ARLINGTON, Texas – The truth is often stranger than fiction. In the case of this Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, it's way more agonizing, too.
It seemed for all the world that the Cowboys had weathered this storm of bad luck surrounding their once-dominant unit. Zack Martin returned from injury and shifted to right tackle, where he played well against Minnesota. Joe Looney and Brandon Knight returned, as well, providing experience and depth for a unit that could sorely use it.
All it took was four minutes of game play on Thursday to flip that narrative back around.
On the Cowboys' six play from scrimmage against Washington, starting left tackle Cam Erving was rolled up by a defender and lost for the day with a knee sprain.
Four snaps later, Martin – making just his second career start at his new position – was also lost for the day when he strained his calf on a 3rd-and-5 in the Washington red zone.
"I mean, it's just kind of this year in a nutshell," said Ezekiel Elliott.
Knight, who has made four starts at left tackle this season, came in for Erving. Terence Steele reclaimed his old right tackle spot in place of Martin. That combination of moves gave the Cowboys their 15th different starting five along the offensive line since this injury-ravaged season began.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of those guys just jumping in there, Brandon and Terrance," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "But you know, you make adjustments. Unfortunately, we have quite a bit of experience with that situation this year."
Naturally, it'd be hard to pick a worse opponent to face with a compromised offensive line. The Cowboys learned this lesson back in October, when they traveled to play Washington without Martin and surrendered six sacks.
It wasn't quite six sacks on Thursday, but it was a decided advantage for the visiting team's stable of first-round draft picks.
The Cowboys ran for 60 yards as a team, establishing a new low for the season. Within that performance, Ezekiel Elliott managed just 32 yards on 10 carries – lowlighted by his fumble at the start of the third quarter, which was subsequently recovered by defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.
"Just trying to fight for extra yards," Elliott said. "I think maybe a foot kicked it out before I got down."
The pressure was there, too. Andy Dalton was sacked three times on the day, including twice on third down. Throw in a sack of CeeDee Lamb on an ill-fated trick play, and Washington finished with four on the day. Dalton was also harried out of the pocket throughout the evening.
"They have a great front seven, a great front seven," Elliott said. "The D-Line is first rounders, so I mean, they are great. They are a tough team, a tough front seven to go up against."
It all came to a head with the game already decided. Washington led, 34-16, with less than three minutes remaining when Montez Sweat ripped around the right side uncontested, batted Dalton's pass into the air, grabbed it and raced 15 yards for the exclamation point touchdown.
Erving and Martin will be evaluated further on Friday. As it stands right now, their status is unclear. With any luck, their injuries aren't long-term issues and they can return to try to provide some stability to this position group.
That would hardly be in keeping with this season, however, as the Cowboys' offense continues to discover just how bad their luck can get.
"Like I said, fortunately we have some guys with some experience that have played in a lot of games this year," Dalton said. "We've just got to keep going."