The hits just keep coming. Offensive turnovers, bad defensive play, injuries. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Dallas Cowboys went into their game against the Washington Football Team desperately needing a win over a division rival, winning the NFC East their only hope for reaching the playoffs. Instead, on a cold, rainy day, Dallas was blown out by the Washingtons, 25-3, and in the process lost quarterback Andy Dalton due to injury, the Cowboys' season seemingly reaching a new low.
Dalton hadn't exactly been effective prior to being sidelined. Sacked three times and under constant pressure, he completed only 47.4 of his pass attempts for 75 yards and an interception for a disappointing 36.1 passer rating.
Then, midway through the third quarter, with the Cowboys backed up at their own 3-yard line, Dalton took off on a scramble up the middle. As he was sliding to the ground, Washington linebacker Jon Bostic led with his head and hit Dalton in the head, a dirty play that resulted in Dalton leaving the game injured and Bostic being ejected.
Dalton was supposed to be the team's backup this season, but was forced into starting duties after Dak Prescott was lost for the year. Now, the Cowboys had to turn to their third-string quarterback, Ben DiNucci, the rookie making his NFL debut.
Regardless of who was behind center, the Washington defense dominated Dallas' makeshift offensive line, earning a total of six sacks, eight quarterback hits and six tackles for loss while limiting Dallas to just 59 yards passing and 142 yards total. Of the 11 passes that the Cowboys completed, seven were hauled in by Amari Cooper, but his 80 receiving yards meant little.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Dallas defense was done in by the same woes that have plagued them all year: not enough pressure, confusion in the secondary, poor tackling and a lack of takeaways. The result was Washington racking up 208 rushing yards and 397 yards of total offense, both season highs.
Once again, the Cowboys saw themselves playing from behind in the first quarter. After stuffing Kyle Allen's quarterback plunge on fourth-and-goal at the Dallas 1-yard line, the team's defense had given the Cowboys a spark.
Unfortunately, that spark was extinguished soon enough when Dalton was strip-sacked at his own 7-yard line. Tight end Dalton Schultz then picked up the fumble in the end zone, but was unable to get back across the goal line, taken down for a safety.
Four minutes of game clock later, the score was pushed to 9-0. The big play in the 63-yard drive was a 26-yard pass to wide-open tight end Logan Thomas, but it was running back J.D. McKissic scampering the final 12 yards for the score.
The Cowboys found some life when Tony Pollard returned the ensuing kickoff a career-best 67 yards to the Washington 34, the longest kickoff return by a Cowboy since Lucky Whitehead had a 79-yard takeback against Philadelphia on Nov. 8, 2015. But unable to move the chains, Dallas settled for a 45-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal to get on the board before the end of the first quarter.
After the first frame of play, though, Washington had 138 total yards of offense with Dallas only gaining 6. Already the home side had earned 91 yards on the ground after coming into the day having averaged a league-worst 82.2 rushing yards per game.
In fact, that field goal would prove to be the highlight for the Cowboys. The lowlight? Perhaps a fourth-and-1 at the Washington 45-yard line when Dallas decided to go for it. But after the intended quick pass wasn't open underneath, Dalton tried a desperation deep pass under pressure, which fell incomplete.
Two plays later, Washington was in the end zone, as speedy wide receiver Terry McLaurin raced right past rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs for an easy 52-yard touchdown catch. A quick strike.
Washington proved it could methodically reach the end zone as well, didn't matter. On its next possession, the team marched 60 yards in 10 plays, eating up 4:05 of clock. The score came when Thomas caught a short pass underneath, slipped Jaylon Smith's tackle and raced down the left sideline for a 15-yard touchdown, 22-3.
With that, the Cowboys found themselves trailing by at least 14 points for the sixth consecutive game. It also marked the sixth straight time that they'd given up 20 points in the first two quarters.
What kind of a game (and season) was it? The Cowboys did manage to work their way down the field just before the half, taking over at their own 25-yard line with 3:08 remaining. And with 39 seconds left, the offense found itself at the Washington 12-yard line.
That's when Dalton tried to connect with Ezekiel Elliott over the middle, but the pass was slightly behind the target and instead went off the hands of Elliott and into the waiting arms of Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb.
Drive ended. Half ended. Game essentially over.
Amazingly, however, things would get worse with the injury to Dalton in the third quarter. Obviously, with DiNucci behind center, and Washington more determined than ever to bring pressure, the Cowboys could mount little in the way of a comeback.
At this point, it was basically more about survival. While Dallas was unable to do much of anything on offense, Washington added to their total with a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, content to bring the game to a merciful end.
The loss, of course, left nothing but question marks for the Cowboys. Not so much about would they still be able to make the playoffs. But rather just when would Dallas win another game.