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Lesser-known Cowboys come through in critical win over Washington

Dwayne HarrisDwayne Harris jump-started the Cowboys with two long returns, one for a touchdown, the other set up a score.
(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Cowboys' logo -- a giant, solitary star -- seemed more ironic than usual on Sunday night. Already missing Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer because of injuries and coming off a heartbreaking loss to Denver, the Cowboys then watched starting running back DeMarco Murray bang his knee early against the Redskins and standout defensive end DeMarcus Ware hobble off moments later.

Dallas' only chance to navigate its showdown with Washington was to get its unheralded players to pick up the slack. There would be no superstar on this night.

And pick up the slack they did, in a 31-16 victory that came courtesy of names like Dwayne Harris, Joseph Randle, Cole Beasley and Kyle Wilber.

"We had a lot of guys who had been working behind the scenes, they came in and made a ton of plays for us," linebacker Sean Lee told NBC's Michelle Tafoya. "It really was the difference in the game."

A host of familiar faces still chipped in on Dallas' third win, of course. Lee may have been the best among them, with 10 tackles and an interception-forcing hit on Robert Griffin III in the first half. Cornerback Brandon Carr delivered a clutch performance too, limiting Pierre Garcon to six catches and a rather harmless 69 yards.

But the Cowboys were not going to erase the sting of their Week 5 loss -- the memory of another untimely meltdown -- simply by having Tony Romo whip the ball around to Dez Bryant. They needed everything they could muster, even opposite a still-struggling Redskins team.

It was Harris who provided arguably the two biggest jolts. Shortly before halftime, after a penalty forced Washington to punt a second time from its own territory, he followed his blockers down the sideline and to the house for an 86-yard touchdown return and a 14-3 Dallas lead. Then, right after Washington chipped that margin down to 14-6 early in the third quarter, Harris bolted back 90 yards with a kickoff return to set up a brilliant Romo-to-Terrance Williams TD toss.

"With every opportunity we've given him, he's made big plays," Garrett said of Harris, who added a solid special-teams tackle in the closing moments. "Those are huge plays, what a great job for us."

The Redskins tried to counter Dallas' next-man-up effort with a performance that hearkened back to their surprising 2012 run. Namely, they wanted to unleash an increasingly healthy Griffin on a Cowboys defense he had torched one season ago.

RGIII certainly looked physically better Sunday night than he has at any point thus far this season. He was active with his feet (nine rushes for 77 yards, plus several pass attempts on which he escaped pressure), and Washington called more plays to get him involved than in Weeks 1 through 4. In the end, though, Griffin remained a touch off his game.

Dallas pounced on those lingering miscues. Orlando Scandrick, who delivered a key block on Harris' punt-return TD, picked off an errant Griffin toss to ice the game late; Wilber, pressed into duty by Ware's injury, ripped the football from Griffin's arms at the Washington 3 in the final quarter -- a play that allowed Joseph Randle to power into the end zone for a huge six points.

"It was a great team win for our football team," Garrett said. "Each of the three phases showed up.

"I think particularly on that defensive line, a lot of different faces, those guys just battling their asses off."

Aside from his scrambling, off-balance TD toss to Williams, Romo didn't need to give the Cowboys all that much. The oft-criticized QB surely did not mind the break, after a stunning showing against the Broncos came crashing down (as Romo's important games often seem to) with a game-altering interception.

He finished Sunday with just 170 yards passing, his lowest mark since the middle of the 2011 season. The run game also stalled without Murray -- despite playing little more than a quarter, he led the team in rushing with 29 yards.

So it was the special teams and the defense and a few key catches from their no-namers like Beasley that gave Dallas a happier ending in Week 6 than it scored in Week 5.

"[It was a] disappointing performance last week," Carr told NBC. "Left a bitter taste in our mouth. We came out here ready to perform, 60 minutes of hard work."

Dallas' latest showing may not be enough going forward, with upcoming road games against Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans. It was just what the Cowboys needed on Sunday, however, as a battered team tried to find its footing again.

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