The Washington Commanders dropped their third straight game on Thanksgiving against the Dallas Cowboys with a 45-10 defeat. Here are five takeaways from the matchup, presented by Maryland Lottery.
1. Offensive production came in infrequent spurts.
There were times when the Commanders looked like they could compete against the Cowboys top 10 defense, or at least that's how it looked in the first half.
The Commanders' first two drives ended in punts, but it's not as if they were unable to move the ball. They did what's led to them to some success throughout the season; they got the ball out quickly, got Sam Howell on the move to avoid pressure and used the running game at the right moments.
Washington was also helped by Curtis Samuel, who had his best statistical day as a Commander with 100 yards on nine receptions. One of his best catches -- and best throws from Howell -- came on a third-and-10 that resulted in a 30-yard gain.
When they were down 14-3 -- the Cowboys also got the ball back to start the second half -- the offense did exactly what was required of it. It methodically moved down the field on 13 plays, even overcoming a seven-yard sack in the process, and got the goal across the goal line to make the score 14-10.
All of that promise, however small, was washed away in the second half. After that drive, the Commanders put up just 174 yards in their final seven possessions and failed to get past the Cowboys 35-yard line. That led to Washington controlling the ball for almost 14 more minutes than Dallas, but the only thing that came out of that extra time was more frustration.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium for their Week 12 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
2. Dak Prescott was unbothered by pressure.
Getting nine sacks in a game is an unrealistic expectation, but it looked as if the Commanders had figured something out with their pass rush last Sunday against the New York Giants.
Four days later, there wasn't any hint of that same pressure against the Cowboys.
Granted, Dallas' offensive line and Dak Prescott are a drastic step up in competition compared to Tommy DeVito and the Giants. The Cowboys' front is not dealing with the same injury issues, and Prescott is an established veteran who has generally had the Commanders' number at AT&T Stadium.
But Prescott was also completely unbothered by the Commanders' attempts to put pressure on him, and the quarterback had time to do whatever he wanted in the backfield. On the Cowboys' first touchdown on the day to Brandin Cooks, he faced no opposition as he rolled to his right and found Cooks wide open for the 31-yard score.
With no threat of being taken down, Prescott had one of his best games this season. He completed 69% of his passes for 331 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 142.1. He was sacked a grand total of zero times for just the fourth time this season and had 15 yards per completion -- his second-best number of the season in the category.
Up to this point, Washington has generated the least pressure of any defense this season. After seeing the Cowboys move down the field at will, it's clear why that is the case.
3. The dam broke in the fourth quarter.
Up until the fourth quarter, the Commanders actually had a shot at pulling off the upset. Both offenses were stalling, and with 15 minutes left in regulation, all they needed was one momentum-changing play to swing things back in their favor.
Then the fourth quarter happened and changed everything.
It started with a 52-yard field goal that put the Cowboys up 23-10. There was still plenty of time on the clock, but it also meant that the Commanders could not waste anymore possessions. It left them needing to get in the end zone to stay competitive, and that's how they acted by going for fourth down on their next two drives.
Washington failed to convert either of them (more on that in a bit), and it led to Dallas not needing to do much to put the Commanders away.
The Cowboys responded to the Commanders' desperation with two touchdowns. Each drive required five plays or fewer. After flirting with an explosive play all night, CeeDee Lamb got into the end zone on a 15-yard reception from Prescott. Next, it was KaVontae Turpin, who was wide open and finished the 34-yard play in the end zone.
In the span of about six minutes, Washington's hopes at a comeback were gone. And of course, there was the interception returned for a touchdown by DaRon Bland, but by then, it was more salt on the wound than anything.
4. Failing to convert on fourth downs crippled the offense.
Let's talk for a minute about those fourth-down conversion attempts, because they played a pivotal role in why the Commanders fell apart in the second half.
After forcing a punt from the Cowboys to open the third quarter, the Commanders got to the Cowboys' 39 before stalling on a fourth-and-1. They lined up in shotgun to spread out the Cowboys' defense and handed it off to Brian Robinson Jr., who was having a decent day on the ground. He was stuffed a yard behind the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs.
The situation was more dire on the second try. This time, the Commanders were down 13 points and could only get to their 34-yard line before hitting fourth down. Once again, the situation was a fourth-and-1, and once again, the Commanders lined up in shotgun to spread the out the defense.
Howell was sacked for a 10-yard loss, and the Cowboys scored three plays later.
Later on in the fourth quarter, the Commanders were grasping at strands of hope on a fourth-and-4 at the Cowboys' 35-yard line with the score being 31-10. They lined up in shotgun again, and Howell was able to get a pass off this time. His pass intended for Terry McLaurin was off-target, and the Cowboys scored five plays later.
The Commanders needed to be aggressive as road underdogs against a playoff caliber team. They were at the end, but execution -- one of the Commanders biggest problems this year -- reared its head at the worst possible times.
5. On to the next.
The Commanders have decided to make some changes to their coaching staff. Jack Del Rio has been relieved of his duties as the team's defensive coordinator, as has Brent Vieselmeyer as the team's defensive backs coach.
Ron Rivera will reportedly take over as the defensive play-caller for the rest of the season, although the head coach will confirm whether or not that's the case at his 1 p.m. press conference.
So, what's next for Washington? The team is 4-8 with five games left. The Commanders will play some of the league's best, including the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers at home. The playoffs are still mathematically possible, but the Commanders must win out plus hope for other teams to lose.
To put it plainly, the path is precarious with little margin for error. The coaches and players are taking things one day at a time. They have 10 days to prepare for their next game, and they'll react to whatever comes after that.
With their chances of salvaging the season dwindling, that's the only option.