While quarterback Robert Griffin III has become one of the NFL's brightest young stars, many on the Cowboys defense stated in the days leading up to this Sunday night showdown that fellow Washington rookie Alfred Morris was the real concern.
Their worries proved right, as the running back erupted for 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns in leading the Redskins to a 28-18 victory over the Cowboys. With the defeat, Dallas lost the NFC East title and thus a spot in the playoffs, their season finished.
Just as they had done all year, and particularly during the month of December, the Dallas defense put up a mighty fight. In the end, however, they were just too banged up to stay with the likes of Griffin and Morris, who slowly but surely wore the Cowboys down. Not only was the defense missing far too many starters, but DeMarcus Ware was playing at nowhere near full strength and even Anthony Spencer was hobbled later in the game with an ankle injury, although he stayed in.
With that kind of challenge facing the Cowboys defense, the offense needed to pick up the slack and keep pace with the Redskins' scoring threats. They couldn't quite do it.
Although Tony Romo had been superb down the stretch run, really the key reason why Dallas had even been in a position to battle for the division crown, he wasn't at his best on this night. He threw for 218 yards on 20-of-37 passing with two touchdowns. But, he also had three interceptions, including a devastating pick deep in his own territory with the game still within reach and only three minutes left.
It also didn't help that the same injury bug that had played havoc on the defense decided to take bite out of the offensive side of the ball. By the end of the game, the Cowboys' top two receivers were on the sidelines, Dez Bryant, who led the team with 71 yards on four catches, having seemingly injured his back in the fourth quarter with Miles Austin having suffered an ankle issue in the second.
Dallas finished with 296 total yards compared to Washington's 361. The Cowboys did managed to crack the century mark in rushing, DeMarco Murray leading the way with 76 yards on 17 carries, but of course, it wasn't anywhere close to the 274 yards rushing Washington put up, Griffin adding to Morris' total with 63 yards on six carries of his own.
Through the air, Griffin wasn't particularly effective, totaling only 100 yards on 9-of-18 passing attempts. He didn't throw a touchdown, but more importantly, he also didn't have any interceptions, really the difference in the game.
Both sides had trouble finding any type of rhythm through the first quarter of the game, and the scoreboard reflected it, neither team able to put points on the board. Which was lucky for Dallas, considering each of their first two possessions ended in Tony Romo interceptions.
The first came on just their third play of the game. After Dwayne Harris returned a punt 28 yards to the Washington 27, Romo tried to go underneath to receiver Kevin Ogletree, but the two failed to connect, the pass instead going into the arms of cornerback Richard Crawford.
That was then followed by Romo throwing his second pick of the day on his team's fifth play of the next series. Having crossed midfield, on second-and-5 at the Washington 49, the quarterback tried to go deep down the left sideline to Austin, but badly underthrew his target, cornerback Josh Wilson hauling in the offering to give them the home team the ball.
Fortunately, though, the Redskins couldn't take advantage of either gift. Griffin was able to move his troops down to the Dallas 19-yard line, but kicker Kai Forbath hit the right upright on a 37-yard field goal attempt, no good. Their next drive following the second turnover simply ended in a punt, the Dallas defense doing its part to make up for the offense's struggles.
At least the Cowboys had shown they could move the ball and as the clock clicked over to the second quarter, they again began to march. Head coach Jason Garrett seemed to rely on the run a little more, calling for a rush on nine of 13 plays, but most of the big damage still came through the air.
Murray would rush seven times for 19 yards with Felix Jones adding 13 yards on two carries. But on third-and-6 at their own 26-yard line, Romo hit Harris on a 25-yard pass over the middle, then later found Bryant on a slant for 16 more. The drive was finally capped with a 9-yard strike to Witten in the middle of the end zone, the Cowboys taking a 7-0 lead. Throughout the drive the beleaguered offensive line gave Romo plenty of time to work, particularly on the scoring throw, when the quarterback had time to wait for Witten to find an opening.
Unfortunately, the Redskins offense began to show some life as well, and soon enough evened up the score. Morris rushed four times for a total of 45 yards, three of his runs going for at least 12 yards with the final one covering 17 yards around the left end into the end zone.
Dallas tried to make a little noise as the final minutes ticked off the second quarter and crossed midfield to the Washington 34-yard line. But on fourth-and-9, Garrett elected to punt instead of trying a 52-yard field goal, the score remaining 7-7 as the teams broke for the half.
With the Cowboys having reached Washington territory on three of their first four possessions, they continued that trend as the third quarter got underway, barely crossing midfield to the Redskins 49. But there the drive stalled, the team seemingly not taking full advantage of their opportunities.
The Redskins, meanwhile, grabbed the lead by taking advantage of their two rookie weapons, Griffin and in particular Morris. Dallas' defense was progressively having more trouble containing the running back, who carried the ball five times for 40 yards before Griffin reached the end zone with a 10-yard scamper around the left end for a 14-7 advantage.
The Cowboys narrowed the gap to 14-10 on their next possession, which began on their own 26-yard line with 3:04 left in the third frame and ended with 48-yard field goal from Dan Bailey early in the fourth quarter.
But with the Washington offense beginning to wear down the Dallas defense, field goals weren't going to be enough. Morris and Griffin kept the pressure on with the quarterback breaking loose for 17 yards to get into Dallas territory, and then completing an 11-yard pass to Santana Moss to reach the Cowboys 32-yard line. That left it to Morris, who broke left, then cut across the grain to find the middle of the field wide open, rumbling virtually untouched for the touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
But, like they've done all year, Dallas battled back. Without Bryant or Austin, that left Ogletree and Harris as the team's top wideouts. First off, they got a great punt return from Harris, who ripped off a 39-yard return then drew a 15-yard facemask penalty to set the Cowboys up at the Washington 16-yard line.
Three players later, Romo found Ogletree on the left side of the end zone for the score, then went to Harris on that same left side for the two-point conversion, the Cowboys now only three points down, 21-18 with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
Through pure grit and determination, the defense then did its job, forcing the Redskins to punt, Dallas taking over at its own 15 with 3:33 left on the clock.
And then disaster struck. After Romo found Witten over the middle for 14 yards, the quarterback was backpedaling to escape pressure, and tried to throw a soft lob to DeMarco Murray on the left side. But he was fooled by linebacker Rob Jackson who faked rushing and then dropped out to cover Murray. He leaped for the interception, the Redskins getting the ball at the Dallas 25.
The Cowboys defense did their best to halt the bleeding and on third-and-7 at the 12-yard line, seemingly had Washington stopped. Instead Jason Hatcher was flagged for roughing the passer, the Redskins given a new set of downs.
With that, Washington punched it in on thrd-and-1, Morris fumbling but after the ball had already crossed the plane of the goal line, giving the home team an insurmountable 28-18 lead with only 1:02 left in the game.
And with that, the Cowboys season coming to an end, the team finishing the year at 8-8 and in third place in the NFC East.