IRVING, Texas – The entire gamut of problems limiting the Cowboys all year manifested itself into one futile half too great to overcome, providing quarterback Tony Romo with his first Thanksgiving Day loss and further reducing any playoff hopes.
The same issues with turnovers, defensive lapses, injuries, rushing failures, red zone woes, third down struggles offensively and defensively and untimely penalties that afflicted the Cowboys sporadically throughout the year were all on full display Thursday.
This time, another furious second-half comeback wasn't enough in a 38-31 defeat.
"You can't spot good teams," said tight end Jason Witten, who led the Cowboys with nine receptions. "We've talked about it all along. That's what's disappointing is we continue to do it. It's just too hard to overcome. The same in this situation. You try to fight back, but you're against the clock at that point."
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III finished with 311 yards passing and four touchdown passes to provide the Cowboys with their first-ever Thanksgiving loss to the Redskins, snapping a streak of six straight wins. He started slowly on his first two possessions before guiding the Redskins' offense to four second-quarter touchdowns, finding the end zone on every drive of the quarter.
Head coach Jason Garrett compared Griffin to Cam Newton in the week leading into the game, but the Redskins quarterback provided much more firepower than the Panthers signal caller had earlier in the year against the Cowboys. The Redskins outscored Dallas, 28-0, in the second quarter, including three touchdown passes from Griffin, after Dallas took a 3-0 lead to start the game.
"I thought we were actually OK on the college stuff, but they out-executed us throwing the deep ball and they hit some huge shots on us," said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "Those are hard to recover from. That deflates the entire team.
A 68-yard bomb to Aldrick Robinson and a 59-yard heave to Pierre Garcon were both included in the second quarter attack, in which the Redskins outgained the Cowboys offense by 163 yards. As the Redskins found success deep, the Cowboys offense remained stagnant, fumbling, throwing an interception and punting.
"They made big plays, they made little plays, we didn't convert plays and we turned the ball over," Garrett said. "You can't do that against a team like this, that's as dynamic as they are. We missed some opportunities and they took advantage of their opportunities. We dug ourselves a big hole."
The Cowboys finished the game with three turnovers and only 35 rushing yards, while allowing 142 yards on the ground. They also finished at 50 percent efficiency in the red zone and committed seven penalties, building on the problems of the past.
Most of the damage came in the first half, as the 25-point halftime deficit set up another energetic comeback attempt. Memories of Dez Bryant's incompletion by his fingertips in the back of the end zone in the waning seconds of the Giants loss at Cowboys Stadium became more and more vivid.
Bryant was once again the player leading the charge in the second half Thursday, providing six catches for 125 yards in the second half alone. After fumbling early in the game, he gave the Cowboys an outside chance on the longest reception of his career, taking an 85-yard catch and run for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-13.
If that touchdown displayed his big-play ability, his next one demonstrated his newfound sense of reliability.
The Redskins scored another touchdown on a wide open play-action pass before the Cowboys drove the field and answered with a Felix Jones touchdown. Safety Charlie Peprah then picked off a pass from Griffin, setting the Cowboys up inside the dreaded red zone, where they'd failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter and the start of the third quarter.
The problems inside the 20 continued, but on a fourth-and-3 at the Redskins' 11-yard line, Romo turned to Bryant, who delivered on a diving grab near the sideline to cut the Redskins' lead to seven points.
"I thought Tony did a phenomenal job keeping things alive and Dez really came on and has come a special elite player, not only with the big plays, but with the underneath plays as well," said Witten. "But, all that means nothing when you're not winning. It's that time. We've got to start doing it and playing better early in games so that you can stay within the game plan."
With 8:18 still remaining, the game would be in the hands of a reeling defense that had already lost Bruce Carter and Orlando Scandrick to injury. They were called upon to make a late stop, the way they weren't able to against the Falcons a few weeks prior. While the defense held the Redskins out of the end zone, they weren't able to keep the visitors off the scoreboard. Griffin drove 50 yards down the field and burned more than five minutes of time to set up a field goal.
The Cowboys answered with Bailey's third field goal of the game as Romo increased his passing total to 441 yards, but by then, only 18 seconds remained and the onside kick attempt was nearly returned for a touchdown.
Once again, a late comeback attempt came up just short as the Redskins hopped the Cowboys in the division. And once again, the Cowboys can point to the same reasons for the ineffectiveness.
"Tony was phenomenal trying to make those plays and us fighting at the end, but it's just too hard," Witten said. "You get away from your plan, all the work you put in the week to study and the formations and how you're going to attack them, that goes out the window. You've just got to do a better job. There's no other way to say it, but we've got to start better in these games."