After last week's breakout offensive performance, which still resulted in a disappointing loss, fans wondered just how their Cowboys would bounce back.
Could they battle their way to .500, and in doing so keep pace in the mediocre NFC East? Or would they fall victim to the Redskins and Robert Griffin III, who torched the team twice in his rookie season of 2012.
It wasn't always pretty, but in the end, a full house of 90,239 fans saw the Cowboys get production from all three facets of the game to beat their longtime division rival, 31-16.
Perhaps the biggest of performances came from the special teams units, or more specifically Dwayne Harris, who should be a lock for the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week award. He returned a punt for a touchdown, took a kickoff back to the Washington 15-yard line and finished with 222 return yards total. By comparison, the Cowboys posted 213 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the Cowboys were facing a Griffin who may not have been his old self – the quarterback seemingly not fully recovered from last season's knee injury – but was still certainly dangerous. He finished with 246 yards passing and another 77 rushing, as the Redskins racked up 433 yards of total offense.
But it wasn't enough, as the Dallas D routinely bent, but did not break, as they surrendered only one touchdown. The unit also locked up the game late with a sack and fumble recovery deep in Washington territory, which was soon followed with an interception in the Dallas end zone. [embedded_ad]
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Tony Romo didn't have to carry the team as he did the week before against Denver, finishing with 170 yards on 18-of-30 passing. He was efficient in spreading the ball around to six different receivers, Cole Beasley leading the team with 44 receiving yards, while rookie receiver Terrance Williams hauled in his second career touchdown.
The only damper put on the evening was the loss of DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware during the second quarter due to injury. Murray suffered a knee sprain while Ware headed to the locker room with a quad injury. Both were to be evaluated further, but there is no doubting the Cowboys could suffer if they were to miss significant time.
As for the action on the field, the first quarter was a quick one as each side grounded out long, clock-consuming drives. The Cowboys got first crack, as they took the opening kickoff and proceeded to march 80 yards in 6:08, the offense doing a good job of mixing it up. Romo went 4-for-5 in his pass attempts, but Murray provided most of the damage out of the backfield, carrying the ball six times for 23 yards, the last a 4-yard rush into the end zone to get Dallas on the board first, 7-0.
Washington followed suit, grinding out 7:14 off the clock on their first possession, as they worked their way down to the Dallas 9-yard line. On third-and-goal, though, Griffin was stopped short of the goal line on a quarterback draw, the visitors forced to kick a field goal. The chip shot was good, the Cowboys' advantage a tight 7-3.
But after appearing so in sync on their first drive, the Dallas offense had trouble finding a rhythm over the remainder of the half. Not helping matters was the loss of Murray, who sprained his knee early in the second quarter and was lost for the game.
Of course, they didn't have many opportunities. Romo threw an interception in the team's next series and then saw the team punt on its only other possession of the second quarter.
Providing a spark, though, was Harris. Washington was forced to punt and appeared to have safely downed the ball at the Cowboys 16-yard line. But Dallas accepted an illegal motion on the Redskins, forcing them to kick again.
Good thing. With that, Harris took the punt at his own 14, sprinted to the left, got a great block along the sidelines from safety Jeff Heath, and then bolted untouched to the end zone. The 86-yard return was the fifth longest in Cowboys history, and marked the ninth time in his last 16 games dating back to last season that he's returned a punt at least 20 yards.
Unfortunately, Murray would not b the only one taken to the locker room, as Ware suffered soon his right quad injury and did not return. But it appeared that the defense would get out of the half without any more points allowed until a huge penalty was called … on the Dallas bench.
A play that was originally called an incompletion for Griffin was reviewed and instead ruled a sack for Jason Hatcher. But during that time spent under the hood, one of the Cowboys coaches, apparently defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Redskins would have been facing second-and-20 at their own 36-yard line, but after the penalty were awarded a first-and-10 at the Cowboys 49. Despite the huge swing in field position, Dallas' defense held firm, as Washington had to settle for a 32-yard field goal as time ran out, the Cowboys going into the break with a 14-6 lead.
The field goal before halftime was matched with another one immediately after. And again, a penalty played a big part. Starting at their own 20, the Redskins were facing third-and-5 at their own 35-yard line, when Griffin took off running, breaking free for 26 yards to the Dallas 38. But safety Barry Church was then flagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty, hitting Griffin as he was going out of bounds. That tacked on another 15 yards, moving Washington to the Dallas 23.
That would be all they would get, however, as the defense again did their part, the Redskins settling for a 33-yard field goal to narrow the score to 14-9.
Enter Harris once again. On the ensuing kickoff, the return man took the ball from five yards deep in the end zone, broke up the middle, cut to the right sideline and ran all the way to the Redskins 15-yard line before being knocked out of bounds, a 90-yard return.
Two plays later, Romo scrambled to avoid the blitz and then lofted a beauty of a pass to the back right corner of the end zone. There is where the rookie Williams made an over-the-shoulder-catch and got both feet down for the score, Dallas increasing their lead to 21-9.
Before the third quarter would end, though, the Redskins would again close the gap. And again, it was thanks in part to a penalty.
On second-and-10 at the Washington 29, Griffin scrambled around the left end, going out of bounds at the Redskins 40. But Church was once more flagged for unnecessary roughness as he was called for hitting the quarterback late. With another 15 yards to the Dallas 45, the next snap saw Morris take the handoff, charge up the middle, break a tackle and rumble the distance to the end zone, the score now 21-16.
The momentum was seemingly changing as Dallas went three-and-out on offense for the second straight time, the defense getting little rest. For the third quarter, the Redskins would dominate the time of possession, 12:08 to just 2:52 for the Cowboys.
Less than 20 seconds into the fourth quarter, Washington attempted a 49-yard field goal, but Kai Forbath's kick sailed to the left, no good. The momentum was lost.
Given field position at their own 39-yard line, and working primarily out of an empty set, Dallas crossed into enemy territory, passes to Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant getting them to the Redskins 30. And while Dallas couldn't reach the end zone, the team did eventually settle for a 30-yard Dan Bailey field goal, upping the score to 24-16.
The Dallas defense then put the game away for good. With the Redskins facing a second-and-19 from their own 11, Griffin dropped back to pass, only to have defensive end Kyle Wilber break free and hit him from behind, forcing the fumble. Wilber then fell on the prize himself, giving Dallas the ball on at the Washington 3.
Two plays later and rookie running back Joseph Randle fought his way to paydirt for his first career touchdown, the score now out of reach, 31-16.
Any hope of a dramatic comeback was put to rest when Griffin, from the Dallas 23, threw deep into the end zone, his receiver either running the wrong route or getting hung up. Instead, nickel back Orlando Scandrick was there to haul in the interception, the game secure.
With the victory, the Cowboys improved their record to 3-3 and remained in a tie for first place with the Eagles, who defeated Tampa Bay earlier in the day. The division perhaps already a two-team race, the old foes will now battle it out for sole possession of the top spot next week, as Dallas travels to Philadelphia for a Week 7 showdown.