The Washington Redskins were town, and in the spirit of the season, they came bearing gifts – in the form of turnovers, a patchwork offensive line and a special teams breakdown.
Thanks in part to two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, four sacks and an electrifying punt return, the Dallas Cowboys defeated their NFC East rivals, 38-14, in front of 91,712 fans and a Thursday night prime-time audience.
But those offerings weren't the only reason for the Cowboys' success in this one. The offense, reverting back to its bread-and-butter, focused on running the ball, which in turn wore down the Redskins defense. In the end, Dallas dominated the time of possession, 32:38 to 27:32, while racking up 182 rushing yards.
Most of those came courtesy of Alfred Morris, who finished with 127 yards off of 27 carries, the fourth-highest rushing total of his career. The effort also marked his first 100-yard effort since Jan. 3, 2016 when he rushed for exactly 100 against the Cowboys while playing for Washington.
That more than made up for a sometimes-shaky performance from Dak Prescott, who stayed in the game despite suffering a hand injury. The quarterback finished with only 102 yards passing, but far more importantly, threw two touchdown passes while not turning the ball over once.
Still, the dirty work was done by the Dallas defense. The last time Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins took the field at AT&T Stadium, he completed 77 percent of his passes for 449 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, albeit in a loss.
This time around, the Cowboys kept the NFL's second-ranked passer relatively in check. He finished with 251 passing yards with two interceptions to go along with his two touchdowns. Washington's 280 total yards of offense was its third-lowest total of the season.
Neither team was able to do much in the first quarter. The Cowboys, in fact, failed to capitalize on two turnovers, both of which came courtesy of Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder. With Washington threatening at the Dallas 16-yard line, Cousins' pass attempt to Crowder across the middle went through the wideout's hands and into the waiting arms of safety Jeff Heath.
The Cowboys couldn't do anything with the turnover, but on the ensuing punt, Crowder, now as the return man, coughed up the ball again. And there at the bottom of the scrum was Cowboys' long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur coming up with the prize.
But despite being set up at the Washington 43-yard line, Dallas managed to pick up just 1 yard before having to punt again. If nothing else, the Cowboys at least had field position in their favor and when the defense held again, the home team's fifth possession of the game started at its own 41-yard line.
And finally, as the clock ticked over into the second quarter, the Cowboys got something going. Dallas ran the ball on nine of 11 plays during the drive with Morris and Prescott combining for 35 rushing yards. The two passes, though, were significant as the first was a 10-yard completion to Dez Bryant on third down to move the chains and the second an 8-yard dart to Jason Witten in the middle of the end zone for the score and a 7-0 lead.
Still in the gifting mood, the Redskins quickly provided another. Cousins dropped back to pass on third-and-4 from his own 24-yard line, only to be sacked by DeMarcus Lawrence. The NFL's sack leader (13.5) also stripped the ball out with teammate Maliek Collins recovering the fumble, Dallas ball.
That led to a Dan Bailey field goal from 24 yards out to up the Cowboys' advantage to 10-0.
So how about another present wrapped up nice and pretty for Dallas, this time a 55-yard punt return from Ryan Switzer. The rookie return man dashed up the middle, split the Redskins' first line of defense and then raced down the right sideline all the way to the end zone, the first return touchdown of his young career.
Just like that, after a dismal first quarter, the Cowboys were now leading 17-0 with a little under four minutes left to play in the second frame.
Views of the Dallas Cowboys Week 13 game against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
But in what has been a disturbing trend (among many) this season for the Cowboys, they allowed their opponent to score just before the half. Thanks primarily to a 33-yard completion from Cousins to Crowder on a third-and-6, Washington marched 75-yards in 2:47 before reaching the end zone with just over a minute remaining in the first half, the score 17-7.
Needless to say, with the Cowboys having been outscored 72-6 in the second half combined over their last three games, all of which were losses, no one was feeling particularly comfortable.
There would be no second-half collapse in this one, however. Dallas took control in the third quarter, forcing the Redskins to punt on both of their possessions. And while the Cowboys had to punt as well on their first series of the quarter, the team got rolling again on its next drive.
Taking over at their own 16-yard line with 5:21 remaining in the third, the Cowboys methodically made their way down the field with Morris rushing five times for 29 yards and Prescott completing three passes for 48 more. The last of those came on the first play of the fourth quarter and was a beauty to Bryant, who made a leaping grab in the end zone for the touchdown, the Dallas lead now 24-7.
The score was the 72nd touchdown catch of Bryant's career, which moved him past Hall of Famer Bob Hayes for the most in Cowboys history.
Washington wasn't about to go quietly, of course, and sure enough they narrowed the deficit to 10 again with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to the goal line. Utilizing short passes over the middle, Cousins moved his squad into the red zone before sailing one to Josh Doctson in back right corner of the end zone, the TCU product leaping high for the touchdown, 24-14.
But any thoughts of a comeback were soon squashed. With the Dallas running game continuing to grind down the Redskins, Morris rushed seven times for 42 yards, the last of which was a 1-yard plunge into the end zone for the score. And just as important, the drive ticked 6:33 off the clock.
When the Redskins decided to then go for it on fourth-and-10 at their own 25-yard line, only to have Cousins' pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by cornerback Anthony Brown, the game was basically over. Rod Smith eventually capped things off by bullying his way into the end zone from the 1-yard line to wrap up the scoring, 38-14.
With the victory, the Cowboys pushed their record back to .500, their 6-6 mark ranking second in the NFC East. They'll now enjoy an extended weekend break before heading to New York to take on the Giants in a noon game on Dec. 10.