LANDOVER, Md. –The phrase "it's not how you start, but how you finish" has never been a favorite of mine.
Maybe it's because I still can't get that 1994 NFC Championship Game out of my head and wonder if things would've been different without giving the 49ers a 21-0 lead. (It's only been 23 years; I'll get over it at some point).
But since then, I've always put the start and the finish pretty much on the same level.
Well, this game is an exception then, especially in three different aspects.
Because if we judged Ezekiel Elliott by his first carry, or Mike Nugent by his first field goal, or even this defense by its first real drive, then there's no way I'd be writing this article among the blasting rap music and rambunctious players celebrating this win.
Zeke turned it around.
Nugent "kicked" it into high gear.
And that defense not only bounced back, but bounced the ball out, up and even into the end zone.
Forget the start, the Cowboys turned this ugly game into a beautiful finish.
Let's begin where it all begin – Elliott's fumble to start the game. The ironic part was that his last fumble occurred right there around the same area of FedEx Field back in Week 2 of the 2016 season. Now, he was benched in that game and Alfred Morris had to finish the job. Not this time as the Cowboys not only put the ball back in his hands, but did it 32 more times.
I think Zeke responded rather nicely, racking up 150 rushing yards. And if you think it might be a quiet 150, it's because it was. When your longest carry of the game is only 14 yards and you still get a buck-50, that's an impressive afternoon.
This football team is simply night-and-day different without Zeke. We will find out this week if the Cowboys have to experience that. Let's hope we get to see a matchup of the NFL's leading rusher in Kareem Hunt and last year's leader, who is still in the conversation as the league's best back. He certainly was every bit the superstar workhorse in this game.
How about Mr. Nugent? Mike Nugent was signed because he's a 13-year veteran who has likely seen it all. Kicking field goals on the grass in the middle of a downpour? Surely, he's been there, and he acted like it.
OK, so he hooked that first kick to the left. It showed me how spoiled we are with Dan Bailey when you just expect to drill 49-yarders in the rain.
But since Bailey will likely be out a month if not longer with a groin injury, Nugent did his best to calm down Cowboys Nation by promptly hitting the next four kicks.
Think about it: The Cowboys likely don't win this game without those four field goals. Games like this are ugly, especially in the red zone when it's hard to connect those passes that Dak Prescott usually completes with ease. From the sound of things, Jason Witten was expected to be featured in the red zone this game and could've had about two touchdowns. But the weather changed everything and put the onus back on the new kicker.
Obviously, there won't be ANY kicking controversy when Bailey returns, but it was nice to see Nugent come in and get the job done, especially after that first miss.
And that defense. Raise your hand if you were concerned when Jamison Crowder (who has been MIA on my fantasy team all year) just torched the defense on the first drive, making us all wonder where the safety help was? Washington zipped up the field with ease, suggesting this was going to be a track meet.
But the Cowboys put the brakes on that, finding ways to get off the field. The Redskins were just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions. The biggest stop was likely the sack by David Irving to set up the field-goal attempt that Irving and Tyrone Crawford combined to block. Orlando Scandrick did the rest, switching the field position that led to a Cowboys touchdown. Being down 16-7 would've been a challenge, but the Cowboys were able to avoid that and grab a 14-13 lead.
The defense took advantage of a banged-up Redskins offensive line that dealt with even more injuries throughout the game. But the Cowboys did what you're supposed to do in a situation like that – take advantage. This isn't about feeling sorry for anyone dealing with that. Nobody cares when the Cowboys have their own injuries and play on a short week. You just man up and get the job done. I actually applaud the Redskins for patching it together enough to be somewhat functional.
But over the course of the game, the Cowboys were too good and too dominant. David Irving has five sacks in three games. As great as DeMarcus Lawrence has been, which includes a sack in every game this year so far, Irving has been just as good in the last three since coming off suspension.
Tyrone Crawford might have had the best game of his career, and he definitely picked a great time for it.
This game started off with Zeke fumbling the ball away, but ended with him running for big plays even with the Redskins zeroing in on stopping him.
This game started with a missed field goal from their new kicker, but ended with him drilling not only four kicks, but all of his extra points, which had been somewhat of an issue for him.
And this game started with the Cowboys defense giving up big plays, but ended with the defense making its own big plays and scoring a defensive touchdown.
So the cliché is more than accurate today. It's definitely not how it started, but how it finished.