Dallas Cowboys defense inspires offense to victory over Redskins

Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

In a must-win season finale against the Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys defense showed its grit even when the offense appeared to have thrown in the towel.

At AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys faced their divisional rivals, a struggling Washington Redskins team, in a must-win game for a chance at the NFC East crown. After losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, the Cowboys also needed the New York Giants to defeat the Birds in order to secure a path to the postseason.

After winning the pregame coin toss, the Cowboys elected to receive the kick. The assumption was Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott and crew wanted to make a statement. And they did … with an opening three-and-out. The statement was something like this: The season might be over but we’ve sold the tickets so our boss won’t let us start vacationing yet.

Fox Sports announcer and Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman accused the Cowboys offense of going through the motions at multiple points in the game. In what ended up being their final game of the season, the Dallas offense was once again getting shamed, but not by an opponent. It was their teammates.

If a pregame memo passed through the Boys’ locker room declaring the season over, the defense either didn’t get it or thought it was a joke. While the offense appeared to be throwing in the towel, the defense was swinging like a street fighter at the Washington Redskins.

Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith struck first by intercepting Redskins quarterback Case Keenum at the Washington 36-yard line. The next Skins drive, Cowboys linebacker Malcolm Smith struck again by causing Redskins running back Adrian Peterson to fumble. Safety Xavier Woods snagged the loose ball and advanced it to the Washington 21.

Despite twice starting with great field position, Prescott’s offense stalled after both turnovers. Dallas kicker Kai Forbath took advantage of the opportunities continuing his successful campaign after replacing former kicker Brett Maher, making his first two of four field goals on the day. Forbath finished his season on America’s Team a perfect ten for ten on field goals.

In the first six Redskins possessions, a determined Dallas defense refused first downs on five. In addition to the two takeaways, the Boys held Washington to a field goal, forced a punt, and twice stopped the Skins on fourth down.

Meanwhile, the lackluster offense led by Prescott failed to gain a first down on four of the first six Cowboys drives. In five of those six, Dak’s offense netted only 29 yards, which included three three-and-outs and a fumble.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The fifth Dallas drive yielded a touchdown following a play where Prescott connected with wide receiver Amari Cooper on a free play thanks to a Washington defender jumping offside. Cooper blasted above two defenders and seized the ball for a 43-yard reception.

The Redskins battled until halftime then finally wore down. From there, Prescott’s offense was able to inflate offensive stats as it did against most teams with a losing record this season. The 47-16 victory ultimately didn’t matter since the Eagles had to lose for the Cowboys to creep into the playoffs. Philly ended up beating New York, 34-17.

It really didn’t matter because Dallas had already proven last week that they lack the intensity to win against competitive teams. Despite impressive statistics this season, Prescott’s counterparts have outplayed him in every loss this season, often expressing far greater passion and eagerness for victory. Getting into the playoffs would have only delayed the end of a disappointing season for another week.

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s contract expires on January 14 according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, making owner Jerry Jones’s highest priority searching for a new coaching leader. Hopefully, Jones can find a head coach who inspires a quick-start offense rather than one that requires four to seven possessions before springing to life.