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Dallas Cowboys punished by Washington, lose grip on NFC East

The Dallas Cowboys went to Washington with a chance to take hold of the NFC East, but a big loss to Washington put their season in jeopardy.

DALLAS — One of owner Jerry Jones' favorite anecdotes about the Dallas versus Washington rivalry is that, before a game in the early 1990s, offensive lineman Nate Newton said the Cowboys were going to Washington, D.C. to give their rivals "capital punishment."

In 2020, the Cowboys weren't the ones dishing it out; rather, they were on the receiving end as Washington crushed them 25-3 in a contest that was worse than the scoreboard indicated.

Turnovers are the biggest problem— Don Meredith often said "if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas," but, if the Cowboys were better with their ball security, Sunday's game may have been different. 

Heck, Andy Dalton may not even be in concussion protocol.

RELATED: Game recap: Dallas Cowboys lose to Washington after QB Andy Dalton knocked out of game with concussion from illegal hit

On Dallas' first series, facing a third-and-8 from their own 16, Dalton took a blindside strip-sack from safety Landon Collins. The ball bounded unfavorably backward and tight end Dalton Schultz fell on it in the end zone for a safety. Washington led 2-0, and then added a touchdown after the free kick to take a 9-0 lead.

That's basically nine points and a two-score deficit off a pseudo-turnover. Take the early safety away and it's 0-0. Washington would then be unable to send their pass rush after Dalton as rapidly as Dallas’ second offensive series without that early big lead.

When the Cowboys were driving at the end of the first half, Dalton threw an interception at Washington's 5-yard line that took away the Cowboys' chance to chip into the 22-3 deficit. 

That was actually the first part of a double-double opportunity for Dallas. If they even add a field goal, it's 22-6 and they would have had the opening possession of the second half to continue the comeback bid. Turnovers are killing Dallas.

Secondary is a primary problem— No matter who the quarterback is, all they have to do against the Cowboys is drop back and be patient; the opportunities to pick up chunk plays against the Dallas secondary will be there.

Washington’s Kyle Allen completed 14 passes on 25 attempts for 194 yards and two touchdowns. The pass rush was able to get to him for two sacks, but those came among the flow of the game as Allen was having success against the Cowboys' secondary.

Second-year wideout Terry McLaurin, who is growing into the No. 1 role, caught seven passes for 90 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown where he burned cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who used to be considered one of Dallas' underrated defensive backs.

The run defense will probably correct itself as Leighton Vander Esch continues to work his way back into the lineup, and even as defensive end Randy Gregory starts to see the field more. 

But there is nothing that can help Dallas' secondary, and quarterbacks will always know where to go to move the sticks.

Amari Cooper showed up— One criticism that the Pro Bowl wide receiver has faced during his time with Dallas is that he disappears during road games, and Week 7 was an away game where many Cowboys disappeared. However, Cooper should get credit for showing up amid the rainy conditions at FedEx Field Sunday.

It could have been a typical game like those over the past 23 where Cooper was missing in action. However, he came up with seven catches and 80 yards on all seven of his targets, including two third down conversions.

If the season grows worse, Dallas will still need their big-game, high-dollar players to give it their maximum effort to let their down-roster and younger players know that talent evaluation is every hour, every day, year-round; you can't afford to have bad tape.

What evaluators are going to be looking at is how players respond when the situation is despondent and the season is lost. No one wants a quitter, and Cooper didn't quit.

Does anyone care about Andy Dalton?— Washington linebacker Jon Bostic lit up the former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback with 6:20 left in the third quarter. As Dalton was finishing his 6-yard slide on a third-and-10 from Dallas' 3-yard line, Bostic laid his shoulder right into Dalton's head and neck area, sending him into the concussion protocol.

While Bostic was disqualified, there was no reaction from the Cowboys. No one even pointed at Bostic, let alone yelled at him or gave him a nice shove. Critics point to this as proof that the team has no respect for Dalton, but it actually points out that they were only thinking of themselves.

At 2-5, the Cowboys were too demoralized to do anything. The team has no fight, and this is a problem that could persist for the final nine games.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys will find a way to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.