ARLINGTON, Texas – Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offensive weapons don't need to go off when the return man outgains the entire team.
Dwayne Harris' 222 combined return yards Sunday night included an 86-yard punt return touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return in a 31-16 win against the Redskins. He finished with nine more yards than the Cowboys' offense, helping move Dallas into a tie for first place in the NFC East with Philadelphia.
"In a game like that, that could be the difference in the game," Romo said. "These games, you see it each week, they come down to a swing play or two here or there. Dwayne did a great job and almost allowed us to kind of just sit over there as an offensive unit."
Harris said he'd been waiting all year to break out the way he did. His punt return touchdown, which increased the Cowboys' lead to 14-3 in the second quarter, was his first of the year and second of his career. He now has a punt return of at least 20 yards in nine of his past 15 games.
The touchdown came after an illegal motion penalty negated the Redskins' first punt attempt, which was downed at the Cowboys' 16-yard line. Another flag was thrown on Harris' ensuing punt return, and for a second Harris thought the touchdown return might be coming back, but the flag was against the Redskins for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"They definitely were tired," Harris said. "I hadn't seen that happen too many times, but it happened against us in the preseason against Houston. We punted the ball and had to come back and punt it again. It's hard for those guys. You run down there at full speed and you've got to come back and cover again. That gives us an advantage."
The special teams heroics made all the difference with the defense holding Robert Griffin III out of the end zone and allowing just one rushing touchdown to Alfred Morris, who had torched the Cowboys for a combined 313 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two Redskins wins last season.
A maligned Cowboys defense that allowed 51 points to the Broncos the week prior came back to hold the Redskins to just one touchdown and three field goals and an 0-for-3 mark in red zone efficiency. The defense held when it mattered most, as the Cowboys outscored the Redskins, 10-0, in the fourth quarter, even without DeMarcus Ware for the majority of the game.
Both Ware (quad) and DeMarco Murray (knee) left with injuries in the first half, leaving Kyle Wilber and Joseph Randle to handle the majority of the duties at defensive end and running back, respectively.
They answered the call, as Wilber had a strip sack and recovered the fumble in the fourth quarter at the Redskins' 3-yard line. Randle followed by scoring the first rushing touchdown of his career on a tough 1-yard run with some help from rookie center Travis Frederick, who pushed the pile.
"We got some guys banged up," said head coach Jason Garrett. "Joseph Randle did a nice job running the football when DeMarco went out, and I think particularly on that defensive line, a lot of new faces, those guys are just battling."
Randle and Frederick weren't the only rookies with big days.
Two players who were at one point fighting for the Cowboys' third receiver spot combined for two touchdowns and made all the difference Sunday night, as rookie receiver Terrance Williams followed Harris' 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter with a touchdown off a patented Romo scramble.
The quarterback evaded the rush and threw on the run to the back right corner of the end zone where only Williams, who tapped two feet in bounds, could run it down. The touchdown made the game 21-9 and marked the second straight week with a score for Williams, who was needed Sunday, as Miles Austin failed to make a catch on four targets.
There were few remarkable offensive plays made the rest of the day, but they weren't needed with the Cowboys leading the entire way and answering at home after getting swept in the regular season series last year.
Griffin passed for 246 yards and rushed for another 77, but he finished without a touchdown and threw an interception in the back of the end zone to Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys finished with 10 passes defended, including three apiece for Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and two for Scandrick.
Every time Griffin threatened, the Cowboys' defense seemed to buckle down, led by Jason Hatcher, who finished with two sacks to bring his season total to a career-high five sacks.
The Redskins still made things interesting by cutting the Cowboys' lead to 21-16 at the end of the third quarter. The offense was in need of a spark after going cold following Williams' touchdown grab, and they got it from Cole Beasley. The slot receiver had three catches for 37 yards on the Cowboys' first drive of the fourth quarter.
"He's got good ability," Romo said. "He can push, he can do different things, and that just allows us to have different packages for different people in different spots. He allows us to get down the field." [embedded_ad]
Beasley helped the offense get into field goal range to make it an eight point game with 10 minutes remaining. He finished with a team-high 44 receiving yards on the day. That wouldn't have been nearly enough against the Broncos last week, but with the defense stepping up and Harris leading the special teams unit, it was plenty on Sunday.
The Cowboys got their redemption against the Redskins and moved into a tie in first place with the NFC East rival they'll be travelling to see next week. Both Dallas and Philadelphia are now 3-3 overall and 2-0 against their division opponents.
"This is obviously a big game in the division," Witten said. "Two losses there in a row, we knew how important getting a win in our division was. Especially last year, they took it to us pretty good twice. That was a big win for us."