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Notes & Quotes: Washington Feasts On The Cowboys

Washington Football Team's Montez Sweat, second from left, and Ryan Kerrigan (91) celebrate Sweat's interception of a pass by Dallas Cowboys' Andy Dalton that Sweat ran back for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Kamren Curl (31), Jeremy Reaves (39), Daron Payne (94), Jon Bostic (53) and Chase Young (99) run to join the celebration. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Washington Football Team's Montez Sweat, second from left, and Ryan Kerrigan (91) celebrate Sweat's interception of a pass by Dallas Cowboys' Andy Dalton that Sweat ran back for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Kamren Curl (31), Jeremy Reaves (39), Daron Payne (94), Jon Bostic (53) and Chase Young (99) run to join the celebration. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

The Washington Football Team (4-7) put itself in first place in the NFC East with a 41-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Terry McLaurin became the NFL's leading receiver with 963 yards, while Antonio Gibson became the the first rookie to score three touchdowns on Thanksgiving since Randy Moss in 1998.

Here are what head coach Ron Rivera and select players had to say after the game:

Head Coach Ron Rivera

-- McLaurin recorded his fourth-career tackle in the third quarter after linebacker Jaylon Smith intercepted a pass from Alex Smith, which prevented the Cowboys from tying the score. Rivera said McLaurin's effort gave Washington's defense a chance, and it paid off.

"That's all you need, really, is a chance to get the opportunity to do it. That's what they did. Terry gave our defense a chance. Our defense bowed its neck, forced a field goal. We were only up by four at that point. But then the offense went down and scored. A lot of good things and a lot of pluses and positives as far as that's concerned."

-- Washington had several of its young players make impact plays against the Cowboys. Aside from McLaurin and Gibson, Montez Sweat had a interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He feels like the team is making progress, but it has another test against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 6.

"That's a big test. Our guys have to get ready for a heck of a football game against a very, very good football team. We'll see where we are when we get a chance to test ourselves against one of the elites right now."

-- Gibson had one of the best performances of his young career against the Cowboys. He became the first rookie in franchise history to rush for a touchdown in five straight games and sits just two touchdowns back of Alfred Morris for most in a single season by a rookie. According to Rivera, Gibson is still growing.

"He had some really good runs and, again, popped a couple for touchdowns. He scored three today, actually. The thing about him is he's got so much potential and ability. He's a lot of fun to watch. I'm pretty excited about who he's developing into. I thought the three running backs all got opportunities today and they all took advantage of it. It was a lot of fun to watch."

-- Washington unveiled a unique trick play in the second quarter against the Cowboys by handing off the ball to J.D. McKissic between the running back's legs. The play actually came from the "Little Giants" movie, which Rivera watched a lot with his daughter. Washington also had another trick play that allowed Logan Thomas to attempt and complete a pass on Washington's second drive.

"Offensive coordinator] **[Scott [Turner]’s** got some innovation. When you watch some of the things that we do, some of the things that we work on in practice, you can see the potential for big plays. Using the guys and getting them opportunities to use their skills -- that's huge. Doing what he did with Logan, that was big. Again, those are the things that we have players with specific skillsets which we need to take advantage of."

QB Alex Smith

-- Washington now leads the NFC East with a 4-7 record, but Smith doesn't want the team to look into that too much. There are still five games left, and the team has the undefeated Steelers up next. He wants Washington to keep its one-game-at-a-time mentality.

"I'm not going to get too much into that. I think some of that stuff can be dangerous. We're in the middle of a season. I think we have a good thing going, and I think it's important to stay short-sighted. For us, now it's we get a couple days here to kind of rest up and hope to get healthy and on to the next."

-- Washington is a young team, and there haven't been many normal opportunities for growth. With no offseason and an irregular training camp, the team has had to learn as it progresses through the season. It seems to be hitting a stride with five games left, and Smith said a blowout win can do a lot for a team that is learning how to win.

"You can combine that with no offseason, new coaching staff, the way the protocols for camp and all year have limited us and so I think it's important that we just kind of continue to keep growing and developing. I really think we're finding our identity and getting better as the weeks have gone on. Wins obviously only help to encourage that and fuel that. I think it's important to kind of keep that going week-to-week and keep developing as the weeks go on."

-- Washington has won in a variety of ways this year; it came back against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, grinded out a victory against the Cincinnati Bengals and won handedly in both games against the Cowboys. That can help a young team, Smith said, because teams never win the same way every week.

"The challenge is different every week, and there are so many ways to win. As a young team, I think that stuff when you're in a lot of these different situations, you just bank them and take them with you. I think those are obviously good experiences to have."

DE Chase Young

-- After struggling to pressure quarterbacks following an eight-sack performance against the Eagles, Washington is second in the NFL with 36.0 sacks, 20 of which have come in the past five games. That has helped Washington to a 3-2 record since Week 7, and Chase Young said the biggest difference is that the unit is putting more trust in each other.

"When we trust each other, that's what you see out on the field today. After that Lions game, we felt like we should have won, and we feel like we should have played better [in] that game. Everybody is holding themselves accountable after that game. Our mentality is just to keep going."

-- Young has known McLaurin for a while, so it wasn't a surprise when he saw his former Ohio State teammate hawk down Jaylon Smith before the Cowboys linebacker could score a game-tying touchdown. Those are the plays he has come to expect from McLaurin, and everyone should know what kind of player the second-year receiver is now.

