Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's duel with the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField in Landover, Md.
Perhaps the only similarity between Dallas Week 2013 and Dallas Week 12 is the streakiness of the Redskins season.
Last year, the Redskins rode a six-game winning streak into the Week 17 matchup, continuing a seemingly inevitable date with destiny.
This year, the Redskins ride a six-game losing streak into a Week 16 matchup that feels eerily inevitable as well. The Cowboys control their own destiny, needing wins over Washington and Philadelphia next week to ensure their spot in the playoffs.
The Redskins come in battling their own demons, weathering crippling injuries on all units and facing the uncertainty that any 3-11 team must face.
All of that can be placed aside for three hours this afternoon as one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL plays itself out in Landover, Md.
The turning point of the game was almost certainly the forced fumble and fumble recovery by cornerback Josh Wilson on running back Tyler Clutts. With the Redskins unable to reach the end zone, the defense handed the offense another short field, and this time Kirk Cousins and Co. were able to capitalize. From there, the Redskins went on a 17-0 run that turned the game around for the home team.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The storyline of the day and perhaps the year is the historic campaign of receiver Pierre Garçon. Slicing and dicing his way through the Cowboys' porous secondary, Garçon caught his 107 reception of the season in the third quarter, setting the offense up for the go-ahead touchdown of the day.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Pierre Garçon has been the go-to playmaker all year and has yet to receive the national attention he deserves. His 96 receptions coming into Week 16 ranked second in the NFL, behind only Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans. His explosive playmaking ability has kept the Redskins competitive throughout the season, and his career-best 10 receptions today was a mark befitting a record-breaking performance. Just like Alfred Morris carried the team vs. Dallas last year, Garçon came in and took over today.
When given the opportunity to carry the football in the second half of football games, there is perhaps no running back more fierce than Alfred Morris who only gets stronger with use. After contributing early, Morris put the team on his back and carried the offense the last 30 yards for the second touchdown of the day that put the Redskins on top for the first time. With the passing of the torch on offense, Morris is your best candidate to inherit the label "Cowboy Killer." He finished the day with 24 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--In what will likely be the final home game of his illustrious Redskins career, team captain and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker London Fletcher led his team in the huddle and on the stat sheet, turning in six tackles on the day. Although not a fairytale season, Fletcher did get the kind of memorable win worth riding off into the sunset on.
--Playing in what could be his final home game with the Redskins, veteran receiver Santana Moss made an early impact in the punt return game. Taking the initial punt return back 18 yards across midfield, Moss set the offense up with a short field that yielded a field goal to get the Redskins on the board. In a game where the offense struggled to move the ball early, this was the ice breaker the team needed. He finished the day with three returns for 35 yards.
--Fullback Darrel Young may not be a household name, but his impact on this offense has been seriously understated this season. After sitting out unhealthy for much of the last six weeks, Young was healthy today and made plays both as a lead-blocker and playmaker out of the backfield.
--Running back Alfred Morris did his best to keep the defense honest early, picking up yards in chunks and fighting off swarming tackles. By the midway point of the second quarter, Morris already had 42 yards on 11 carries. The Redskins were also able to stay balanced, rushing 12 times, throwing 13.
--Safety Brandon Meriweather has been forced into more of a free safety role with Reed Doughty in the lineup, so fans rarely see him lurking near the line of scrimmage. That's precisely what the Redskins wanted, sending him as a free blitzer around the right end of the line and dragging down Tony Romo by his shoelaces. This was only the second Redskins sack on Romo all season and the first of the day. Romo suffers statistically when teams are willing to blitz.
--Meriweather has also been a stellar defender vs. the run this year, sniffing out the play and making more open-field tackles on ball carriers than most. After the Cowboys' 4th-down conversion in the fourth quarter, Meriweather made a stop on DeMarco Murray in the open field that ultimately forced a Cowboys field goal. This type of play is minimal on the stat sheet, but is the difference between winning and losing.
--Redskins receiver Pierre Garçon has been an animal since coming to Washington, finding success whenever healthy, regardless of who throws him the football. Today was another landmark day for the team's top receiver, as he eclipsed the second 100-reception season in franchise history, extending his own personal best. His eight receptions in the first half were tied for the most in his career, dating back to his time in Indianapolis when he was also playing Dallas. His 107 yards in the first half was the fifth 100-yards receiving first half of his career and the first since Week 1 of the 2012 season.
--A tropical forecast held out for the game, as morning showers gave way to gray, dry skies. The damage had been done to the field by that point and the footing did cause slips to Roy Helu Jr. and Pierre Garçon in the first half, but all-in-all, not bad.
--Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has had a very streaky season, but turned in a sack for the second week in a row, dragging down Tony Romo in the second half and forcing the punt. That was his 8.5 sack of the season, tying his personal best set in his Pro Bowl 2012 season.
--The Dez Bryant-DeAngelo Hall matchup is as good as any one-on-one matchup the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry has to offer, and Hall got the last laugh today. Bryant had a solid first half, catching Hall on a route bite in the first half for a 31-yard gain that set up a touchdown. However, Hall bit on a route in the second half that ended in a big interception and put the momentum solidly in the Redskins' favor. It was Hall's fourth of the season and perhaps none bigger, coming against the Cowboys. The play set up the Redskins for their second touchdown of the day.
