LANDOVER, Md. – The ball, the ball, the ball. Jason Garrett has preached this message over and over again: No statistic determines wins and losses more than turnover differential. Protect the ball on offense; take it away on defense.
Monday night, the Cowboys edged division rival Washington 19-16 despite three fumbles on offense.
That's a credit to a Cowboys defense that held the Redskins offense without a touchdown until the final minute – a 28-yard DeSean Jackson catch that tied the game at 16 before Matt Cassel drove the offense in position for Dan Bailey's winning 54-yard field goal.
"The defense saved the day for us today. You have to give them a lot of credit," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "Any time you can come back from three turnovers like we did on the other side of the ball and a heroic effort like our defense made, it's really special to be part of a win like that."
The Redskins entered Monday night averaging 32.7 points in their last three home games – all victories. The previous week, Jackson blew past the Giants for a 63-yard touchdown off playaction, his 23rd career score of 50 yards or more.
Monday night, Jackson led all Redskins receivers with six catches for 80 yards. But prior to his game-tying touchdown – set up by a 15-yard facemask penalty that started Washington's drive at the Dallas 43-yard line – the Cowboys had held quarterback Kirk Cousins' offense to 239 yards and three field goals for 59:16 of 60 minutes.
And the defense didn't flinch earlier in the game when offensive turnovers gave Washington the ball twice inside Dallas territory and once at its own 37. The result: just three points.
"We just try to do our job as a defense, no matter what the score is, no matter what's going on on the other side of the ball," cornerback Mo Claiborne said. "We take good pride into going out and trying to get a stop, trying to get a three-and-out to give the ball back to our offense."
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence set the tone with two sacks in the first three plays, part of an aggressive pressure plan. Linebacker Sean Lee added a sack and a game-high 13 tackles (two for loss), including a key third-down tackle at the start of the fourth quarter that forced Washington to settle for its third field goal.
The defense got an assist from the special teams unit late in the fourth, when J.J. Wilcox stripped the ball from DeSean Jackson and punter Chris Jones recovered, setting up a Darren McFadden touchdown.
Given the Cowboys' minus-14 turnover differential for the season, though, the defense knows what it must continue to improve.
"We played well. We're still looking for those turnovers, though," Lee said. "I think if we can continue to take another step and [keep] getting better and better, get a couple more turnovers, I think we can continue to win."