LANDOVER, Md. – Maybe Matt Cassel learned something here Monday night.
Maybe out of sheer desperation this revelation struck him late in the fourth quarter at FedExField.
After all, their time together has been limited. Their practice time, really until this past week, has been limited. Sometimes trust just takes some time.
But darn it, when in doubt, Matt, just throw it up to Dez.
In fact, don't let doubt even creep into the conversation. Coverages? Reads? Let's not make all this overly complicated. Just throw Dez Bryant the stinkin' ball.
OK, OK, that might be a tad extreme. But you get the idea, right? Dez is this team's – has to be this team's – offensive bread 'n' butter, and butter knife, too.
He's the heartbeat that resuscitated the Cowboys' last-gasp to remain relevant in the NFC East, a division in which none of the others have been good enough to bury a team that had won only three games in the first 12 weeks of the season; that had not won any of the seven games Tony Romo failed to start; a team ranking 29th in total offense and scoring offense coming into this Monday night game against the division-leading, however slight or unimpressive, Washington Redskins.
Hark, let there be light.
Cowboys 19, Redskins 16, Dallas now having won two of its last three outing. And in the NFC East, with no team owning a winning record at the 12-game mark for the first time in division history, that's a hot streak.
Oh, there were other determining factors in the Cowboys inching their record to 4-8, just one game out of first place, technically owned by Washington (5-7) because of a better winning percentage against 5-7 mates Philadelphia and the New York Giants in head-to-head matchups. Like Dan Bailey making four-of-four field-goal attempts, the last a season-long 54-yarder with nine seconds remaining for his 10th career game-winner. Like punter Chris Jones recovering a DeSean Jackson fumbled punt return at the Washington 15 in a 16-16 game that was under two minutes.
Like the juice rookie free-agent Lucky Whitehead provided, both running the ball on jet sweeps and piling up 101 yards in returns. Like a defense that limited a fourth consecutive opponent to no more than 16 points without the aid of takeaway-setup scores. Like linebacker Sean Lee's performance definitely in need of NFC Defensive Player of the Week consideration.
Great, but the Cowboys needed Dez late in the fourth quarter to win just their second game in the past 11 weeks and their first with a backup quarterback starting in the last nine tries. They needed Dez's refusing-to-lose attitude permeating this team, especially since so many out there keep insisting that losing at this point in the season and inheriting a far better future draft choice is better than winning.
In fact, one local sportscaster actually said this past Sunday that the Cowboys were going to Washington to play a "meaningless game." Like, on the air.
Well, don't bring that meaningless weak stuff around Dez.
"People are going to say what they want to say," Dez began when talking about what he hears. "I let it go in one ear and out the other. …
"I could have easily shut this thing down a long time ago. I could have easily shut it down. That's not me, man. Things creep in. Someone will tell you something in this ear. Not me, man. I mean (ahem) that.
"I'm a competitor. I want to get out on the field. I want to play football. This is what I love. I don't care what anybody thinks. I don't care what anybody says. I just want to win. At the end of the day, that's the only thing that matters."
Gotta love that kid. Gotta throw him the ball.
Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was concurring during the game, saying the next day, "Frankly, in my mind I was saying, 'Go to him more.'"
So Cassel did in the fourth quarter after the two failed to hook up at all to that point. First, first-and-10 at the Washington 45, Cowboys trailing 9-6 with 6:43 left. He got Dez one-on-one, left side. Maybe he had a step on the cornerback, Will Blackmon. Maybe. Still, Cassel let it fly, and Dez lays out, parallel to the ground, making a diving catch at the 3-yard line. Unfortunately, that turned into only a Bailey 20-yard field, but tied up the game nonetheless.
Then at 16-16, with the ball at the Cowboys' 44 following Whitehead's 42-yard kickoff return, Cassel, with 34 seconds left, throws Dez a comebacker for 12 yards, a first down and gets out of bounds. Then, with 30 seconds left, he hauls in a slant for 8 to the Redskins 36. Two more plays gained nothing, yet Bailey basically says, hey guys, got you covered, nailing the 54-yarder for the win.
Said Cassel afterward of what he learned, "I made a concerted effort" to get Dez the ball, "and I've got to continue to do it, to just let him go make plays.
"I've just got to tell myself, 'Hey, I'm going to give you an opportunity.'"
Now you're talkin'.
The Cowboys were lining Dez up all over the formation. Outside, in the slot, some motion. But all he ended up with is these three catches for 62 yards. He did, though, draw two defensive pass interference calls, worth 17 yards and two first downs. He had a circus catch on the sideline ruled a catch only to be overturned by another video review.
This ain't exactly rocket science.
"Dez is a great competitor and I think I have to do a better job of giving him more opportunities," Cassel said. "Obviously, we haven't played a ton together, but at the same time, I know Dez is a very talented player and he's a very competitive person.
"So it is my job to try and give him more opportunities to get the ball and make plays, like he did on that (42-yard pass in the fourth quarter)."
Yep, just like that.
Just remember Matt, X marks the spot.