ARLINGTON, Texas – After Ezekiel Elliott strolled down the bench, fielding high-fives left and right, he eventually plopped down on his designated spot on the bench and took a peek up at the Jumbotron. He had just punched in a 1-yard touchdown rush that put the Washington Redskins away. And it was time to admire from afar.
This wasn’t a dominant performance like the Dallas Cowboys have posted time and time again this season, but they proved – once again – that they have found a winning formula behind Elliott and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, when they beat Washington 31-26 in Thursday evening’s Thanksgiving showcase.
Another test and another passing grade. And another post-game battle of battle of wits and words involving Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Norman and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant were warned by the officials during their second half to cool it with their words and actions. There were no more incidents during the game, but in the post-game "handshake" at midfield, the two went mask-to-mask and had to be separated by teammates. "You're supposed to be a lockdown corner, and you can't even play, man," Bryant said in the locker room about Norman. "He was scared."
As for the game, this was a Washington team that had won two in a row and lost only one of its last five. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had elevated his play and running back Robert Kelley emerged as a workhorse weapon. The Cowboys, however, won despite not forcing a turnover, despite losing the time of possession battle, despite being outgained by 152 yards (505-353) and not sacking Cousins once.
Dallas’ lead in the NFC East is now a comfortable three games, with the New York Giants (7-3) expected to drop it to two after they play the winless Cleveland Browns Sunday. So beyond a division crown for the Cowboys, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason are very real aspirations.
And even though Prescott and Elliott were quiet for the majority of the second and third quarters, they made enough plays late to quash multiple comeback attempts. Those expecting the rookie duo to eventually stumble will – once again – have to wait. "We have high expectations for ourselves on the offensive side of the ball," Prescott said. "We expect to score on every possession."
Both Prescott and Elliott should no longer be considered surprises of the NFL season. They should be seen as two players near the top of their respective positions. Prescott produced another efficient performance, completing 17 of 24 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown. He, again, did not turn the ball over, and added 39 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Elliott, meanwhile, grinded his way to a two-touchdown, 97-yard game on two carries.
Dallas set the tone early with big plays, with gains of 15, 20, 12, and 13 yards. The offensive line, as it has all season, pushed aside defensive linemen to pave rushing lanes for running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 43 yards on four attempts in the series, including a 4-yard touchdown. On the series, the Cowboys never faced a third down.
What put Washington in an early hole, however, was an inability to close out drives. On three of the team’s first four, it marched down to Dallas’ 25-, 6-, and 2-yard lines, respectively, before stalling out because of penalties, questionable play calls, poor clock management, and poor execution. In fact, Washington’s first four possessions spanned 240 yards – an average of 60 per drive – but the offense scored only six points. Place kicker Dustin Hopkins converted field goal attempts of 24 and 20 yards, but missed attempts of 43 and 55 yards. Maybe it was because Washington walked off the field from Sunday night’s victory against the Green Bay Packers just 90 hours before kickoff of Thursday’s game.
Maybe it was because the team had to prepare on a short week, and then travel across the country, while the Cowboys were at home last week. But Washington came out flat, and Dallas did not. By the time Cousins rallied the offense and brought them back in the game, it was too late. The Cowboys are on a 10-game winning streak and seem to have as good a winning formula as there is right now in the NFL.