Memory Lane: Cowboys-Redskins, 2011

5723962On the penultimate Sunday in November, Jason Garrett took his 5-4 Dallas Cowboys to FedEx to sweep the 3-6 Redskins, earning his first series sweep as the Dallas Cowboys’ eighth head coach in franchise history.

Dallas had been erratic, to say the least, since the start of the 2011 campaign, a year where the NFL had no off-season due to the owners’ lockout. They would win one and then drop one. Or, they would lose a couple and then win a couple, as they had been for the past two weeks with wins over the Seahawks and Bills in then-Cowboys Stadium. Improving to 6-4 before a Thanksgiving showdown with Miami and then ten days rest would be key.

Washington started the year 2-1 with Rex Grossman under center. Since then, they had fallen to 3-6 with Mike Shanahan experimenting with quarterback John Beck, who led the Dolphins to four losses in 2007. Clearly, the Redskins were in rebuilding mode, lacking a franchise quarterback.

This was the Cowboys’ third-straight noon game since their 34-7 beatdown in Philadelphia on Sunday night. The verbose Ed Hochuli would officiate this game underneath clear skies on a calm 62-degree day in Landover, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Dallas started off the game with a nine-play drive that featured good runs from a mix of Felix Jones and rookie DeMarco Murray. On a 3rd and 7 from the Redskins 35, Romo couldn’t connect with breakout wide receiver Laurent Robinson. Coach Garrett elected to punt away the football than risk his undrafted rookie kicker, Dan Bailey, trying a 53 yard field goal.

The Redskins ran a reverse to wide receiver, and Dallas native, Anthony Armstrong that created a manageable 2nd and 5. Washington wasn’t able to get anything positive, and then threw a pass to tight end Fred Davis on 3rd and 6. Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh appeared to knock out the football for a fumble that he was also able to recover. After a lengthy review, referee Hochuli concluded it was Cowboys football.

Dallas wasted no time finding the end zone in three plays with a 22 yard pass to Dez Bryant to take a 7-0 lead.

On the Redskins’ next drive, they effectively went three and out, save for cornerback Orlando Scandrick’s holding call to surrender a free first down. Nonetheless, the Redskins punted it away. Dallas wasn’t able to move the football either and punted it back to Washington.

And such was the way the first quarter went.

Dallas got the ball with 14:37 in the second quarter at their own 48 yard line. It was good field position, and Dallas was benefited by a catch by wide receiver Jesse Holley. Cornerback Josh Wilson’s pass interference also helped give the Cowboys favorable field position. From the Redskins 26, DeMarco Murray gained a solitary yard on first down. No problem, but Tony Romo’s sack on second down, and Laurent Robinson’s 10 yards instead of 13 left Dallas to settle for a 37 yard field goal that the rookie kicker booted through the uprights. Dallas led 10-0 in Landover.

The Redskins weren’t able to move the football except by a punt that, combined with a penalty, backed Dallas up to their own 5 yard line. Protecting the football was key, so Dallas didn’t try anything down the field.

Mat McBriar’s 23 yard punt set up the Redskins for their first points of the afternoon. With field position at Dallas’ 32, Washington drove the length in six plays to cut the deficit to 10-7 on a Rex Grossman draw.

The Cowboys weren’t able to move the football past their own 30 without suffering a sack or self-inflicted penalty. They punted the football back to the Redskins with 1:41 left in the half.

Starting at the Cowboys 42 yard line, thanks to Brandon Banks’ 32 yard return, the Redskins chewed clock and gobbled yards. Grossman found wide receiver Jabar Gaffney for a 16 yard touchdown to take a 14-10 lead going into the halftime. The Redskins would also receive the opening kickoff of the second half, which they capitalized upon with a 7-play drive ending in a 40 yard Graham Gano field goal. Just like that, it was 17-10 Washington.

