With their season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys found a way to turn a 14-6 halftime lead over the Washington Redskins into a 23-14 deficit.
How? A fumble by fullback Tyler Clutts, who had not touched the ball in a regular season game since 2011, set up a touchdown. A Tony Romo interception on a play where Dez Bryant fell down set up a second touchdown. A completely stupid personal foul penalty on J.J. Wilcox allowed Washington to continue a drive and kick a field goal.
So when the Cowboys took control of the ball with 14:46 left in the game and trailing 23-14, it was easy to make a couple of assumptions.
First, it was easy to assume the Cowboys would not run the ball again for the rest of the game. And second, it was easy to assume this team was just about ready to quit.
Both assumptions were quite false.
On the Cowboys’ first drive of the fourth quarter, DeMarco Murray carried the ball 8 times for 26 yards, helping Dallas to move the ball 71 yards to set up a field goal.
When the defense needed to make one stop, the defense came through, stopping the Redskins after one first down.
The Cowboys’ offense took the ball at the Dallas 13 and had to move the ball 87 yards in 3:39 to win the game. It was that simple.
Two passes, including a 51-yarder, to Terrance Williams gave the Cowboys a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboys moved the ball to the Washington 1 at the two-minute warning.
It appeared that the biggest concern was not whether the Cowboys would score but whether the Redskins would have too much time to drive for the game-winning field goal.
However, Washington stuffed Murray on a 2nd-and-goal from the 1. Then disaster struck, as Murray tried to reverse his field on an outside run, and he somehow lost 9 yards. Dallas faced a 4th-and-goal from the 10.
Romo had one more chance. He bought some time on the play before looking to his right and finding Murray. Romo threw to the back, who dove into the end zone. The extra point gave Dallas the lead.
The Redskins still had 1:08 remaining but had no timeouts. A penalty moved the ball back to the Washington 13. The maligned Dallas defense needed to make plays.
And it did. Yes, the plays stopped a 3-11 team playing with its backup quarterback, but the Dallas defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the Cowboys a chance to play for the NFC East title against Philadelphia next Sunday.
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The final couple of games for Dallas are similar to the final games in 2009. That year, the Cowboys had a 9-5 mark when they visited Washington in week 16. The Cowboys qualified for the playoffs with a win over the Redskins, setting up a season finale with the NFC East title on the line.
Dallas thumped the visiting Eagles in week 17 and then beat the Eagles again for the franchise’s only playoff win since 1996.
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A few notes about stats:
- Murray now has 1,073 rushing yards, making him the first Cowboy since 2006 to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
- Bryant caught his 12th touchdown reception, matching his number from 2012.
- The Cowboys allowed 297 yards, bringing the team’s average yards per game down to 418.6. This still ranks dead last in the NFL.