It was bad, ugly really … and it could have been a whole lot worse.
The Cowboys suffered a disappointing loss to an inferior team, putting up a frightful performance in losing to the lowly Redskins, 20-17, in front of 87,055 fans and a national television audience.
But the outcome seemingly could have been an afterthought once quarterback Tony Romo gingerly walked off the field and directly into the locker room. His night looked over when with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter, he took a blow directly to his surgically repaired lower back.
Fortunately, Romo came back late in the fourth quarter and was on hand at the end, providing a collective sigh of relief from the Dallas faithful if nothing else. There would be no Willis Reed heroics on this night, given the effort of the offense for most of the game.
Dallas was unable to do what they've done all season, control the game and the clock. Washington held a clear advantage in time of possession, 38:12 to 28:27, turnovers again causing the Cowboys problems.
The offense also had little answer for a Redskins defense that routinely blitzed and never allowed Romo to get comfortable in the pocket. He finished with just 209 yards passing with one touchdown, connecting on 17 of his 28 attempts. In similar fashion, Dez Bryant was held largely in check, catching only three passes for just 30 yards with none coming in the second half.
Only DeMarco Murray continued his torrid pace, rushing 19 times for 141 yards, a stellar 7.4 yard per carry average. But unlike previous games, the Cowboys seemed to rely more heavily on the pass, running the ball only 25 times compared to 34 pass attempts. This marked Murray's eighth straight game reaching the century mark, extending his NFL record for most 100-yard games to start the season.
The Cowboys finished with 390 yards of total offense, but they let a third-string quarterback and a beleaguered Redskins offense put up 409 yards. The former Texas Longhorn connected on 83.3 percent of his pass attempts (25-of-30) fro 299 yards. On the receiving end of a good chunk of that output was the speedster DeSean Jackson, who burned the Cowboys on several occasions, totaling six catches for 136 yards.
While obviously Romo's health was top of mind, in the end he wasn't the most seriously injured. Linebacker Justin Durant left the game midway through the fourth quarter with an arm injury that could sideline him for the season. And Ronald Leary also had to leave the game late with a groin issue.
In other words, it was a night that all would just as soon forget.
And it was bad from the get-go. Over the opening 21 minutes of game action, the Cowboys could seemingly do little right on offense. Their first four possessions ended on a punt after a 12-yard sack, a punt after an 11-yard sack, a fumble by Joseph Randle and a fumble by DeMarco Murray.
Fortunately, though, thanks to the Dallas defense, as well as a Redskins offense that was just dreadful, the Cowboys were lucky to be down only 3-0 after that disappointing start, as neither turnover led to points for the visitors.
After the first fumble, which gave Washington the ball on the Dallas 27-yard line, Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox returned the favor on the Redskins' second play from scrimmage when he intercepted a pass in the end zone, the first of his career. And the second turnover? Washington took care of that one themselves with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and then an 8-yard sack, forced to punt the ball away.
Still, the Redskins had the lead midway through the second quarter, thanks to a Kai Forbath 44-yard field goal on Washington's first possession of the game.
The Cowboys offense finally got rolling – and more importantly, finally held onto the ball – when they started a drive at their own 20 with 9:03 left in the first half. Eight plays and 80 yards later, Dallas had their first lead of the night. … and as it turned out, their last.
Perhaps not coincidentally, until this series Bryant had yet to even have a ball thrown his way, but on this possession, Romo first hit his star wideout for a 20-yard gain, shuffled one out to Murray for 24 yards and found Terrance Williams for 15 more. The drive was then capped with a quick pass to the left side from 5 yards out to Bryant, who scratched and clawed and finally dove for the end zone to get the score, a 7-3 advantage that would carry into the half.
That advantage didn't last long, though. Washington came out after the break and marched 80 yards right down the field, doing so primarily on the ground. Alfred Morris had Roy Helu Jr. combined for five runs and 50 rushing yards, the last a 5-yard scamper up the middle by Morris for the touchdown and a lead change, 10-7.
And that's when things went from bad to worse. On the Cowboys' next possession, facing a third-and-11 from his own 36, Romo dropped back to pass only to have linebacker Keenan Robinson come untouched up the middle. Turning to absorb the ensuing hit, Romo took the brunt of the blow to his lower back, the same area in which he had offseason surgery. After several moments of lying still on the turf, he eventually got up and walked slowly off the field and directly to the locker room, his night over.
With that, the offense was turned over to backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was making his debut for the Cowboys.
After the defense did its part by limiting the Redskins to a three-and-out, Murray took the handoff on the Cowboys' first snap of their following series and broke loose on a 51-yard run down to the Washington 3. There, the team had to settle for a chip-shot 21-yard field goal for Dan Bailey, after Bryant was unable to haul in what looked like a catchable pass, the game now tied 10-10.
This time, though, the Cowboys defense wasn't up to the task. On the final play of the third quarter, Jackson got behind Brandon Carr, burning him for a 45-yard catch to the Dallas 8-yard line. Three plays later, McCoy darted up the middle on a quarterback draw, crashing across the goal line to go back on top, 17-10.
Not about to give up, the Cowboys responded with Weeden leading the charge. The quarterback threw the ball four times for a combined 69 yards, hitting Murray on a screen pass for 23 and then later wrapping up the drive with a 25-yard strike to a wide-open Jason Witten, who dove his way to paydirt, the game tied again, 17-17.
And that is where it would remain at the end of regulation, Romo able to get back on the field for the Cowboys' final drive, but unable to get his team down the field.
With the Redskins winning the toss for the extra frame, they wasted little time jumping back into the lead. The Cowboys were unable to contain McCoy, who connected with Pierre Garcon for 23 yards and Jordan Reed for 16 during the drive, which eventually set up a successful 40-yard field goal for Forbath.
That gave the Cowboys one last chance, but on fourth-and-3 at their own 28-yard line, Romo again found himself under pressure, escaped, tried to find Witten on the right sideline, only to have the pass knocked away by cornerback Bashuad Breeland.
With that the Cowboys fell to 6-2 on the season, still in first place in the NFC East division. They'll be back at AT&T Stadium next Sunday to host the Arizona Cardinals, leaders of the NFC West.