Coming into this game, the numbers suggested this would be a defensive struggle. The numbers proved right.
The Dallas Cowboys traveled to Washington with the NFL's fourth-ranked defense in yards allowed (315.2) and second-best unit in points surrendered (17.2). But they were also facing a Redskins group that was fifth (326.2) and eighth (20.8), respectively.
On this day, though, it was the home side's defense that came out on top as the Cowboys struggled to get their offense going. The result was a 20-17 loss, their fourth consecutive defeat on the road.
The Redskins took a page out of the Cowboys' playbook as they wore down the Dallas defense with a strong ground game. Running back Adrian Peterson picked up 99 yards rushing with Washington as a group churning out 130 yards rushing and 305 total yards overall.
Conversely, the Cowboys offense didn't show any real life until the very end. Their running game was completely shut down, as Ezekiel Elliott rushed 15 times for only 34 yards. By comparison, quarterback Dak Prescott had six carries, mostly on scrambles, for 33 yards.
In all, Dallas totaled 324 yards of offense, although 151 of that came in the fourth quarter when they were trailing. Prescott finished with 273 passing yards, completing 62.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown for a 96.5 rating.
The first quarter was a struggle for the Cowboys, to say the least. Their opening drive was thwarted by a Tyron Smith holding penalty and the Redskins came right back with a six-play, 52-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. Smith threw a short pass to running back Kapri Bibbs, who raced the 23 yards for the score, 7-0.
And Dallas' next two possessions were even worse. Prescott fumbled on a fourth-and-1 attempt at the Cowboys' 44-yard line and then on their next series, the quarterback scrambled around the left end on third-and-6 and dove for the yard marker. Unfortunately, he took a blow to the head by cornerback Greg Stroman and had to undergo concussion protocol.
Thankfully, the Dallas defense was able to keep the Redskins off the scoreboard while Prescott passed the needed checklist to return to the game.
And it was Prescott who finally helped the Cowboys offense break through late in the second quarter. Taking over at its own 17-yard line with 3:46 left to play in the half, the team needed just six plays and 2:46 of clock to hit pay dirt. The money maker came on a beautifully run route by Michael Gallup, who faked out the cornerback Stroman to break wide open down the left sideline. Prescott hit him in stride and into the end zone the rookie raced for his first career touchdown. That connection evened the score, 7-7, at the break.
But the Redskins took their first possession of the third quarter and worked their way down to the Cowboys' 3-yard line. And while the Dallas defense held, forcing a 21-yard field goal, which gave Washington a 10-7 advantage, the longer the game went on and the more the offense continued to plod along – it totaled only 4 yards on six plays in the third quarter – the more the Cowboys had to rely on a tiring defense.
They were up for the challenge. Washington went on an eight play, 44-yard drive and reached the Cowboys' 7-yard line, yet the Dallas defense was able stand tall when it needed to and forced a 25-yard field goal.
So it was still a one-possession game, 13-7, with 12:35 remaining. That deficit was then narrowed with a 47-yard field goal by Brett Maher, and from that point on, the game turned into a barnburner.
Once more, the Cowboys had to start deep in their own territory on their next series From their 20-yard line, they appeared to be on the move when Prescott found Beasley for a 16-yard gain. But a holding call on rookie guard Connor Williams instead pushed them back to the 10.
Things then went from bad to worse. On the very next snap, Prescott perhaps held onto the ball too long and couldn't avoid the rush, as the Redskins Ryan Kerrigan got home. But not only did the linebacker get the sack, he also forced a fumble with fellow linebacker Preston Smith there to pick it up in the end zone for the score, 20-10 win.
Dallas wasn't done, though, as Prescott orchestrated a 12-play drive for a touchdown to pull back within three. The quarterback completed 5-of-8 passes for 52 yards during the series, but actually scrambled two times for 24 yards and capped the drive off with a 1-yard dive into the end zone, 20-17.
And when the defense then forced a three-and-out, the Cowboys had one more shot, taking over at their own 36-yard line with 1:04 remaining in the game. Under pressure, Prescott was masterful, connecting with Beasley three straight times for a combined 23 yards with Elliott then rushing three yards to set Maher up for a 47-field goal with 3 seconds remaining.
A snap infraction on long snapper L.P. Ladouceur pushed the Cowboys back 5 yards and Maher's curving kick, which looked like it would have snuck in from 47 yards out, instead clanged off the left goal post, no good. Game over.
With the Eagles losing earlier in the day, this matchup was actually for first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys, though, will head into their bye week tied for second in the division with a 3-4 record.