Say hello to your new leaders in the NFC East: The Washington Football Team. Ron Rivera and his team got the best of the Dallas Cowboys for the second time this season, as they registered a 41-16 victory on Thanksgiving. This marks the first time Washington has swept Dallas since 2012. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson was an absolute monster, as he rushed 20 times for 115 yards and three touchdowns. Star wide receiver Terry McLaurin also played a major role in the victory, as he caught seven passes for 92 yards and also made a clutch tackle that saved what would have been a pick-six.
Washington's defense registered what might be their best performance of the season, as they sacked Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton a total of three times, picked him off once for a touchdown, recovered an Ezekiel Elliott fumble in the third quarter and held the Cowboys to just 1 of 4 on fourth down attempts. It was a total team effort, and the end result is that they are now in the driver's seat of the worst division in football.
Why Washington won
The easy answer might simply be "Gibson," but let's take a look at this Washington running back group as a whole. Washington was active in free agency when it came to adding to their running back room. Despite already having Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice and Bryce Love, they went out and signed Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic in free agency, and then drafted former Memphis weapon Antonio Gibson and made him a running back. Rivera surprised everyone before the start of the regular season by releasing Peterson, Guice was then kicked out due to off-field issues and Love is still working back from his ACL injury, so it's a good thing Washington went out and totally reshaped its running back corps.
Not only do all three of these players know how to make defenders miss in the run game, they are effective in the passing game as well. Despite having a four-point lead at halftime, Alex Smith hooked up with just one wide receiver in the first two quarters. Everything was going to his running backs or tight end Logan Thomas. Gibson finished with five receptions for 21 yards, McKissic caught two passes for 21 yards and Barber helped on the ground with 57 yards on 11 carries. Because of their effectiveness on the ground and in the short-passing game, Washington dominated the time of possession battle, 35:56 to 24:04. They established tempo, played their game, kept drives alive and also kept the Cowboys offense off the field.
Why Dallas lost
It's hard to pick out one thing that the Cowboys did well on Thursday. Coverage was spotty, they couldn't stop the run, Dalton was inconsistent throwing the ball, the running backs couldn't establish the ground game and then the decision making was terrible. We will get into some of those plays a bit later on, but this team had no idea how to create momentum for themselves. Elliott rushed just 10 times for 32 yards and fumbled once while Tony Pollard rushed four times for a total of 12 yards. The lone bright spot for the Cowboys had to be Amari Cooper, as he caught six passes for 112 yards and one touchdown, but it just simply wasn't enough. The Cowboys were outplayed in every facet on Thursday night.
This fake punt deserves an award for being horrible in every way. The Cowboys were down four points facing a fourth and 10 from their own 24-yard line, and with 12:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, you would think Dallas would just cut its losses and punt it away -- especially considering the defense forced a three and out on Washington's last possession.
Instead, the Cowboys opted to do this:
With Washington already deep in enemy territory, it took Gibson just one play to rush it in for his second score of the game and to extend Washington's lead to double digits. Ball game.
Play(s) of the game
There are so many highlights Washington had on Thursday night, but let's just focus on two.
Washington signed tight end Logan Thomas in free agency this offseason, who was a versatile athlete that could stretch the field but also serve as a red zone target. Not only that, but he was a former quarterback. During his four seasons at Virginia Tech, Thomas threw for 9,003 yards, 52 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. He bounced around with three NFL teams as a reserve quarterback, until the Detroit Lions made the decision to move him to tight end back in 2016. It was a position change that finally got him some playing time.
You would think Washington would use Thomas as a dual-threat -- or even triple-threat weapon on offense, and that's exactly what they did this Thanksgiving.
This was a pretty nice pass to McLaurin, wouldn't you say? The 28-yard gain got Washington into enemy territory, and set up the first touchdown of the game.
Later in the first half came a play that warranted at least three or four looks.
Wait, what just happened? All players on the line of scrimmage stood up while Smith placed the ball under McKissic. Smith and then two of his running backs rolled out to the right as if they were running a college-style option play, meanwhile McKissic sprinted out toward the opposite side of the field with the ball.
We have actually seen a play like this before, back when Rivera was with the Carolina Panthers. A special game calls for special plays.
You could make an argument that this was the game-winning play. Down just seven points, Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith picked off an errant pass and looked like he was on his way to tying up the game. Instead, McLaurin came out of nowhere -- D.K. Metcalf style -- to prevent the touchdown.
This was a huge play, as the Cowboys picked up a total of -6 yards on their next three plays! Dallas was held to just a field goal, and it would be the last points the Cowboys would score on Thursday night.
Washington travels to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday, who just had their Thanksgiving matchup with the Baltimore Ravens pushed back to this Sunday due to COVID-19 concerns. As for the Cowboys, they won't get the benefit of a long week. They are set to travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens next Thursday night.
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