The Cowboys preserved their playoff hopes by skating past the Redskins at home, 38-14, on Thursday night. Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. A sad night for Washington. Out of both teams still afloat in the NFC East, they had a much better chance of making a postseason run with no team above .500 remaining on their schedule. Then, Jamison Crowder fumbled a punt and bobbled a pass that was intercepted. He nearly fumbled a second time. Washington’s offensive line crumbled. Kirk Cousins spent his night on the move, chucking passes into the arms of charging defensive linemen. His second and final pick of the night—a pass tipped at the line by David Irving—was emblematic of the team’s exceptionally bad luck and general malaise.
Washington’s final four games do become fascinating for one reason, though: The Cousins audition. The club is still reportedly undecided on his long-term future despite no better option in sight. The market for franchise quarterbacks is thinning but not vacant. Cousins, who is already making $23.9 million, will end March as one of the highest paid players in NFL history. Where he ends up remains a mystery. Washington has the Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos, and Giants remaining on its schedule with an exceptional chance to pad Cousins' resume on the horizon. If he doesn’t want to remain with his non-committal team, it would appear the chance to grab hold of his own destiny is there.
2. With Dak Prescott’s injured throwing hand resembling a blown up surgical glove, he completed the one play of the night that gave Dallas fans a glimmer of hope: On third-and-5 at the 13-yard line, the Cowboys’ embattled quarterback locked on to Dez Bryant in single coverage—once a rare sight—and lofted a floater into the end zone. Bryant, who earlier in the game resembled a shell of himself on a few routine routes, jumped over Bashaud Breeland and nabbed his first touchdown catch since Oct. 22. This was not a transformative moment in Dallas’ post-Ezekiel Elliott world, but it was proof that they could use their remaining stars to grind out a touchdown now and then (Their 38 points was the second-highest total of the season, with or without the running back after 22 points combined over the last three weeks).
Prescott went on to make a few crucial throws in the second half, including a third down, game-sealing dart to Terrance Williams (covered by Josh Norman) with a little more than seven minutes to go in the game. This, from a quarterback who faced third and long situations and a stagnant surrounding cast all night long. It was the first time I’ve seen Dallas’s offense engaged and a little bit cocky since losing their star running back to suspension. While it’s probably not enough to significantly alter the Cowboys' playoff hopes (Football Outsiders had them at a 1.9 percent chance going into Thursday night’s matchup), it does paint the picture of a dangerous Dallas team rolling down the stretch, poised to rattle off another surprise or two. The Raiders, Seahawks, and Eagles complete their regular-season schedule and in two of those games, they’ll have Elliott back in the lineup.
3. Speaking of free agency, how well-timed has this DeMarcus Lawrence campaign been? Another stellar night for someone in the hunt for NFL sack leader: Two sacks, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and four total tackles. The former second-round pick has been destroying opponents this year at a time when players of his size and skill level are more in demand than ever.