The Cowboys offense gained a couple of first downs, but were clearly inconsistent. On a 2nd and 14, set up by defensive end Stephen Bowen’s sack on Romo, Jason Witten caught the ball and fumbled it after an 11-yard gain. On 3rd and 3, linebacker London Fletcher sacked Romo for 14 yards to end the drive.

Thankfully, the Redskins went three and out and punted it away to the Cowboys.

With 6:07 left in the third quarter, Dallas mounted a 14-play drive that extended into the first minute of the final period. Down 7 points on the road, Jason Garrett wasn’t scared of giving his rookie running back touches. DeMarco Murray gained 14 yards on 4 carries and gained 13 more on 2 check downs. Dallas finally tied the game with a 7 yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson.

The Redskins went 23 yards in only six plays and punted the ball back to the Cowboys. With 11:10 left in the game, at their own 41 yard line, Tony Romo found trusty tight end Jason Witten deep in the middle. The nine-year pro, not known for his speed, blazed to the end zone for a 59 yard touchdown and the Cowboys’ second lead of the contest. There was 9:01 left in the game.

On Washington’s opening play, quarterback Rex Grossman fluttered a pass deep in the middle looking for Anthony Armstrong. Instead, Orlando Scandrick found the pass and gave Dallas an extra possession at their own 41 yard line, the same line of scrimmage on their last play of the previous drive.

Now, the Cowboys just needed another score, whether a field goal or touchdown, to seal the game. DeMarco Murray gained 18 yards on 4 carries, but Romo missing Laurent Robinson on 3rd and 6 from Washington’s 41 meant punt time for the Cowboys.

Washington set up shop at their own 11. Who was Rex Grossman and his skill position players anyhow? There’s no way they could drive 89 yards and score a touchdown, even if there were 5:35 left and they had all three of their timeouts. Yet, that is precisely what happened: Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth came up with key catches to move the chains and score the tying touchdown.

With 14 seconds left in regulation, all the Cowboys could do was take a knee and go to overtime.

Washington began the drive with an 11-play drive that the Cowboys just couldn’t thwart. The Cowboys couldn’t stop the Redskins on third down, because the Redskins weren’t getting into any third down situations. Grossman was finding Stallworth, Gaffney, and some guy named Logan Paulsen for gains over 10 yards. Even an offensive pass interference call couldn’t sputter Washington’s march. Finally, third-year linebacker Victor Butler’s one-yard sack of Rex Grossman on 3rd and 7 ended the Redskins’ drive. Too bad it was at Dallas’ own 33 yard line, just in Graham Gano’s field goal range.

They say football is a game of inches. Would these 36 really matter?

Gano failed to split the uprights, giving Dallas the ball back at their own 42, close to mid-field.

Romo found backup tight end, and YouTube star, Martellus Bennett for 14 yards. DeMarco Murray couldn’t gain a yard on the new first down, and then Doug Free false started after an incompletion to Dez Bryant to make it 3rd and 15 from the Washington 49.

Maybe the game would end in a tie.

In the teams’ Week 3 encounter earlier in the year, on 3rd and 21, Tony Romo found second-year wide receiver Dez Bryant to convert the play and keep Dallas’ game-winning drive alive.

Could it happen again?

Yes, it would, and mouthy cornerback DeAngelo Hall would be helpless to stop it again. Dez Bryant caught this one for 26 yards.

Inside the Redskins’ 25 yard line, Dallas played for the field goal, evidenced by two consecutive one-yard runs to DeMarco Murray. On 3rd and 8, after Washington’s obligatory icing timeout, Dan Bailey nailed the 39-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 6-4 record, Jason Garrett’s first sweep, and the franchise’s 16th sweep of their arch-rival.

This Sunday in Washington, the Redskins will again only have 3 wins on the season, though it is Week 16 in the NFL and not Week 11. The Cowboys need this win badly, just as they needed this one in 2011. The Washington Redskins were Jason Garrett’s first series sweep. Will they be his most recent, in a game critically needed to keep Dallas’ playoff hopes alive?

Topics: Dallas Cowboys, DeMarco Murray, Jason Garrett, The Landry Hat

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