Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*
ARLINGTON, Texas – We've seen it a few times already this year – you don't have to win all three phases of the game to claim a victory.
But if you get outplayed in all three, you have no shot. Throw in the fact the Redskins also out-coached and out-schemed Dallas on Monday night and you have to even wonder how the Cowboys managed to get to overtime.
The standings certainly won't suggest that the Redskins are better than the Cowboys. But they were Monday night and that's why they walked out of AT&T Stadium with a 20-17 overtime win.
[embeddedad0]The Redskins outplayed the Cowboys when they had the football, even owning it for 10 more minutes of game clock. They made sure Colt McCoy stayed in manageable situations and he got himself out of a few tight spots, too.
Defensively, the Redskins were all over the Cowboys – not only sacking Romo five times, but also putting the hurt on the quarterback in the third quarter, knocking him out of the game momentarily.
Every time there is a tough loss, it seems like someone will say, "well, it only counts as one loss."
Let's find out this week if that's true. Losing the game will be hard to swallow. But as long as this Tony Romo injury is described as just a back contusion, then yeah, I'll buy the "only counts once" theory. But defensively, the Cowboys weren't as lucky, losing Justin Durant for the season with a biceps injury.
Still, this team has found a way to overcome injuries at that positon.
And until Monday night, they've found ways to overcome just about anything that happens throughout the game. But they simply couldn't against the Redskins, who always seemed to be a step ahead.
To win games in this league, making big plays is important. But avoiding the bad ones are vital.
The Cowboys just couldn't avoid them. As great as DeMarco Murray has been this year, and it continued Monday with his NFL-record eighth straight 100-yard game, he cost the team again with a fumble in the red zone. Honestly, unlike a lot of people sitting around me in the press box and certainly on twitter, I don't fault him for churning for extra yards. That's the way he runs and that's why he's been so amazing.
But you fault him for fumbling the ball, period. It shouldn't matter if there are five guys around you or one, you know they're going after the football. It's a running back's job to protect the ball and once again, he failed to do that. This team has gotten away with it in other games, but they couldn't against Washington. We always knew there might be a game in which the fumble would bite them. Consider the Cowboys bitten.
Murray's backup, Joseph Randle, lost a key fumble as well, but the Cowboys were at least fortunate enough to come up with an interception.
See, the Redskins had their share of mistakes, too, but they were minimal. While there were at least three occasions when it looked like they might have coughed up fumbles, the stat book says they never fumbled once. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had four fumbles and lost two.
If Murray doesn't pounce on Romo's fumble at the end of regulation, the game is over right then and there.
Yeah, the Cowboys had their chances to win. In most close games like this, the losing team will look back and shake their head about a couple of plays. This one is no exception.
But the Redskins were just a tad better on this one. And it seemed to start with preparation, and also execution.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been really good this year. The play-calling wasn't so hot on Monday night. We should be hesitant to blame the play-caller all the time because of the quarterback's ability to check out of plays.
There were a couple of drives in which the Cowboys should've simply run the ball more. After Murray ripped off a 51-yard run to the Redskins' 6, he then got another carry to the 3. After that, it was two straight passes from Weeden, who hasn't thrown a pass all year.
Umm, why? If Murray was tired, replace him. But second-and-goal from the 3 should be at least two more runs and possibly a third.
But the Cowboys were counting on Weeden being sharp enough to execute those timing routes to Bryant, who probably should've made the catch on third-down.
To me, that's a case of the Cowboys out-thinking themselves. I thought this offensive line was built to push through the eight-man fronts and run the ball despite the looks.
Then, in overtime, it's a unique situation where the offense knows it has four downs every time. Yet, after an 8-yard run by Murray, the Cowboys throw it three times to lose the game.
Even Romo admitted the Cowboys came out thinking they might throw it deep if the Redskins showed a run-defense look. But they didn't and the Cowboys couldn't complete a pass. Once again, run the ball and make it manageable.
The Cowboys averaged 6.6 yards a carry, but on two occasions when they needed 3 yards and had three downs to get it, they failed.
That's coaching. Either the coaches called the wrong plays or didn't emphasize it enough that the quarterback couldn't check out.
The Cowboys have won six straight games playing to their strength, but they went away from it a couple of times Monday night.
The glass half-full people will tell us how no one expected them to be 6-2 at the halfway point. The glass-half empty folks will wonder if this is a sign of a team that got exposed.
Then again, the Cowboys just fell at home to a five-loss Redskins team. That probably called for more empty glasses than anything else.