FRISCO, Texas – Commanders-Cowboys once again for the 11th time on Thanksgiving Day, this one 3:30 p.m. at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys are 8-2 against Washington on this holiday, going all the way back to the Cotton Bowl for the first meeting in 1968. And then the infamous second time in 1974 at Texas Stadium, that 24-23 Cowboys win with rookie backup quarterback Clint Longley coming in for the injured Roger Staubach (concussion), leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory in his first NFL appearance. Longley throws two touchdown passes, including the game winner to Drew Pearson, to spoil many a Thanksgiving dinner for those then Redskins fans. Met one of them in a Georgetown pub one night before a Cowboys game in Washington D.C., saying he still gets sick to his stomach over that loss.
Well, today, Nov. 22, a nation 60 years ago to the date, Nov. 22, 1963, became sick to its collective stomachs over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy right here in Dallas, Texas, still to this day remember being in fifth grade hearing those chilling words from Walter Cronkite announcing on TV that the President of the United States had passed away, one of the first times remembering seeing adults cry.
This rivalry with Washington began with the Cowboys' 1960 arrival into the NFL, and enhanced when Texas-born Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President that day after Kennedy's death, now President Johnson re-elected in 1964 and bringing with him to Washington D.C. a bunch of Texans to man his cabinet.
Game on with some high-level hijinks and intense emotion between the two teams, heck, the two cities, that those born before the 1970s will never forget, though one watered down over the past decade or two. And no matter the Cowboys come into Thursday's game with a 7-3 record, desperately trying to get back into the NFC East race with the 9-1 Eagles, or that the now named Commanders come in with a humbling 4-7 mark having lost four of their last five games and giving up at least 29 points in three of the past four, the game still needs to be played.
Why a Washington win on Thanksgiving on national TV – CBS carrying the halftime show live with Dolly Parton performing, bringing attention to The Salvation Army Red Kettle Kickoff fund-raising campaign, this annual event having raised millions of dollars with world-wide attention – would make the season for the sagging Commanders, no matter their finishing record.
So get that bird eaten early, settle in for some high-wire entertainment, and let me take a few shots at providing three keys to a Cowboys victory.
- Rush Hour: Washington quarterback Sam Howell leads the NFL this season with 295 pass completions on an NFL-leading 442 attempts for an NFL-leading 3,038 yards passing. The Cowboys' No. 2-ranked defense and No. 2 against the pass can't let him go off. They must pressure Howell, already having been sacked an NFL-high 51 times in 11 games, 13 more times than the next highest guy, the Jets' now-benched Zach Wilson (38). Yo, Micah. And if the Cowboys aren't sacking Howell, they must be harassing him. Remember takeaways are mostly generated in the pocket.
- Keep On Rolling: That's at AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys currently have a 12-game home winning streak, the longest currently in the NFL. And while the home schedule hasn't been particularly difficult so far, beating all four teams played – Jets, Patriots, Rams, Giants (a combined record of 13-28) – the Cowboys have done so by averaging 40 points a game. And for perspective, the 160 points scored in the first four home games of the season are the most by a Cowboys team since the 168 in 1973. The Cowboys must continue winning the games they should be winning if they expect to get where they are professed to be going, so there is no taking any of these bottom feeders for granted. Especially this likely highly motivated Washington team with head coach Ron Rivera on a hot seat and former Cowboys linebacker Jack Del Rio the defensive coordinator, wanting nothing more than to upset his 10-point favored former team. The Cowboys' No. 2 scoring NFL offense (30.2 average) must be at its best this short week, and how nice would it be if they could defeat their seventh opponent this year by a franchise record 20-plus points.
- Something Special: So many times these short-week games are decided by unorthodox plays. An interception here. Looking at you DaRon Bland. A fumble recovery there. Looking at you Donovan Wilson. A special teams happening. Looking at you KaVontae Turpin or you rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey stretching out his NFL record streak of 21 consecutively made field goals to start a career.
Can't Count On Anyone: After the Eagles' 21-17 come-from-behind victory over Kansas City Monday night, just goes to show what Dak Prescott has been talking about when saying the Cowboys need to run their own race, just stay in their lane looking forward and not sideways at what someone else is doing. Yep, the Chiefs couldn't do the Cowboys any favors, falling to the Eagles with a bevy of dropped passes, turnovers in the red zone and a general inability to prevent those big Eagles plays late in the fourth quarter. As I say all the time, the NFL helps those who help themselves. Just take care of your own business, and don't look up until the end to see where you are. Can't waste energy looking for help.
About Bland: Well, it was about time the NFL recognized DaRon Bland as NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Took the guy now tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions and now tying the NFL single-season record with his fourth pick-six to win that honor. And think about it, he still has seven more games to play.
Thanksgiving Sides: Cowboys PR came up with this neat comparison in this week's game release, pointing out that in the first five games of the season Dak averaged 212.2 yards passing a game, totaled five passing touchdowns and produced an 87.5 QB rating. But that in the last five games he's averaged 308.6 yards passing, has totaled 14 passing touchdowns and a QB rating of 118.7 … This stat could become the biggest difference in this matchup, with the Cowboys fifth in the NFL with a plus-6 turnover differential and Washington dead last at minus-8 … CeeDee Lamb's 1,013 yards receiving has him up there with the big boys of the NFL, tied with the Eagles' A.J. Brown for second, behind just Miami's Tyreek Hill (1,222) … And finally, Eagles' quarterback Jalen Hurts had this to say after their narrow escape Monday night in Kansas City, knowing this was their fifth win by no more than six points, which includes the five-point victory over the Cowboys, 28-23, "We are winning games and have yet to play our best."
And today's last word goes to me, since during this hectic short week leading up to the Thanksgiving Day game hadn't really thought about this until someone during an interview asked me what I was thankful for on this Thanksgiving, which sort of caught me off guard, not having given a minute to have thought about myself.
Now a little more composed, and time taken for some self-reflection, sure need to be thankful for my health, being able to cover every single Cowboys game but one from the start of the 1989 season until COVID restrictions struck in 2020-21, along with having been afforded the opportunity to do so when so many in our profession have been shown the door when aging out. But also thankful for having a patient family, my availability not always the greatest, missing birthdays, events and having so many holidays squeezed by the daily responsibilities of a football season, especially these Thanksgivings all these years.
Also, thought of this today, the one marking the 60th year since President Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas in 1963, Dallas immediately being tagged as "The City of Hate," as if the entire city had something to do with the shooting from the Sixth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Unfortunately, for so many years that's what Dallas became best known for.
But from previous research, the Dallas Cowboys franchise, in just its fourth season that year, helped to lift this nationally dark cloud with its future success, playing in consecutive NFL Championships Games against the Green Bay Packers in 1966-67 and then in consecutive Super Bowls following the 1970-71 seasons, finally breaking through that '71 season, the Cowboys winning the first of the franchise's now five Super Bowl titles.
Suddenly Dallas became best known for the Cowboys, having played in five Super Bowls that decade of the 1970s. My, how ironic that the team chastised greatly the remainder of the 1963 season when traveling to road games eventually became known by the end of the '70s as, of all things, America's Team.
Hopefully we all have a moment to pause during our busy lives these next few days for Giving Thanks.
Enjoy a Dolly halftime.