ARLINGTON, Texas – Ah, the NFL.
Once again … "just when you think you know one thing … Boom!"
Man, the Cowboys needed that boom! For a change, they were the ones lowering it – right on the Redskins' heads from start to finish.
I'm sure no team in NFL history has needed to get to 6-6 as bad as the Cowboys did this week. Cue Jim Mora's "playoffs?" clip if you'd like, but obviously the Cowboys are still alive in the playoff picture, although they're going to need a lot more games like this one and probably some help, too.
But this was more than just saving their season. This was a matter of pride as well.
This Cowboys' team hadn't just lost three games in a row; they'd absolutely been blown out in the process. Not only that, but their depth – or lack thereof – has been exposed in the worst way. Every team in the NFL suffers injuries and/or suspensions, but once the Cowboys lost Ezekiel Elliott, Sean Lee and then Tyron Smith for two games, it was like all hope was completely lost – along with the games.
It was nice to see that this team can compete without Zeke and Lee. It's nice to see they can win as well.
Say what you want about the Redskins' being 5-6 and not very good. All week long, it seemed like their 5-6 record was so much better than the Cowboys, just off the idea that they'd won in Seattle and pushed the Saints and Vikings to the limit. Their arrow was trending upward while the Cowboys' 5-6 was a sinking ship.
But for some reason, the Cowboys just have the Redskins' number right now, especially Kirk Cousins. I do think he's pretty good, and he isn't getting much help right now with that banged-up offensive line that keeps getting worse and worse. But against the Cowboys, he's not that great at all, winning just once in seven games. The only Dallas quarterback he's beaten is Kellen Moore in a rather meaningless Week 17 matchup in 2015. Seems like Sean Lee was out for that game, too, and I know Zeke was still in Ohio.
The Cowboys just seem to give Cousins problems, and they did that once again Thursday night.
It's easy to look at the final score and see a big "38" up there and think the offense finally came alive. I guess compared to the last three weeks, they did. But this game was won because of the defense and special teams. Those two units handed the Cowboys gift after gift in the first half.
Forced fumbles on the kickoff. Tipped passes that led to picks. Pass breakups to avoid big gains. Sacks on the quarterback to get off the field.
And then, of course, Ryan Switzer's punt return was a thing of beauty. Yes, he got some nice blocks but he did a lot of weaving and dodging on his own.
All of that led to the Cowboys' 17-0 lead, which was badly needed because Dak Prescott was suffering through a bruised throwing hand. Yes, he still played through the game, but it's a little easier to put a team away when you don't have to throw the ball every snap.
Maybe the most encouraging part for the offense occurred early in the fourth quarter when the Redskins had trimmed the lead to 24-14. The Cowboys were still in control but they needed to get the chains moving again to breathe easier.
So what happened? Four straight runs by Alfred Morris to start the possession, totaling nine, six, 15 and 11 yards. With or without Zeke, that's the Cowboys' style they want to play. When the game is on the line, be able to run the ball at will, no matter who's trying to stop you. And that's what Morris and that O-line accomplished. Eventually, the Cowboys scored to break the game open with a Morris TD, followed by an interception and another score for good measure.
This team needed a win like that.
What does it mean in the long run? Who really cares right now. Let's focus less on what this game means and what it was.
And it was a game the Cowboys absolutely had to have for more reasons than one.