- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 25, 2020

LANDOVER | Terry McLaurin isn’t one to trash talk. But when Cowboys rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs took a swipe at the 25-year-old, the Washington wide receiver stepped up and got in his opponent’s face.

Then, for good measure, he burned him on the very next play for a long touchdown.

The rookie, McLaurin said, stayed quiet for the rest of the game.

“It wasn’t too much after that,” McLaurin said with a smile.

The sequence encapsulated much of what went right for Washington in Sunday’s 25-3 beatdown over Dallas: The team didn’t back down, executed big plays when needed and ultimately left their division rival humiliated. The win was the first over Dallas in two years, and first since the franchise since retired the Redskins moniker.

After five weeks of losses, Washington put together its most complete performance of the season — arguably of the past few years. It was Washington’s biggest margin of victory since 2015, when the Burgundy-and-Gold dominated New Orleans in a 47-14 blowout. That squad, by the way, was the last time the club made the playoffs.

Washington now enters its bye week back in the thick of the race for the NFC East. Washington, which was in last place before Sunday’s game, is now just a half-game behind the division-leading 2-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles.

The team is still 2-5, but coach Ron Rivera said the result showed what happens when the team can play to its potential.

“When you challenge these guys, they find out exactly what they can do,” Rivera said. “If they realize and see what they can do and they’re capable of it, it gives them confidence going forward. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”

To beat Dallas (2-5), Washington corrected the mistakes it has been plagued by over its five-game losing streak and added new elements to its attack that had not been there previously.

The biggest difference was Washington’s control on offense. The team moved the chains with an efficient rushing attack and a number of explosive plays. Third-rounder Antonio Gibson had his first 100-plus yard performance — including a 40-yard gain on the team’s first drive of the day.

Gibson was part of a ground game that rolled up 208 yards on 39 carries. Prior to Sunday, Washington ranked dead last in rushing offense, averaging 82.2 yards per game.

Part of that turnaround, of course, can be attributed to a historically porous Dallas defense — the Cowboys are on track to give up the most points since the 1960s.

Washington took advantage of the Cowboys’ miscommunication on the back end and picked apart tendencies. On McLaurin’s 52-yard bomb in the second quarter that put Washington up 15-3, for example, the receiver said he saw on film that Diggs would be sitting on the route that freed him up for the score. “Kyle (Allen) threw a great ball,” said McLaurin.

On the defensive side, Washington’s relentless pass rush set the tone for the game. In the first quarter, after Washington’s offense failed to pick up fourth-and-goal from the 1, the defense stayed calm and produced a turnover on Dallas’ opening drive. Safety Landon Collins helped Washington take a 2-0 lead after he forced a fumble on a strip sack of Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton that was recovered in the end zone for a safety.

Collins’ hit was part of Washington’s two turnovers and six sacks for the defense. The unit, which gave up at least 30 points through the first five games, has surrendered only 23 points in the last two weeks. The Cowboys mustered just 142 yards.

Linebacker Cole Holcomb, who had a sack and an interception, said the improvement can be traced to players starting to become accountable for their mistakes. “Guys just started taking accountability for what is going on,” he said.

Holcomb added he hopes Washington builds off the win.

“When everyone is firing on all cylinders, man, we can be a good team,” Holcomb said.

Even with the performance, there will be areas for Washington to grow, plays to clean up. The obvious one will be linebacker Jon Bostic’s hit on Dalton in the third quarter that led to the veteran’s ejection. Dalton, who was filling in for the injured Dak Prescott, exited the game with a concussion and was replaced by James Madison product and rookie Ben DiNucci. Rivera said afterward that the hit was unacceptable.

The defense will also have to adapt without Collins, who exited the game in the second quarter and is feared to have a torn Achilles. Rivera did not provide an update on Collins, but multiple reports indicate that the Pro Bowler is likely done for the season.

Rivera and his players, though, said the victory was an example of Washington adapting to the culture that the 58-year-old is trying to instill.

Allen, who threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns, believes Washington’s identity starts with Rivera — who has battled cancer all season long. “He’s sitting the example for us and it’s right in front of our eyes,” Allen said.

McLaurin, meanwhile, said the win needs to be just the start.

“We’ve set the bar, we’ve set the standard,” McLaurin said. “We know what that looks like now.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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