Say this for the NFC East: They’re a generous bunch. Nobody wants anybody else to feel too bad about themselves. They’re happy to take on L after L to keep the rest of the league — or their visitors — happy.
The Dallas Cowboys were in a giving mood on Thanksgiving, offering up fumbles, pick sixes, dropped passes, crucial penalties and dubious play-calling that resulted in a resounding 41-16 victory for the Washington Football Team. Such polite hosts!
Washington’s Antonio Gibson came back for thirds, rushing for 115 yards and three touchdowns to clean out the Cowboys’ kitchen. Washington now has four wins and — deep breath — sits in first place in the NFC East. In the slow amble that is the playoff race in the league’s worst division, the Football Team is now ahead by a hog’s snout.
Alex Smith is the year’s best comeback story, but is he a serviceable starting quarterback? Well, he’s doing enough to keep the WFT moving downfield. He was 19 of 26 for 149 yards and one touchdown against one interception. He’s not the Alex Smith of old, but he’s more than enough to keep this team pointed in the right direction.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas simply looked overmatched and out of control. Andy Dalton was just fine between the 20s, but the Cowboys failed to score touchdowns on any of their three trips into the red zone. Ezekiel Elliott put the ball on the ground yet again at a crucial moment. CeeDee Lamb dropped a guaranteed touchdown. And by the fourth quarter, Dallas just got bum-rushed right out of its own home, surrendering long touchdown runs and pick sixes in the very picture of a team watching its season fade away.
One key moment in the game came with five minutes left in the first half and Dallas facing fourth-and-inches at its own 35. The Cowboys opted to go for it, which is a defensible enough strategy. But then, instead of putting the ball in the hands of Elliott, Dallas opted for a slow-developing dropback pass … which, against Washington’s top-ranked pass defense, predictably failed. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Dallas’s Dalton Schultz on the same play gave Washington the ball on the Dallas 20, and five plays later, Washington was in the end zone with a lead it would never relinquish.
Cowboys bumble with INT, fake punt
What should have been the game’s pivotal moment came with just over four minutes left in the third. Washington was in the midst of a long, grinding drive that had begun at its own 5, and Alex Smith, pressured by Aldon Smith, threw an interception right into the chest of Jaylon Smith. Smith — Jaylon, that is, not Alex or Aldon — couldn’t quite reach the end zone, and the Cowboys were looking at first-and-goal from the 4.
Would it surprise you to know they didn’t score a touchdown? Well … they didn’t.
And then came the coup de grace: a Dallas fake punt from its own 24 — on fourth-and-10 — that fell apart from the snap. One play later, Gibson scooted into the end zone to put Washington up by 11 points. And from there, the Cowboys could only watch Washington’s taillights fade into the distance.
It’s easy to mock Dallas, but it’s not entirely fair. The team has suffered mightily from injuries, including multiple game-enders on Thursday alone. More importantly, the team was playing with heavy hearts following the shocking death of strength coach Markus Paul earlier this week.
Still, from a purely football perspective, this is a team that’s completely underachieving on every front, and this might just have ended whatever hopes the Cowboys had of winning the division.
Washington, on the other hand, finds itself in an unfamiliar position: out front. The Football Team won’t scare anyone with a winning record, but there’s still the chance out there of holding off the rest of the division. Still ahead for Washington: Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, a Ron Rivera revenge game at Carolina, and a season finale at Philadelphia. In a year where six wins might win the division, Washington’s at least got a fighting chance.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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