Here's five takeaways from the Washington Redskins' Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys that took place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
1. The Redskins fought back after getting down early, but could never take the lead.
From the opening drive of the game – one in which the Cowboys would march 75 yards down the field in just seven plays for an Ezekiel Elliot touchdown – Dallas had the upper hand in the contest.
The Redskins had their moments to potentially take the lead in the second half and even cut the deficit to five on three different occasions, but the Cowboys never let go of their lead before claiming a 31-26 victory.
"It kind of just felt like (we) hung in there a little bit. Couldn't really get the plays we wanted to get to really get on top," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "I felt like we left a lot out there. Left a lot of points on the field versus that type of team, you can't really do that. They're playing good, running around, the defense is playing good. Very frustrating, but we felt we were in the game, but we just couldn't find a play to either make a stop or make a comeback. We fought until the end. I think everybody in this locker room has some plays they'd wish they could have gone different. But that's neither here nor there. We took a loss. We're just frustrated about it, but we'll bounce back."
Despite the offense powering through an overmatched Dallas secondary for three fourth quarter touchdowns, Washington's defense couldn't force a timely turnover like they had in previous close games this season.
In response to the Redskins' three scoring drive in the final frame, the Cowboys scored two touchdowns of their own while having the ball for nearly seven minutes.
"In the National Football League games come down to that final two minutes or to decide about six to eight points and we know that," safety Donte Whitner Sr. said. "We need to get some turnovers. That football team right there, they do a really good job of taking care of the football. Dak Prescott, he's not going to put his team in harm's way. He's not going to take any chances with the football being a young guy. He'd rather use his feet than to throw the ball into a tight area. Ezekiel Elliott, he hasn't been fumbling the ball lately. So it's really hard to get balls of those guys. If we want to take that next step, we want to win these close games, we got to get one or two turnovers to flip the momentum of the game and get the ball back to our offense whose playing well. So that's what it boils down to making one or two more plays."
2. Jay Gruden felt the Redskins had a look they could take advantage of on the first onside kick attempt.
After Jackson's 67-yard touchdown pulled Washington back to within five at 24-19 in the middle of the fourth quarter, Gruden decided to have Dustin Hopkins try an onside kick in hopes it would catch the Cowboys off-guard.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' defense and special teams in their 2016 Week 12 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys Nov. 24, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
While Dallas was positioned for a kickoff to go deep, they were able to recovery Hopkins' try. Eight plays later, Elliot scored a one-yard touchdown.
"We had the look exactly the way we wanted to; we just kicked it a little hard," Gruden said. "Twelve-foot putt, we hit it 15 feet and putted right through the break. We just kicked it too hard, unfortunately. Those are that chances that, if we see something that's there and we practice it and we like it, we've got to take chances to do it. It can change the course of the game, the momentum and everything. I thought it was worth a chance. I told our defense we were about to do it so be ready for a short field, and, unfortunately, we didn't get off the field and they went down and scored."
While the failed attempt did put the defense back in the game at near midfield, Whitner Sr. said he'd always like to see the team be aggressive in situations like that.
"We want that," Whitner Sr. said. "We actually almost got it both times, with the surprise and the one in the fourth quarter. You want an aggressive coach. We're with him whenever he makes that call. He made it, we still had opportunity to go out there and make a three-and-out on defense and they threw that screen and got a first down. We just have to make more plays."
3. Kirk Cousins once again played light out.
One of the positives from the Redskins' two games over the span of four days was Cousins' ability to show national audiences just how far he's come as Washington's starting quarterback.
Against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, Cousins lit up the defense for 375 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
While his encore performance against the Cowboys got off to a slow start in terms of touchdown production, Cousins had almost no issue moving the ball up and down the field Thursday, as he finished the game 41-of-53 for 449 yards and three touchdowns to no interceptions once again.
"I think to dropback 53 times and have no turnovers it shows some growth and some improvement," Cousins said. "It takes everybody. It takes great coaching; Bill Callahan and those guys. It take great play calling from Sean [McVay] and those guys to be in a position to be successful. I've got to get the ball out of my hand and not hold on to it. But the offensive line ultimately has to hold up a pass rush that has to be pretty good."
