By Shawn S. Lealos
When the New York Giants lost on Sunday, the Washington Redskins realized that they could take the lead in the NFC East and have their own destiny in their hands. However, the Dallas Cowboys also realized that they were given a small window; and if they beat the Redskins, they would only be one game back in the NFC East with only four wins and eight losses. With the Redskins having everything to play for and the Cowboys justr grasping at straws, it was Dallas that won a very ugly game on Monday Night Football, 19-16.
This is a hard game to grade. For 58 minutes, the Dallas Cowboys offense couldn’t complete any drives and had to settle for three field goals. However, that was enough to keep them in the game. Then, with just under two minutes remaining, the Cowboys and Redskins each traded touchdowns and then Dallas drove down for the winning field goal to end the game. If not for the game winning drive, this Dallas offensive performance was a D grade and it was only that high because of the field goals.
Darren McFadden fumbled the ball twice in the game; the second fumble helping the Redskins get in good position for a field goal. Despite those two fumbles, McFadden’s first since the middle of last season, Dallas trusted him at the end and he ran in for a touchdown. It wasn’t the smartest plays, as he ran out of bounds to help the Redskins conserve time outs and then scored, leaving the Redskins time to score their own touchdown to tie the game up. But his touchdown was the only offensive score of the game. McFadden also ran for 53 yards on 14 carries. Devin Street also fumbled, giving Dallas three for the game.
Matt Cassel was conservative, completing 16-of-29 passes for 222 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked twice and the Cowboys offensive line broke down a little too often, forcing Cassel to run for his life. One huge problem is that, until the end of the game, Dez Bryant had no yards. He finished with three receptions for 62 yards, but that all came at the end. Terrance Williams had two catches for 63 yards, both amazing receptions. Jason Witten had five receptions and became only the second tight end in NFL history to have over 1,000 receptions in a career.
That last touchdown was a tough one to give up, but that was the only huge play the Redskins had in the game against this solid Cowboys defense. They limited Kirk Cousins to 219 passing yards, and that last minute touchdown to DeSean Jackson. They also limited the Redskins to 73 rushing yards, with Matt Jones leading the way with 49.
Dallas sacked Cousins three times in the game, with DeMarcus Lawrence getting two of them. The other sack was by Sean Lee, who was the Monday Night Football Player of the Game. Lee finished with 13 tackles, six of them solo, one sack, two tackles for a loss, and one quarterback hit. He had a monster game and remains the best player on this defense. This was his second game in a row with double digit tackles and he is closing in on 100 for the season.
Special Teams: A
This was the craziest special teams game of the season for Dallas. On the very first punt return, Dallas was penalized on a big return by Lucky Whitehead and on the re-kick, they were penalized again. However, on his other three punt returns, Whitehead averaged over 10 yards a return. He was even better on kick returns, with two returns for 70 yards. The biggest was the last kickoff of the game, where his 46 yard return put Dallas in good shape to move into position for the game winning field goal.
It was special teams that won the game. Dan Bailey is the best kicker in all of football, and hit four of four field goal tries, including the game winner from 54 yards out with eight seconds remaining in the game. Chris Jones had four punts and averaged 41 yards per punt, but he had the biggest play of the game. Before DeSean Jackson caught the touchdown to tie the game up with under a minute to play, he tried to make a big play by running all over the field on a punt return, only to get dragged down and fumble the ball with the punter recovering. That led to McFadden’s touchdown.
This was a game that Dallas could have just as easily lost. It seems like they don’t know what to do without Tony Romo in there to run the game plan. Dallas wasn’t succeeding in anything on offense but moving the ball down the field and kicking field goals. The end of the game was poorly called too. When Dallas was in field goal range with just about a minute left, they called a sweep that ended up out of bounce and stopped the clock. Then, McFadden had to run again and scored a touchdown, giving Washington time to score again. The Cowboys should have run the clock down with inside runs and kicked a field goal; but, that might have cost them the game.
Defensively, this was a perfect game for Dallas. Outside of the one late touchdown, Rod Marinelli was calling great plays, blitzing a lot and keeping Kirk Cousins off balance. The defense is the only reason that the Cowboys’ losing streak had such close scores in games.
The Dallas Cowboys are now one game out of first place in the NFC East. Things do not get easy next week as the play the high powered Green Bay Packers. They need a miraculous defensive performance to stay in that game with this offense. However, the Cowboys could still make the playoffs with an 8-8 record. They could even make the playoffs with a 7-9 record with the way the rest of their division is playing, but better to be safe than sorry.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.