Perhaps the biggest play of the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday night at AT&T Stadium was turned in by a defensive line that has been much-maligned the past two weeks.
Improbably, starters DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher watched that play from the sidelines.
Ware left in the first half with a quad strain and did not return. Later, with the Cowboys protecting a tenuous 8-point lead and just under 10 minutes to play in the game, Hatcher gimped off the field holding his left arm gingerly.
To that point, Hatcher had been a difference-maker on the line, recording two sacks and two pressures. His departure left George Selvie, Drake Nevis, Nick Hayden and Kyle Wilber to hold the lead. The very next play after Hatcher went out, with the Cowboys rushing just those four and dropping seven, Wilber strip-sacked Robert Griffin III, giving the Dallas offense the ball on the 3-yard line. Three plays later, rookie running back Joseph Randle scored his first NFL touchdown, and the Cowboys lead was 31-16.
Coverage was good on the play, forcing Griffin to hold on to the ball. Wilber had streaked up field to the right, forcing Griffin to step up in the pocket. Nevis pushed his blocker to the left, allowing Selvie to stunt back around toward the inside of the pocket. Hayden was fighting a double team, occupying two would-be inside protectors, and Selvie and Wilbur met in the middle to sandwich Griffin.
The ball popped right into Wilbur’s arms, and the drama of this game was over. Thanks to four unlikely guys who at the start of this year’s camp were either fighting for a roster spot, playing in some other team’s camp, or on the couch at home hoping for a phone call.
Dwayne Harris, Brandon Carr and Sean Lee were named the NBC players of the game, and all deservingly so. Harris was electric on special teams, with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another touchdown, and excellent play on the punt coverage unit. Sean Lee was everywhere, at one point shedding a one-on-one block from the center to save what should have been an easy rushing touchdown for Griffin in the first quarter. Carr shut down the Redskins’ biggest receiving threat, Pierre Garcon, for most of the night in man coverage.
But a makeshift D-Line with a Next-Man-Up mentality made the biggest impact play of the night. NBC sideline correspondent Michele Tafoya asked Sean Lee about it after the game.
“We have a lot of guys who have been working, you know, behind the scenes, trying to get better and better,” Lee said. “They came in and made a ton of plays for us. It really was the difference in the game.”
It was a game that Tony Romo didn’t have to go out and win all by himself. Football teams win football games. Sunday night’s win was a brilliant team effort all around.