Monday night is history and tomorrow is always a mystery but the 4-8 Dallas Cowboys have today, and the knowledge they remain in the slap fight that is the NFC East race after outlasting Washington, 19-16, at FedEx Field.
Yeah, the Cowboys will likely have to win out over the final month of the season and get plenty of help to overtake the Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, who are all tied atop the NFL’s worst division with 5-7 mark, but the fact that they will be playing at least some meaningful football in December despite their .333 winning percentage is a pleasant diversion for North Texas.
In many ways Monday’s game was a microcosm of the 2015 NFC East with awful football ruling the day and neither team being able to pull away from the other.
For those who did stay up, they were rewarded at least a bit in the final five minutes when a little entertainment broke out in what had been the television equivalent of a Tylenol PM pill.
With the score deadlocked at 9-9 and just 1:47 remaining, the Redskins sent big-play threat DeSean Jackson back to return a punt and the speedster went too far in his attempt to make a play, giving up about 20 yards of field position before heading north again and then compounding his egregious error by fumbling the football at the Washington 15-yard line.
“It was just one of those things where I was just trying to make a play for my team,” Jackson said. “I just got to take that on the chin, you know, the fumble, I know better than that.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not lament his decision despite the fact that Jackson had only returned two prior punts since arriving in Washington from Philadelphia.
“DeSean has a history of making big plays in key situations,” Gruden explained, “and I don’t regret that decision one bit.”
Cowboys running back Darren McFadden made Gruden pay for it, though, with runs of nine yards and six yards for the score to seemingly put things away for Dallas.
Rashad Ross had other ideas, however, and the his 41-yard return on the ensuing kickoff gave the ‘Skins and Jackson a second chance, one that receiver utilized by getting behind the Dallas defense for a 28-yard TD reception with 44 seconds left. The PAT was good despite a shaky hold and overtime looked a fait accompli.
“It didn’t surprise me at all to see them hit Jackson deep, with how much time we had left,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
Turns out Washington also left too much time.
After Lucky Whitehead bested Ross’ effort with a 46-yard return, Matt Cassel hit back-to-back throws to Dez Bryant, setting up Dan Bailey for a 54-yard field goal to win the game.
“We won on will out there tonight and not on tactical mastery,” Jones surmised. “That’s where we are as a team.”
That rare, tempered attitude from the usually bombastic Jones is a good one considering his team’s plight, which includes a visit to Lambeau Field up next, a game that is expected to finally put the stake through Dallas’ heart.
“I look at it as 4-8,” Jones said after his team’s first win without Tony Romo this season, “and won’t look at it any differently as we move up the ladder, until something really special happens.”
Expecting something special is a catch-22 for Dallas supporters, however, because it’s pretty evident that the ‘Boys would be running away with the East had Romo been able to stay healthy this season, but two broken clavicles sent a pretty talented team into the abyss with the rest of the dreck in the division.
So, despite the faint heart beat after the nationally televised road win over the team’s biggest rival, it was Jones playing a strange role for him — the voice of reason.
“I would have never dreamed this,” Jones said. “You can say it speaks to parity and I guess it does. We are fortunate and we’ve got to get better. We play (the Redskins) again. We’ve got some tough road games ahead of us. So we have a lot of work to do if we want to keep our head up.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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