"High character, he's going to give it everything he has every time he steps on the field. Terry's one of those guys that you just know is gonna go every time he touches the field -- every time -- and he doesn't stop until the whistle is blown. You saw that today."

-- Young made it clear in his postgame press conference: he wanted to be remembered for how he played on Thanksgiving. He watched the holiday game every year in his grandparents' basement. He knew he wanted to make an impact in the first Thanksgiving matchup of his career, and he did that with his first sack in three games. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity to make an impact and tried to give my best."

RB Antonio Gibson

-- Gibson introduced himself to the entire country on Thanksgiving with 136 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. The third-round rookie was not surprised by his excellence, though; he tends to play his best when everyone is watching.

"Honestly, it's the story of my life," Gibson said. "Every time the spotlight comes on, it seems like God is always watching down on me. If you can think back to the SMU game, I feel like that right there put me on the map to get where I am now. And to be able to come out on national TV and do this is an amazing feeling."

-- One play after Washington stuffed a fake punt attempt, Gibson took the hand-off straight ahead, burst through a massive hole on the left side and outran the defensive back for a 23-yard touchdown to extend the lead to double digits early in the fourth quarter. As Gibson approached the goal line, he made sure to let Donovan Wilson know he would not catch him by switching the ball into his left arm and waving at him with his right.

"I knew I had him beat to the outside," Gibson said. "Emotional game, so I ended up throwing the wave to him. Usually it's the peace sign, but today it was the wave."

-- Washington began the season as one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL, but it has gobbled up a combined 346 yards on the ground the past two games. Gibson attributed the recent success to running hard, trusting themselves and relying on their blockers.

"We've been doing a good job reading our blocks, hitting the right gaps, and I feel like we're just playing ball, hitting the right gaps, doing our assignments."

S Jeremy Reaves

-- Jeremy Reaves, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Oct. 27, excelled in his defensive debut Thursday. Playing roughly half of the snaps, Reaves had a quarterback hit, a tackle for loss and his first-career sack.

His two biggest plays came after Smith's interception, which set up Dallas at the four-yard line. First Reaves sacked wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who took the direct snap, and then he helped break up a pass in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal. Instead of tying the game at 20, the Cowboys settled for a field goal to pull within four points. It was the closest they would get the rest of the game.

"When we ran out there, I said, 'They don't get in.' I talked to all of the guys up there and I said, 'We've got to stand tall right now. This is a big moment in the game, this could say a lot about our defense and this can build a culture within our defense right now.' I mean, Dallas is a good offense. If we get a stop like that, it kind of turns that momentum. They come off a big play at home, we stop them three plays in a row and get off the field giving up three points. That's huge."

-- When Landon Collins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, it would have made a lot of sense for Washington to sign Eric Reid, a physical and productive safety who played under Rivera in Carolina. Rivera ended up offering Reid a practice squad spot, and Reid declined. Part of the reason for that was Rivera wanting to see what he had in Reaves, who has done all of the right things since training camp.

"Honestly, it's a good feeling. I know how this business works, and they easily could have went the other route. But they believed in me, and so it's only right when I get my opportunity out there, I put my best foot forward and repay coach in that way. So, any time I get a chance to step on that field, honestly it's a way to represent my family and it's another way of thanking coach for just giving me a chance."

DT Tim Settle

-- Defensive tackle Tim Settle recorded his fourth sack in the past five games and now has 5.0 this season, the third-most behind Sweat (6.0) and Ryan Kerrigan (5.5). That means Washington fans have seen a lot of Settle's sack dance, where he hops around like a penguin in the opponent's backfield.

"I love penguins. It was just a thing I did. I make dances, I don't know. That's just what I did when I was in college and I was going to stick with it. And y'all going to keep seeing it! Y'all going keep seeing it."

-- Four defensive linemen -- Kerrigan, Settle, Sweat and Young -- now have at least 4.5 sacks, while Daron Payne and Jon Allen are two of the team's best run-stoppers. It seems this highly-talented group is starting to come together under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

"The sky is the limit with the room we have. There's a certain expectation we have in that room, and when big-time players come to play and you make them, that's a part of the big-time football we're trying to play. And when we're executing and we're on it, that's when we're going to play dominant football."

WR Terry McLaurin

-- McLaurin's touchdown saving tackle changed the complexion of Thursday's game. Here's what McLaurin and his teammates and coaches had to say about the play.

-- McLaurin said he could not stop smiling after Washington's 41-16 thrashing of the Cowboys. After all, Washington moved into first place in the NFC East with about a month left in the regular season. However, McLaurin understands there is a lot of football left to play.

"We can't celebrate like we just won the whole division. We still got a lot of the season left, and we're going to try and take advantage of this long break and get ready for an undefeated Pittsburgh team. So, it feels good to be leading our division right now, but we've got a lot of football left."

-- Gibson, who was mic'd up against the Bengals, could be hearing yelling, "He different!" over and over again after McLaurin's 42-yard catch. McLaurin returned the compliment following Gibson's career day on Thanksgiving.

"He's very special, and I don't think he knows how good he can be. He's a very hard worker -- he doesn't really say much -- and just to see the way he's grown and he's matured over the season. I feel like he has a really good feel for where the holes are, the O-line is giving him plenty of time to make those cuts, and when he hits them, you see that 4.3 speed, so we need that explosiveness out of our backfield."