--Jose Gumbs continues to make big plays on special teams, driving Cowboys kick returner Micheal Spurlock out of bounds at the 14-yard line in the first half. For a unit that has struggled all season long, particularly in coverage, these types of standout plays make him more likely to return to a revamped unit in 2014.
--Redskins outside linebacker Rob Jackson has been a find for the Redskins, developing from a special teams contributor into a big-time backup for the Redskins on defense. A season after starting 14 games in place of Brian Orakpo, Jackson entered in the second half to replace the injured starter. Jackson won last year's game with a game-ending interception. This year, he had less of an impact, but still applied consistent pressure to Tony Romo.
--Nick Williams doesn't necessarily jump off the page as an elite NFL talent, but his nose for open space makes him the team's ideal candidate for the return job for the duration of the season. He took his first NFL kickoff back for a 25-yard gain out to the 30. He finished the day with four returns for 95 yards. It will be interesting to watch his growth heading into Week 17.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--For a number of reasons, the Redskins have struggled out of the gate this season, losing critical momentum that has been hard to regain. The Redskins came out with the opening kickoff, a raucous crowd, and an opportunity to get on the board early. They went backwards instead.
--On the ensuing punt, Sav Rocca boomed it 46 yards to the Cowboys 35-yard line where it was fielded by freshly-signed Cowboys returner Micheal Spurlock, who returned it 62 yards before being pushed out at the 3-yard line by running back Roy Helu Jr.
--Two plays later, the Redskins yielded their first touchdown of the day. Redskins fans will remember that in the first matchup of the season, Redskins special teams allowed two long returns to Dwayne Harris that turned the tide of the game. For players and Redskins fans alike, this had to feel like déjà vu right out of the gate.
--Coverage has been a consistent hallmark of the Redskins special teams units during the 2000s. That identity is no more. After the Redskins yielded 222 return yards and a touchdown to Dwayne Harris in the first Redskins-Cowboys meeting this season, the Redskins got gashed by newly-signed Cowboys returner Micheal Spurlock for 113 yards on four returns. Another underwhelming performance in coverage.
--Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is a talented running back, but the team's offensive attack favors selling out to the pass. In games where Murray rushes 20-plus times, the Cowboys are 10-0. The Cowboys are willing to abandon that approach if Murray is unsuccessful in the early going. His 43-yard double-back run in the second quarter kept the Cowboys successful and the defense on its heels all day.
--After nearly turning the ball over twice on long interceptions over the middle, Kirk Cousins fired a pass to Santana Moss near the end of the first half that went behind the veteran receiver. Trying to make an adjustment on the ball, Moss spun and deflected the pass, which was intercepted by the Cowboys deep safety. Cousins seemed more out of sync with his receivers than a week ago. He was 13-for-20 for 132 yards in the first half this week.
--The injury bug bit hard today, taking out outside linebacker Brian Orakpo with a right groin strain midway through the fourth quarter. Injuries of that nature are unpredictable, which may rob Orakpo of the final game of the season. More will be known by Wednesday.
--With the momentum firmly in hand, the Cowboys got desperate late in the fourth quarter and went for it on 4th-and-6 from the Redskins' 41-yard line. Aggressive plays like that have a low rate of success, but the Cowboys converted when the secondary left Cole Beasley unchecked in the middle of the field. This launched the Cowboys' first scoring drive in nearly 30 minutes of play, making it a one-possession game.
--After taking a commanding lead, the Redskins let the Cowboys back in the door with systematic drives to close out the game. It wasn't any big thing, it wasn't a critical play gone awry. The Redskins simply got out-executed in the final minutes of the game and that was reflected in the final score.
Happy 88 Day, Redskins Nation! In addition to No. 88 setting personal bests and breaking a 30-year old franchise receiving record, the Redskins offense also scored its 88th points off turnovers, vastly exceeding last year's mark.
Head coach Mike Shanahan on the loss:
"I'm just disappointed we couldn't get it done today."
The Redskins close out the 2013 regular season next week on the road in the Meadowlands. It has been a bittersweet season for the burgundy and gold, but a win over the New York Giants in Week 17 would certainly generate good vibes going into the offseason. The Giants won the first matchup of the season and the Redskins have not won in New Jersey since 2011. The Redskins were the heavy underdogs in that game as well.
This one hurts.
The Redskins have been dealt losses in winnable games several times this season, but none of them more painful than losing to the archrival, at home, in London Fletcher's final home game, when leading by two scores in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The defense played extremely well, save for a few third and fourth down conversions given up in the fourth quarter. The offense played well, save for a few turnovers and a haphazard final drive. Special teams played well, save for one long return that set up the Cowboys' initial touchdown.
The Redskins played well in all facets of the game, but made enough critical errors in key situations to fall just short.
The loss drops the Redskins to 3-12 on the season, 0-5 in division play. The Redskins will close out the 2013 season on the road, battling the New York Giants in a game with no playoff implications.
Next week is about personal growth as the Redskins look to build a winner heading into 2014. The Redskins must hope that losses like this plant seeds for development heading into the future.