LANDOVER, Md. – Dan Bailey's waiting game during Monday's fourth quarter was quite the wild ride.
The Cowboys kicker started warming up for his fourth field goal – a potential game-winner – with 3:20 to play against the Redskins. Dallas was driving and looked likely to require his services.
That proved to be true, but not so simply. In that brief three-minute stretch, the Cowboys punted – but recovered the fumbled return. They then scored a go-ahead touchdown, rather than kick a field goal.
Finally, after a game-tying touchdown by DeSean Jackson and a brief Cowboy possession, he got his chance. His 54-yard game-winner capped off what had to be one of the wildest 3:20 stretches in Monday Night Football history.
"If it's back and forth like that, and it's a hard fought game – you just have to expect it," Bailey said. "Sometimes it comes to that, sometimes it doesn't – but we practice these situations all the time."
For the vast majority of the night, it looked like Bailey would be the Cowboys' only scorer, as he provided 12 of 19 points in the win. It was his 20th career game with three or more field goals.
It also provided him the opportunity to increase his franchise record of game-winning kicks, which now sits at 10. None of those facts will matter as much to Bailey as the final score – the Cowboys' subsequent record because of it.
In that regard, the midfield mosh pit after he connected on the game-winner said it all.
"Any time you win a game, that's a great feeling in itself," Bailey said. "Division game on the road – you can't take anything away from that. Those are hard to come by."
Coughing It Up
Darren McFadden scored the game's first touchdown with less than two minutes to play, helping to ease the sting of a disappointing night.
McFadden carried the ball 14 times for 53 yards and the score. But what'll be remembered most is the fumbles – not just one, but two – helping to contribute to the Cowboys' three total turnovers.
"Very fortunate, man. Having three turnovers – I put the ball on the ground twice," he said. "But I'm just glad we were able to overcome it and come out with a victory."
Fumbling hasn't been much of an issue for the Cowboys at all. McFadden's two fumbles on Monday were his first since 2014 – and therefore his first in a Cowboys uniform. The first one wasn't detrimental, as it came on the second play of scrimmage and didn't lead to any points. The second one, which happened early in the third quarter, helped the Redskins take a 6-3 lead.
"I just have to protect the ball, man," McFadden said. "There's nothing more to it. I just have to protect the ball better."
To their credit, the Dallas coaching didn't shy away from their starter despite the setbacks. Robert Turbin only carried the ball six times for 12 yards, and Rod Smith didn't factor in the ground game. McFadden got five carries in the fourth quarter for 17 yards and the touchdown – and no further mishap.
"You have to have a short memory, just go to the next play," he said. "It's something that I try to do. Just have a short memory and keep going to the next play."
Toughing It Out
In the glow of a victorious locker room, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones was reminded how long it's been since a quarterback not named Tony Romo won him a game.
Naturall, Jones couldn't resist a joke.
"Was it Aikman? Was that when it was?" he asked.
Of course, the Cowboys don't have to go that far back. It was only in 2010 that Stephen McGee delivered a win in Romo's absence. That's still a whopping nine-game losing streak the Cowboys struing together with their backup quarterback – including seven this season.
Even with Matt Cassel delivering an elusive win, Jones allowed that he didn't in any way feel vindicated about the way it played out.
"I don't feel vindication. I'm stunned that we haven't been able to win more games without Tony," he said.
Jones recently gave himself a failing grade for the way he handled the backup quarterback position this offseason. That's evident, given that it' early December and the Cowboys just now won their first game without Romo – who has been missing for most of the year.
"I would've thought that we could coach it up enough, we could put it together enough that we would not have lost those games without Romo early, and we would have been in better shape than where we are right now," he said.
Be that as it may, the sorry shape of the NFC East means Dallas is in striking distance of first place in the division – a tribute to the team's ability to grind out a result.
"We won one on will out there tonight – not on tactical mastery," Jones said. "With that in mind, that's not a criticism – that's where we are as a team. We're going to have to win these games. We've been playing like this all year without Romo and lost them."
Two Minute Drill
DeSean Jackson hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 16-16, and the television cameras immediately cut to Dez Bryant.
Prone to passionate behavior on the sideline, Bryant's facial expression didn't surprise anyone. To hear it from him, though, his message might have.
"You should have heard what I said – 'Let's go win the game.' That's what it was – let's go win the game," he said. "This is what we practice for. That's one thing Coach Garrett do, man – we practice for those two minutes. We ready for it."
That much was clear based on Bryant's play. The All-Pro was frustrated into an ineffective performance for most of Monday night, but the Redskins couldn't keep him contained in crunch time.
After a scintillating return by Lucky Whitehead, Bryant made both catches on the Cowboys' final possession of the game. To start things off, Matt Cassel found him for 12 yards down the far sideline – only to see him get out of bounds and stop the clock with 30 seconds to play.
Cassel found him for eight yards on the very next snap, and it would be all Dan Bailey would need to hit the game-winner.
"We had a lot of downs, but at the same time we came through with the victory – that's the only thing that matters, man," Bryant said.
Bryant only made three catches for 62 yards on the night, but all of them came in the fourth quarter and all of them helped set up crucial field goals. Even if the cameras were looking for his reaction, he said he understands – it just goes with the territory.
"That's the fight," he said. "Things happen. What are you going to do? You going to sit there and be mad, or do something about it? That's what it is."
Better to Be Lucky …
The momentum swings of the special teams units in the final two minutes was incredible.
After the punt team forced and recovered a fumble by DeSean Jackson that seemingly would've been the game-winning play, the kick return unit allowed a huge runback and penalty that gave the Redskins a chance to tie the game.
That set the stage for Lucky Whitehead to turn the tables once again. The speedy rookie doesn't get many chances to return kickoffs but with the game on the line, he was coming out with the ball despite catching it two yards deep.
"Oh, I knew if I got a chance to make a play I was coming out," Whitehead said. "We were blocking well up front and I just needed a crease or two. For a second I thought I was going to score with it. But when they started reaching for me, I had to cover up the ball. The ball was the most important thing right there."
The Cowboys moved into field goal range for Dan Bailey, who finished off the crazy special teams finale with a 54-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the win.
Whitehead made the play to set up the score, but he also used his speed on offense earlier in the game. Whitehead ran the ball twice on a jet sweep, totaling 35 yards, including a 22-yard run. He also caught a pass for five yards.
"However they want to use me is fine," Whitehead said. "I've also had a lot of confidence in my game and I'm glad that they are showing more and more confidence, too. I just have to keep working and making the most of my chances."