The Redskins defense came out motivated against the Cowboys, limiting their offense despite a series of turnovers. They couldn't sustain that play into the second half.
Even though the Redskins trailed by 10 points entering the half, unfortunate circumstances – primarily three turnovers and a special teams touchdown – didn't implicate the team's defense, which started a crucial division game against the Cowboys nearly perfectly.
Washington forced four consecutive three-and-outs, holding Dallas to just eight yards on 12 plays and surrendered just one touchdown in the second quarter. The Cowboys looked mostly baffled on offense, unable to put drives together or create any explosive plays.
At the end of two quarters, running back Alfred Morris had only gained 38 yards rushing while quarterback Dak Prescott completed seven passes for 44 yards, mostly short gains that didn't amount to anything longer than 10 yards.
But the defense's stout play changed in the second half. With the Cowboys ahead comfortably, they leaned on their offensive line to plow away defenders and create wide open lanes for Morris that hadn't been there previously. Morris finished with 127 yards rushing and a touchdown, sparking a second half turnaround in the Redskins' 38-14 loss at AT&T Stadium Thursday night.
"It's frustrating knowing defensively what we're capable of, which you saw throughout most of the first half and even in a little bit of the third quarter, the back end of the third quarter and even the fourth quarter," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "It's like we were a different defense and it's too bad. We've put a lot of good stuff on film in the first half and then it all kind of goes to hell after a second half like that."
The Redskins started out the third quarter only giving up one first down before forcing the Cowboys to punt, but the offense couldn't carry the momentum on the ensuing drive. That's when Dallas began to have success running the football.
Morris ran five times for 39 yards and wide receiver Dez Bryant caught a 24-yard pass over the middle before culminating the drive with a touchdown in the corner of the end zone over cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
"It's tough with the kind of backs that they have," Breeland said of the Dallas offense. "They can chew the clock out and put pressure on us to really get stops. And they did a very good job of protecting the ball."
From there, with a 17-point lead, the Cowboys continued their ground attack with Morris and occasionally Rod Smith, picking up chunks of yardage and first downs that wound the clock down significantly in the fourth quarter as the Redskins tried to make a late comeback after cutting their lead back to 10 points.
The Cowboys put together consecutive scoring drives of more than five and more than six minutes each, respectively, wearing down the defense and dimming hopes for the offense to climb back.
"I mean, Dallas, they had a game plan that was a good game plan. I mean, it worked out," said linebacker Zach Brown, who had a team-high seven tackles. "As a team, credit to their B-listers today. Can't really say anything about it, just have to go back to the drawing board and work harder."
The loss severely hurts the Redskins' chances for the playoffs this season with four games remaining. It's a realization that frustrates many, knowing this game could have been one to spur them towards the postseason.
"We had our whole mindset on coming out here and winning this ballgame so we can continue our season," cornerback Josh Norman said. "Only one person can come out to be a victor, it was them. It seems they always get us. But, we got to keep fighting, we've got four games left, so however the case may be, we definitely are not going to tank anything, so don't expect that to happen at all. Our best chance is to go 9-7 and that's what we're shooting for."