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The Vent: Cowboys stuffed by Washington in Thanksgiving disaster

The Dallas Cowboys don’t appear to have much to be thankful for after a brutal 41-16 loss to Washington that might have finally ended their hopes in the NFC East
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) grabs his helmet after throwing an incomplete pass into the end zone in the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

DALLAS — Once again, the Dallas Cowboys made those that believe in them look foolish. After coming around on the idea that this team had turned the corner with close losses, followed by a big road win in Minnesota last Sunday, the Cowboys reverted back to the squad that looked putrid early in the season during a 41-16 loss to the Washington Football Team.

Right around the time that most families were having dessert or their second helping of Thanksgiving dinner, the Cowboys were imploding. There were turnovers, penalties, inexplicable play calls, and questionable decisions that all came back to haunt Dallas.

After the first half of the season, Cowboys fans had gotten used to the team playing embarrassing football. However, it appeared that they had slowly pulled out of the tailspin in the last few weeks. With a lead in the NFC East at stake, the Cowboys wilted under the lights on a big stage for just their second all-time loss to Washington on Thanksgiving.

Dallas’ 53rd game on Thanksgiving didn’t start out looking like a disaster as the Cowboys got a three and out on defense to open the contest, which was aided by a Randy Gregory sack. The offense then drove the ball down the field for a field goal on their first possession. 

The problem, however, is that the opening scoring drive saw injuries to both of the starting tackles, one of them being All-Pro lineman Zack Martin who had been anchoring the offensive line after kicking out to start at right tackle. Martin’s aggravated calf ended his afternoon and felt like it took some wind out of the Cowboys’ sails, even though they scored a touchdown on their next possession.

RELATED: Game recap: Washington beats Dallas 41-16 in Thanksgiving game at AT&T Stadium

With 10 points on the board, and aliments to an already beleaguered offensive line, it was all downhill from there.

The implosion began with a horrific play call on 4th and inches from their own 34-yard line with the score tied at 10-10 halfway through the second quarter. The decision to go for it was fine, the actual play was the exact opposite. It’s difficult to understand why Mike McCarthy or offensive coordinator Kellen Moore advised for a pass when a quarterback sneak or a handoff to their $90 million running back wasn’t deemed an acceptable course of action.

It took Washington five plays to capitalize on the mistake and score a touchdown to take a lead that they would never lose. It wasn’t a fumble or interception turnover this time but the poor playcall and poor execution ended up costing Dallas all the same with a turnover on downs.

RELATED: Antonio Gibson, Washington roast Cowboys on Thanksgiving, 41-16, to take top spot in NFC East

The next group of miscues came near the end of the first half, where the Cowboys thought quick screens to wideout Michael Gallup were the right plays. They weren’t and instead of the offense scoring a red zone touchdown, they settled for a field goal and being down 17-13 at the half.

It took all of two plays into the second half for the Cowboys to remind everyone of how troubled they had played during the first several weeks of the season. Just when you thought the ugly habits from the beginning of the year were done, running back Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on his first carry after halftime and the Football Team responded by going up seven points. 

From that point on, it was a cavalcade of errors. You name the mistake and the Cowboys more than likely made it. Even when they forced a lucky interception, they couldn’t cash in. 

RELATED: Despite limited capacity at AT&T Stadium, diehard Cowboys fans are still thankful for tailgating tradition

Linebacker Jaylon Smith’s pick of Washington quarterback Alex Smith was a microcosm of the Cowboys’ season. They caught a break, but they couldn’t convert the gift. Smith was chased down inside the five-yard line and the offense couldn’t punch it in for a touchdown. A dropped ball in the end zone by CeeDee Lamb punctuated the failed attempt.

The next big blunder came on an inexplicable fake punt on 4th and 10 from deep inside their own territory that had no reasonable shot of working. Just one play later and the Cowboys were down 11 in the fourth quarter. 

Quarterback Andy Dalton put the cherry on top of the pumpkin pie with a pick-six late in the contest after the outcome of the game had already been decided. 

It felt like Dallas had gotten things settled in the previous few weeks and were headed in the right direction. They shouldn’t have had any hope for a potential playoff run, but the NFC East had presented them with an unlikely opportunity and it now seems like they’ve squandered it again.

The Cowboys put their season in reverse and reverted back to the same hideous tendencies that plagued them earlier in the year. They allowed 182 yards rushing, shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, displayed bad execution, and suffered through terrible play calling.

You simply can’t make an improbable run at a division title – even a bad one – when you drop touchdowns and play undisciplined football. A team can’t make as many mistakes as the Cowboys did on Thanksgiving and win games. Dallas isn’t good enough to overcome their shoddy play, especially with the lengthy list of absentees that continue to pile up.

Just as the winds change, the Dallas Cowboys’ season changes drastically from week to week. They didn’t look like playoff contenders against Washington, instead they resembled the same mistaken prone and poorly coached football team that embarrassed themselves to a point that they were forced to seek redemption. With the Thanksgiving loss, they might have even put redemption out of their reach.

After that turkey of a performance on Thanksgiving, do you think the Cowboys are well and truly cooked in 2020? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.