FRISCO, Texas – It was a simple go route down the left sideline and a well-placed back-shoulder deep ball from Dak Prescott. Brice Butler saw Ravens safety Lardarius Webb streaking his way and knew the ball would arrive soon, too.
Just like that, a first-and-30 for the Cowboys' offense transformed into first-and-goal. Butler's 41-yard catch in the second quarter shifted momentum against the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday, maybe for good, in a 27-17 win: No. 9 in a row.
No. 10 straight will be at stake four days later at AT&T Stadium, and the biggest threat to the longest winning streak in franchise history mirrors what the Butler and the Cowboys' high-powered offense can do on any given snap.
It's the Washington Redskins' own big-play ability.
"They're a team that can push the ball down the field at any position," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "They have tight ends that stretch the field and they have receivers that stretch the field and in the slot as well. They have the capabilities to be explosive on any given play."
The Cowboys saw this first-hand in Week 2 when Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins delivered five completions of 20-or-more yards: DeSean Jackson for 28, Jordan Reed for 25, Vernon Davis for 32, Josh Doctson for 57, Chris Thompson for 38. It was the most against the Dallas defense until Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers delivered six in Week 10.
According to Statspass, the Redskins are tied for the third-most explosive passing plays (41) in the NFL. Only the Atlanta Falcons (46) and New Orleans Saints (42) have more.
It's an area where the Cowboys have shown considerable defensive improvement. Last year they allowed 55 pass plays of 20-or-more yards, tied for 18th. This year they've allowed only 30, on pace for 48. The L.A. Rams have allowed the fewest (22).
The Week 2 comeback win at Washington was a launching point for this 13th-ranked Cowboys defense. They held the Redskins to six points on three second-half red zone trips. They preserved a 27-23 lead for good with two straight fourth-down stops.
Since then, injuries have taken a toll on the secondary. Cornerback Morris Claiborne and safety Barry Church, who intercepted Cousins in the end zone in that second half, remain unable to practice. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick did play that first game at considerably less than full strength and has since returned to the lineup healthy.
At the same time, Cousins and the Redskins offense have synchronized. In his last four games he has completed 111 of 158 passes (70.2 percent) for 1,396 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.
In last Sunday's 42-24 win over the Green Bay Packers, Cousins connected on five chunk pass plays, including a 70-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon, a 44-yard touchdown to Crowder and a 53-yarder to Crowder that set up another touchdown.
They can pile up yards quickly, both on deep passes and short routes with run-after-catch.
"Not many teams have the number of weapons that these guys have in the passing game," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.
The winning streak began in Week 2 at FedExField. It's where Dak Prescott got his first career win with a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback. It's where the defense tightened up against their division rivals and helped the Cowboys avoid an 0-2 start.
On Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium, we'll see just how far this resilient group has come with the streak at stake.