Despite being down for almost the entire game, Cousins never appeared flustered operating the offense.
He was cool, calm and collected even with the clock ticking down and the Redskins in a sudden fourth quarter high-scoring affair. And with experience comes a smoother demeanor in situations like the Redskins faced Thursday.
"I knew if I just stayed at it and keep working, I would eventually improve, improve and improve," Cousins said. "I think we're seeing that from some degree on the field this season and last season. By no means do I feel this journey is over. I feel like I'm far from where I want to be. We lost a game today, so there's certainly plays that I can point out that weren't good enough, that if we make them, maybe we come out with a different result."
Added veteran tight end Vernon Davis, who finished Thursday's game with five receptions for 68 yards.
"Since I walked in the building, I knew Kirk was a great player," Davis said. "You can always tell by someone's attitude. His attitude is everything that you would want in a leader. He leads by example, and each and every day he comes to work, he's prepared. He's taking notes, he's talking, and he's communicating with everyone. He's just taking charge; he's just taking ownership. That's what you want in a quarterback and I applaud him in his effort to doing that and he just keeps getting better and better."
4. While the offense was able to move the ball, they still struggled scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
Entering halftime trailing 17-6, the Redskins knew they missed multiple opportunities to have the lead.
Check out the top images from the Washington Redskins' offense in their 2016 Week 12 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys Nov. 24, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Three times they got inside the Cowboys' 20-yard line and only got six points out of it. They would score on both of their red zone appearances in the second half – two touchdown passes to tight end Jordan Reed – but there's a clear understanding that they must play better once deep into opposing territory.
In close games, trading field goals for touchdowns will make it difficult to score key victories.
"It's kind of been the tale of our season – the red zone; missing a cue, missing couple of plays to not score, field goals here and there," Jackson said. "Those two field goals obviously hurt, but it's just not on [Hopkins]. Those times we got to the red zone and didn't score either. It's a whole. We've all got to look each other, from the coaches to the players to everybody on the field. Hopefully we'll get back, get a couple days off, look at film, correct whatever it is we need to correct and move forward."
One way the Redskins could improve in the red zone is targeting Reed more frequently.
Of his five touchdowns this season, four have come from inside the 10-yard line.
5. Speaking of Reed, his gutsy performance was applauded by teammates and coaches.
Early in the second quarter when Cousins was trying to hit Reed in the back of the end zone on a third down play, the tight end landed awkwardly on his shoulder. He would lay on the turf for a minute writhing in pain before walking off the field under his own power.
It looked like his day would be done after just two catches for 15 yards, but then as the team came back out for the third quarter, Reed was on the sideline getting warmup passes from Colt McCoy.
"There was a chance I wasn't going to come in," Reed admitted. "It was just dependent on…I went out and Colt threw me a couple passes. I was able to catch it and deal with that so I said I could play."
Not only did he play, he created true mismatch nightmares for the Dallas defense, as he'd collect eight receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the second half despite playing "pretty severe pain."
"When I walked in after the game, he was sitting here in so much pain, and I could feel it," Davis said. "For him to be able to come out and play the way he did tonight, his performance was unprecedented. It was amazing, it was beautiful to see him come back out there. Despite taking the loss, we kept fighting, and a guy like Jordan Reed comes back and continues to fight, it speaks volumes on who he is as a player."
Gruden admitted he highly doubted Reed was going to return, but doing so proved how far the fourth-year tight end has come.
"It just goes to show you what type of man he's growing into, and football player, and person," Gruden said. "It was an impressive performance by him and, like I said, Brandon Scherff, also, and Ty [Nsekhe] and Morgan Moses and a couple of other guys on our team that fought through some injuries and played. But that's pro football, and we appreciate their effort, and we're going to be a better team in the long run because of guys like him."
"I tip my hat to him," Jackson said. "Especially with the injury he had – that's a tough injury. Hopefully we can get him back and get him healthy."