The Drama in Dallas

It wasn’t the prettiest, but Washington’s 20-17 OT win over Dallas on Monday night certainly was memorable. Here are my thoughts on the Tony Romo medical decision, Colt McCoy's new job, the Cowboys’ bad play-calling and more
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Washington’s 20-17 overtime stunner over Dallas wasn’t one of the best Monday night games I’ve ever seen. But it was one of the most dramatic. And it had plenty of subplots we’ll be talking about for awhile.

The five headlines from this game that will reverberate:

1. The Cowboys had better know what they’re doing with Tony Romo. 

The Dallas quarterback was knocked out of the game midway through the third quarter when Washington linebacker Keenan Robinson sacked him on an up-the-middle blitz and kneed him in the back. Romo was out for 21 game minutes, replaced by Brandon Weeden, until coming back for the final two fruitless Dallas series of the games. Romo could be seen on ESPN arguing with doctors, trying to get back into the game, and he confirmed after the game he took a pain-killing injection to enable him to return. The Cowboys said the injury was a back contusion and not related to the serious back surgery he had in December 2013.

In retrospect, Dallas did such a poor job of handling the Washington seven-man pass-rush (Romo said this was the most zero blitzes he’s ever faced as a pro, and Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett clearly knew where Dallas’ soft spot was) that the Cowboys should have thought more seriously about keeping Romo out and letting Weeden play the final few minutes. Especially because Weeden was competent: four of six for 69 yards and a touchdown pass to Jason Witten. "I didn't think we were risking anything," said owner Jerry Jones afterward. "It was a contusion." The risk, though, was in the blitz getting to Romo consistently and him not being able to get out of the way.

And if Romo thinks he saw a lot of odd-man blitzes Monday night, wait until Sunday. Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles sends safeties from everywhere, and they’re bruising hitters.

Colt McCoy (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Colt McCoy (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

2. Colt McCoy earned a new job in Washington.

With his 299-yard, only-five-incompletions performance in Dallas, McCoy has firmly supplanted Kirk Cousins as the backup to the brittle Robert Griffin III, an important role in Washington. 

McCoy hadn’t started since the infamous missed-concussion game in Pittsburgh almost three years ago. In that December 2011 game, McCoy was leveled hard by James Harrison and got knocked woozy—but the concussion was never diagnosed on the field or at the game, and McCoy and his family were furious at the club’s handling of it. But he was likely on his way out in Cleveland anyway; he lost his last five games and was later traded to the 49ers. As Washington’s third-stringer, he only got the chance to start Monday because of the failings of Cousins. 

“I made a ton of mistakes early in the game," McCoy said. “A little rusty. I missed a few things. I called a play wrong in the huddle one time. The receivers got a little frustrated early. I short-armed a couple throws. But I grew up as the game went along. I made some plays down the stretch that good teams have to make to win games.’’ 

Amazingly, he rebounded to complete 25 of 30 throws, including the key play on the winning drive in overtime. The play began at the Dallas 45 with 12:25 left. Flushed to the left by the Dallas pass-rush, McCoy motioned for tight end Jordan Reed to get free down the field, and, throwing across his body fading left, McCoy rainbowed a perfect throw to Reed, who somehow got both feet in at the Dallas 29. Now Washington was in field-goal range, and three plays later Kai Forbath hit the 40-yarder that eventually won the game. A shaky beginning turned into a heroic end, and if Washington has to play one more game with McCoy before Robert Griffin III returns from injury, the organization will feel better about him playing than if Cousins were still under center.

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3. Dallas did a bad job calling plays late in the game. 

Running back DeMarco Murray is the biggest weapon the Cowboys have this season. With 1,054 rushing yards through eight games, he’s officially on pace to set the NFL’s all-time single-season rushing record (2,105, Eric Dickerson, 1984). But that wasn’t good enough to carry the mail with the game on the line Monday night. 

On the last 13 plays of regulation and the last three plays of overtime, Murray didn’t get a rushing attempt. All of this despite the fact that Murray’s last five runs Monday night were for 51, 3, 5, 9 and 8 yards. Here’s where the play-calling mismanagement really cost Dallas: Trailing 20-17 in overtime, the Cowboys took over at their 20 with 9:43 left. Murray went over right tackle for eight fairly easy yards. Then the Cowboys called a pass in the flat to Murray (loss of one), and then threw incomplete passes to Witten and Dez Bryant. Second-and-2 at the 28 is where you just want Murray to take over the game, which he’d shown every sign of being able to do … and he never got the ball with a head of steam again. Awful play-calling by the Dallas coaches.

4. Bashaud Breeland entered the national consciousness.

After Breland played a great game on Dez Bryant, it's clear the 102nd overall pick in last May's draft is afraid of nothing. Before Monday night, he’d only been notable for getting arrested for possession of marijuana during training camp this summer. But he was the Washington defender most often on Bryant (second-year man David Amerson also had some coverage duty), and Bryant was held to three catches for 30 yards. And it was Breeland who knocked away the final Romo pass of the game in overtime, a ball that would have been complete to Bryant if Breeland’s outstretched arms hadn't gotten in the way. “Our young corners are growing up big-time," said coach Jay Gruden. 

The season took a hard, and unexpected, turn for Dallas on Monday night. But the Cowboys still lead the NFC East, and if Romo is okay, they’ll be contending deep into December.

During the week leading up to the game, Breeland seemed very confident he could stay with Bryant, though he gave away three inches and 26 pounds in the matchup. “He’s a good receiver," Breeland had said. “He’s got great hands. He has great ball skills. So you’ve just got to be patient with him, physical with him and he’ll be physical with you.” That’s how it played out. Washington flew home this morning secure in the knowledge that its rookie starting corner can play well on a national stage against a franchise receiver. That’s big. (So big, even NBA star Kevin Durant noticed.)

5. Dallas suffered a major loss on defense. 

After the game, owner Jerry Jones said linebacker Justin Durant, a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli called one of the most underrated players in the league, suffered a torn biceps. That likely means Durant is out for the year. He played a huge role in the game that put the Cowboys among the marquee teams, the upset over Seattle in Week 6. When he left the game Monday, you could see Washington’s skill players more comfortable on the edges, where Durant excelled. With Sean Lee already on IR, Dallas’ two best linebackers are out for the season, and you can only do so much patching before those injuries really take a toll.

The season took a hard, and unexpected, turn for Dallas on Monday night, and the loss of Durant will be tough for Marinelli to overcome. But the Cowboys still lead the NFC East (6-2 to Philadelphia’s 5-2 mark), and if Romo is okay, they’ll be contending deep into December. Which, incidentally, is when this intense rivalry will play chapter two. Dallas is at Washington in the regular-season finale Dec. 28.

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