Three thoughts off the Cowboys’ 33-19 win against Washington on Sunday.
1. Welcome back, football. It feels as though this game (and Houston at Seattle, the other afternoon game) could be a turning point for an otherwise mediocre NFL season so far. We are halfway through the 2017 season and, though there have been a handful of great games, this was the first game pitting two classic rivals that was played in football weather. The temperature for kickoff at FedEx Field was 60 degrees and dropped steadily throughout the night, and the light-to-medium rain throughout the game forced both teams to strategize for weather conditions for the first time all season. Ezekiel Elliott and Kirk Cousins both put the ball on the deck. Washington mishandled two field goals (and had one of them blocked), and Chris Thompson coughed up a kick return. Washington wore its throwbacks, the leaves are changing colors and two NFC East rivals took a late afternoon game into the final minutes. The Seahawks’ 41–38 victory over the Texans was a much better contest, but put the two together and it feels like it’s finally football season again.
2. How can the Cowboys win without Zeke? By the time the Cowboys went up by 13 in the fourth quarter, Elliott had 126 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns (he finished with 150 yards). Dallas is now 9–3 in all games when Elliott rushes for at least 100 yards. Elliott continues to face a six-game suspension, and a district judge will rule on a preliminary injunction tomorrow. If he wins, he’ll likely play out the season. If the injunction is not granted, Elliott will likely face immediate suspension for the next six games. That means the Cowboys will face the Chiefs, Falcons, Eagles, Chargers, Washington and the Giants in the next six weeks without their best rusher. That’s a gauntlet that, without Elliott, makes playoff hopes difficult to forecast.
3. Plenty was (rightfully) made of Washington going into Sunday’s game without three of its starting offensive linemen. Had they been healthy along the line, perhaps Kirk Cousins wouldn’t have been hassled all night and sacked four times for minus-27 yards. But even if Cousins had more time in the pocket, to whom is he expected to throw the ball? When Washington let Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson walk, it was assumed it was rolling with Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor as its top pass-catchers. That trio combined for two catches on five targets for 6 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Reed and Doctson have had an injury history, but there’s not much of an excuse for Pryor, who publicly apologized to his teammates and fans last week. After his 1,000-yard season in 2016, Pryor has tremendously underwhelmed on his one-year, $6 million deal. Pryor had no catches with one target in his worst game of an already disappointing season.