- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2018

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys didn’t have the piece they needed to beat the Washington Redskins the first time around.

They traded for receiver Amari Cooper the day after Washington won the rivals’ first meeting, and just four weeks later the Cowboys‘ offense had the edge it was seeking.

Cooper ran in two long touchdown catches in the third quarter to be the deciding factor on Thanksgiving Day, as the Cowboys beat Washington 31-23 at AT&T Stadium and reshaped the NFC East in the process.

The Redskins held a two-game lead in the division earlier this month, but the Cowboys moved ahead with Thursday’s win and split the season series. Both teams are 6-5 with five games to play.

In his first start since 2014, Colt McCoy went 24-for-38 for 268 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was outshone by Dak Prescott, who finished 22-for-31 for 289 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing score. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 121 yards and Cooper finished with 180 yards receiving.

D.J. Swearinger was particularly upset with his unit’s performance after giving up big yardage to Cooper and Elliott.

“We lost the game on defense, two weeks in a row,” Swearinger said. “Defense. You want to be a championship defense, you gotta hold that weight on your back.”

Swearinger called out the defense for missing tackles and not doing “the simple (expletive)” right.

“If you don’t do the simple things right, you’re gonna get embarrassed on national TV,” he said. “That’s why we don’t get respect as the Redskins. We don’t do the simple (expletive) right. We do the simple (expletive) right, I guarantee you we get respect.”

The Redskins are now 3-8 all-time in Thanksgiving games.

Elliott capped off the Cowboys‘ 75-yard opening drive with a 16-yard touchdown run. He jogged across the goal line untouched, took out $21 to match his jersey number and tossed it in the oversized Salvation Army kettle, into which he once famously jumped.

Washington’s offense struggled to start up with McCoy under center. The Redskins went three-and-out on their first drive, and Anthony Brown intercepted McCoy on their second.

But in the second quarter, Vernon Davis got behind his coverage on a deep route and McCoy found him for a 53-yard touchdown to tie the game.

“We take advantage of Vernon’s strengths,” McCoy said. “He obviously is a great tight end. That play started with (Peterson) putting a great block on the linebacker who came free. Once he picked up the block, I set my feet and found Vernon there. He made a great play.”

Dallas responded with a 14-play drive that got them as close as the Redskins‘ 4-yard line, but the defense pulled out a red zone stop. Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan shared a sack on second down for a loss of eight. The Cowboys settled for a short field goal to grab a 10-7 lead, which they carried into the locker room to make way for a Meghan Trainor performance.

Early in the second half, Trey Quinn returned a Cowboys‘ punt 30 yards to set Washington up with excellent field position, then finished the job himself by snagging his first career touchdown catch.

The good vibe was dampened when Dustin Hopkins missed the point after for the first time all year, and the Cowboys responded with an efficient drive and a touchdown to Cooper. Quinton Dunbar slipped and fell before Cooper came down with the catch, leaving most of the field empty in front of him to sprint for the score.

It was the first of two consecutive big plays for the former fourth overall draft pick. The second was much longer.

The Cowboys started their next drive inside their own 10, but Prescott found Cooper again. He beat Fabian Moreau’s coverage, turned half a rotation to his left and saw a completely open field.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said the defense was playing a cover two on that play.

“Our hook player didn’t get deep enough,” Gruden said. “Any time you catch a seam ball, we should have people there to make a tackle and he outran our defense. I don’t know if we lost vision on him or what happened.”

McCoy was picked off on the ensuing possession, a lob swallowed up by DeMarcus Lawrence at the line. It set Dallas up in scoring range and, early in the fourth quarter, Prescott danced around the pocket and dove in for a five-yard score.

The Redskins didn’t quit there. Danny Johnson returned the next kickoff to the Dallas 44 and the Redskins forged on with a six-play drive. Kapri Bibbs pushed in from one yard out, making it 31-20.

But McCoy threw his third pick of the day on the next possession, a badly aimed attempt behind Maurice Harris that Xavier Woods corralled. He took a sack the next time the offense was on the field, and eventually, the clock ran out on the Redskins.

With their third win in a row, the Cowboys confirmed some prognosticators’ opinions that with Redskins quarterback Alex Smith out for the year, Dallas had an opening to win the NFC East. The acquisition of Cooper opened up a Cowboys offense that sorely lacked a top receiver for Prescott.

“I’ve just been putting in extra time with my coaches and with Dak,” Cooper said. “We sit by each other in the meeting room. We’re just trying to catch up and be on the same page. For some reason, since I got here, the chemistry between me and Dak has been phenomenal.”

Dallas still has to play the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense, while Washington’s main challenges are Tennessee and a pair of games against Philadelphia. It is too close to call for now, but Thursday proved that with Cooper in the division, the Redskins have tougher competition than it appeared they did a month ago.


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