Cowboys vs. Redskins: Postgame Grades, Notes and Quotes
The story of the first 58 minutes and 46 seconds of Monday Night Football was offensive ineptitude, as both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins struggled to move the ball consistently, and even more mightily to find a way to score points.
Neither team was able to muster a first down until Lucky Whitehead picked up 13 yards on an end-around almost eight full minutes into the first quarter. It wasn’t until 6:31 left in the second quarter that Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey graced the audience with the first points of the game on a 38-yard field goal.
At the two-minute warning the game was tied 9-9, with the kickers trading blows. However, DeSean Jackson made a boneheaded decision to reverse field and give ground attempting to make a big play on a punt return.
The bad decision compounded itself when Jackson put the ball on the ground, and Chris Jones pounced on it giving the Cowboys the ball on the Washington 15-yard line. Darren McFadden scampered in for a six-yard score, and put his team up 16-9.
But with a 41-yard kickoff return, a 15-yard facemask penalty and a 28-yard Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, Washington tied the game at 16 a mere 30 seconds after McFadden gave Dallas the lead.
Lucky Whitehead answered the bell when he was called upon, returning the ensuing kickoff for 46 yards. Cassel was able to complete two consecutive throws to Dez Bryant for a total of 20 yards to put Dallas in range for the ever reliable Dan Bailey to kick the game-winning field goal with nine seconds left on the clock.
Read on for all the grades, notes and quotes from the game.
Position Grades for the Dallas Cowboys
Quarterback: The hope for the Cowboys was that Matt Cassel would look more comfortable his second time around as the starter for the Cowboys. Unfortunately, that dream didn’t come true Monday night. For most of the game he looked very uncomfortable in the pocket and missed many makeable throws. Thankfully for the Cowboys, he was able to make a few downfield throws, including a 42-yard deep ball to Dez Bryant in the fourth quarter to set up the game tying field goal. Cassel finished 16-29 for 222 yards.
Running Back: Darren McFadden fumbled twice, and was unable to convert a third down and goal at the one with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, which would have given the Cowboys a 13-9 lead. It was tough sledding trying to run against Washington’s big defensive front, and he made an absolutely boneheaded decision to run out of bounds and stop the clock when the Cowboys were set up to run time off and win the game without giving the ball back to Washington. McFadden finished with 53 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, while Robert Turbin added 12 yards on six carries.
Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams each had big plays, giving Cassel the lift he needed to make the offense viable. The two combined for 125 yards on five catches. Devin Street had 18 yards on his only catch of the game, but fumbled it away as he was swarmed in the middle of the field. Lucky Whitehead’s only catch of the game went for only five yards, but he added two rushes for 35.
Tight End: Jason Witten joined the very exclusive 1,000 reception club, becoming only the second tight end in NFL history to reach the milestone. Witten’s five catches for 45 yards were full of his trademark, timely third down conversions and important drive-extending grabs. James Hanna added 11 yards on his only catch of the game, as the tight ends were an important part of the game for Dallas.
Offensive Line: The offensive line protected Matt Cassel relatively well, giving him time to operate, but they weren’t able to clear many lanes in the running game. They withstood the Washington pressure on the Cowboys' game clinching drive, and overall played their role enabling the rest of the offense to function.
Defensive Line: The defensive line was extremely disruptive for the Cowboys, led by second-year man DeMarcus Lawrence who filled the stat sheet with four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Nick Hayden, Jack Crawford, Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory added tackles for losses as well, and Hardy added two quarterback hits.
Linebackers: Sean Lee and Rolando McClain were bright spots for the defense again, making plays all over the field. Lee racked up a total of 13 combined tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit, while McClain added 10 combined tackles and played his patented physical brand of football that sets the tone for the defense.
Defensive Backs: Overall, the defensive backs played relatively well, but they did give up a few more plays down the field than in the past several games. Morris Claiborne appeared healthy throughout the game, and was in good position in coverage most of the night. The rest of the secondary was similarly solid, as the team allowed only 219 yards passing to Cousins.
Special Teams: Two of the biggest plays in the game—the DeSean Jackson fumble recovered by Chris Jones and the 46-yard kickoff return by Lucky Whitehead with under a minute left—really made the difference in the game.
Coaching: Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli called a great game limiting the production of the Washington offense, and giving his guys chances to succeed. On the offensive side of the ball, there were times where it didn’t appear the Cowboys were adjusting as well as they needed to. Additionally, there were some situations towards the end of the game that could have been managed differently to remove some risk from the game.
Important Note No. 1: Dan Bailey’s Consistency
The Cowboys have depended upon their kicker for an unusually high percentage of their points this year with the red zone struggles of the offense without Tony Romo.
As usual, Dan Bailey has been the model of consistency, drilling a remarkable 96.2 percent of his field goals, and every one of his extra points. The Cowboys needed Bailey to make every kick Monday night to give them the much needed win, and Bailey came through, nailing a 54-yarder with nine seconds left on the clock.
On his career, Bailey is the most accurate field goal kicker of all time with a minimum of 100 attempts, having made a remarkable 90.9 percent. The closest competitor—New England’s Stephen Gostkowski—has made 87.5 percent.
In a year of missed field goals and extra points, having Dan Bailey gives the Cowboys an advantage in a crucial aspect of the game.
Important Note No. 2: Another Defensive Showcase
The Washington offense generated only 16 points, netted just 266 yards of total offense and had only one drive of more than 50 yards. The defense wasn’t able to generate a turnover, although DeMarcus Lawrence did force a fumble on his second sack of the night.
The three sacks by the defense—along with the eight tackles for losses and six quarterback hits—were impactful plays in the game and contributed heavily to holding the Cowboys holding an opponent to under 300 total yards for the third straight week, and sixth time in 12 games on the season.
Quote No. 1: Jason Witten on Number 1,000
Witten told reporters in a post-game interview:
“That was kind of my play – the little stick route, I don’t think Matt had any clue what was going on at the time, but it needed to be a first down. There was really nothing pretty about it, probably the way I would want it – just a nice first down, keep the chains moving.”
To make a strong catch at the first down marker, take a big hit and move the chains is about as typical Jason Witten as it gets. As he says, it’s probably exactly the way the big tight end would want it.
The only way it possibly could have been more appropriate is if Tony Romo were the one making the throw.
Quote No. 2: Jerry Jones on the Performance of the Defense
Jones told reporters after the win:
“The defense saved the day for us today. You have to give them a lot of credit. Any time you can come back from three turnovers like we did on the other side of the ball and a heroic effort like our defense made, it’s really special to be part of a win like that.”
With the offense struggling to move the ball and coughing up three turnovers, it was the type of game that most teams would struggle to win.
But the Cowboys’ defense stood up, and as the owner and general manager said, “saved the day.” They gave up a few plays and would like to generate more takeaways, but they were exactly what the team needed them to be on Monday night.