they would never relinquish.
4. The Cowboys next drive looked like they might answer that score until Dez Bryant fumbled after a catch that would have given Dallas a first down. Washington returned the fumble to the Dallas 49 giving RGIII a short field. They quickly moved the ball to the Dallas 25 before a pass interference penalty on Carr in the end zone gave the Redskins a first and goal at the 1. It only took one play for Alfred Morris to score and give the Redskins a 14-3 lead.
5. The wheels were starting to wobble on Dallas’ wagon at this point and they went 3 and out on their next possession giving the ball right back to Griffin and the red hot Redskin offense. Four plays later, Pierre Garcon made an incredible catch on a short pass thrown behind him. The ball barely cleared the outstretched hands of LB Carter and Brandon Carr was set to intercept the errant pass when Garcon reached back and snagged the ball out of the air. He then outran a flat footed Dallas secondary for a 59-yard touchdown with 2:25 left in the half. It wasn’t bad coverage – just a very good play by Garcon. The Redskins were rolling now, up 21-3 while Dallas fans were mostly throwing up their turkey dinners. But, the pain wasn’t over just yet.
6. Dallas came out in their no-huddle offense with just a little over 2 minutes remaining and made a couple of first downs before Tony Romo tried to fit one in to Cole Beasley (where there was clear interference by DeAngelo Hall by the way) and the pass was intercepted. Two turnovers in the half already and suddenly it was the Redskins in position to potentially add to their lead with possession at the Dallas 33 with :30 left.
7. RGIII closed out the debacle that was the 2nd quarter with a fairly amazing 6-yard back-shoulder throw to Santana Moss for another touchdown and the half thankfully came to an end with the score 28-3. Dallas had also lost both Miles Austin and Orlando Scandrick to injury. Injuries are part of the game, but losing key players mid-game can be a lot tougher than a back up player who knows he will start and prepares all week like a starter.
8. Dallas got the ball first to open the 3rd quarter and looked like they were on a mission quickly driving to the Washington 6-yard line after a 33-yard pass and run by Felix Jones. The Cowboys couldn’t get the ball in the end zone again and trailing by 25 points chose to kick another field goal. The score was now 28-6 with 11:48 left in the 3rd quarter.
9. The defense rose up and delivered a 3 and out for the Redskins (after Jason Garrett challenged the spot on a third down pass play and won). After the punt, the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 33. But, they could not do anything with it after a 3rd down sack of Romo and punted it back to Washington. The Redskins held the ball for almost 3 minutes before punting it back to the Cowboys.
10. Starting at their own 21, Dallas drove to near midfield where Tony Romo threw his second interception of the game again trying to throw to Cole Beasley. This time however, it did not cost the Cowboys any points. Getting the ball back after the Washington punt, the Cowboys scored on one play when a scrambling Romo hit Dez Bryant on an improvised crossing pattern and Dez took it 85 yards for a touchdown cutting the Redskin lead to 28-13.
11. Washington unfortunately answered right back driving all the way to the Dallas 29 before the defense blew another coverage completely and left Niles Paul wide open for an easy touchdown. Recently signed Ernie Sims was forced into action when during the drive Bruce Carter went down with an arm injury (torn tricep eventually landing him on IR for the season) and he did not know his responsibility in coverage. So, the score now stood at 35-13. But, the Cowboys weren’t done.
12. Dallas answered right back with a drive and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Felix Jones (where he was injured and put out for the rest of the game leaving only Lance Dunbar at running back). Tony Romo scored the 2-point conversion on a called QB draw drawing the Cowboys to within 35-21. Two plays later the defense came up with one of the 5 interceptions RGIII has thrown this year and the Cowboys were in business at the Redskin 18. On 4th down, Dez Bryant made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown and the Cowboys were suddenly within 7 points.
13. On the ensuing Washington possession, the defense could not get their offense off the field and they were able to kick a 48-yard field goal to extend their lead to 10 points. Dropping back into the no-huddle on their next possession, Romo nearly connected again with Dez Bryant in the end zone but the ball was knocked away at the last minute. The Cowboys settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 38-31 but could not recover the onside kick with :18 seconds remaining.
So, what does this game have to do with Sunday night’s monster contest? Pretty much nothing. The Redskins are on a hot streak. The Cowboys are on a little bit of a run themselves particularly with respect to past Decembers despite the setback against the Saints last Sunday. Yes, the defense is thin. But, they have shown enough talent to keep the team in the game – at least close enough for the offense to get hot and attempt a come back. Brandon Carr was abused in the Thanksgiving Day game. I doubt that will happen again – he has certainly raised the level of his play in recent weeks.
The Redskins played a nearly flawless game in the first half Thanksgiving Day. Duplicating that will be next to impossible. DeMarco Murray missed the Thanksgiving Day game. He will play in the season finale and there is little doubt the offense is a different unit with him in the backfield. Romo is playing at an extremely high level – he has 16 interceptions this year but only 3 in the last 8 games, 1 in the last 4 games, and 0 in the last 2 games. Dez Bryant is playing like the monster we all hoped he could be. I think he could have another big game Sunday night and this time Miles Austin will play and Dwayne Harris has developed into a viable third receiver.
Once again it will likely come down to the turnover battle. The Cowboys lost it badly on Thanksgiving committing 3 costly turnovers. They can’t afford to set up Washington with short fields in this game. They need to make the most of every possession – not only because it means they likely are getting points, but it also keeps a very talented Robert Griffin III off the field. Will the Cowboys win this game and the NFC East? I don’t know. That’s why they play the game. But, it’s exciting to see we at least have a chance. And, I like our chances this time around. Go Cowboys!