ARLINGTON — Tony Romo had far from his best game. DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray spent most of Sunday night's contest with Washington sidelined with baseball caps on their heads.
Dez Bryant caught five passes for 36 yards and Miles Austin was shut out.
It didn't matter. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 31-16, and the game never really seemed in doubt.
The Cowboys were carried by special teams - and one player in particular. Dwayne Harris had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and took a kick 90 yards to set up another score. His 222 return yards were more than the entire Cowboys offense tallied (213).
Meanwhile, the hobbled Cowboys defense did great work in shutting down Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense. DeMarcus Ware had to leave the game halfway through the second quarter, affected by a strained quad. It didn't matter. A line of Jason Hatcher, George Selvie, and a hodgepodge of Drake Nevis, Nick Hayden, Ceasar Rayford and Kyle Wilber limited the Redskins to one touchdown (a 45-yard run by Alfred Morris) and forced two fumbles from Griffin.
The Cowboys marched down the field in surgical fashion on their first possession. Quarterback Tony Romo completed 4 of 5 passes while DeMarco Murray ran the ball well and capped off the drive with a 4-yard plunge up the middle to put the Cowboys on top 7-0.
The Redskins answered with a good first drive of their own. But on third down inside the 10 yard line, Robert Griffin III tried a quarterback draw that was snuffed out by Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. Lee proved quick enough to defeat a blocker and tackle Griffin at the 2 yard line.
Washington kicked a short field goal to make it 7-3 Cowboys after the first period.
Late in the second quarter, Dwayne Harris fielded a punt at his own 14-yard line, found a crease to his left, and raced down the sideline 86 yards for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up 14-3.
Washington was forced to punt the ball twice because of an illegal motion penalty, and the Cowboys made them pay dearly for the miscue.
Dallas allowed more than 1,000 total yards the last two weeks combined, but kept Washington in relative check, yielding 166 first-half yards and a pair of field goals.
After Kai Forbath's third field goal for Washington in the third quarter, Harris took the ensuing kickoff 5 yards deep in the end zone. He took off down the right sideline — again racing past the Washington bench — before finally being pushed out of bounds by E.J. Biggers at the 15.
Two plays later, Tony Romo threw a 15-yard TD to rookie Terrance Williams, who made a nifty catch to get both feet in bounds in the back corner of the end zone.
The Redskins closed to 21-16 when Alfred Morris busted loose for a 45-yard touchdown run. That came a play after safety Barry Church was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he hit Robert Griffin III as the quarterback scrambled out of bounds.
That was the second time in the third quarter that Church was penalized 15 yards for a hit on Griffin along the sideline.
Dallas began the fourth quarter with a 9-play drive that took more than four minutes off the clock. All 9 plays were Romo passes, and they manuevered the Cowboys to the Washington 12, from which they kicked a field goal to take an 8-point lead.
The dangerous Washington offense still had more than 10 minutes to retaliate - but then the Cowboys' defensive line stepped up once again. On a 2nd and 19, George Selvie and Kyle Wilber closed on Griffin and Wilber completely stripped the ball. Dallas took possession on the Washington 4-yard line, and backup Joseph Randle ran the ball in while DeMarco Murray (injured MCL, status unknown) watched from the sideline. Dallas led 31-16, and that would be the final outcome - though there was some additional excitement when a Redskins receiver slipped, leaving Orlando Scandrick the rare opportunity for a wide open interception in the back of the end zone.
Romo ended the game 18/30 with 170 yards, a touchdown and an interception which wasn't his fault (a pass was batted way up into the air and Washington linebacker Rob Jackson grabbed it). Murray ran 7 times for 29 yards and a touchdown before getting injured, and Joseph Randle accrued 17 yards and a touchdown on 11 runs. 6 Cowboys caught passes, with Cole Beasley's 4 receptions and 44 yards leading the way. Terrance Williams caught the lone touchdown pass.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett loved the group effort.
"It was a great team win for our football team - and each of the three phases showed up..... Dwayne did an outstanding job, Brandon Carr did an outstanding job, Jason Hatcher was outstanding.... but particularly the defensive line. A lot of different faces..... playing as hard as they can, as well as they can - stepping up and making a difference for this football team."
The Cowboys are now 3-3 on the year, which ties them with the Eagles for the NFC East lead. They travel to Philadelphia next week, and will likely face Nick Foles under center - as Foles shone Sunday in Michael Vick's absence, and Vick's health is still in question.