The last four days have been emotional ones for Colt McCoy.
He was thrust into unexpected action when quarterback Alex Smith broke his leg on Sunday, nearly led a comeback victory and then processed the fallout of his teammate's season-ending injury.
Within the span of 72 hours, he processed as much as he could to prepare to start for the first time in four years, in Dallas, on Thanksgiving, in a game battling for first place in the division with numerous friends and family there to witness his return to playing football where he grew up.
All of that — the whirlwind of events and people and atmosphere — wasn't too big for McCoy, but a few costly turnovers in his 2018 debut helped define the difference in Dallas on Thursday afternoon, as the Redskins fell to the Cowboys 31-23 on Thanksgiving.
"I think there's a lot of room for improvement," McCoy said. "We did some good things, thought I made some throws here and there that helped us out. But, also can't turn the ball over like that. I think I'm encouraged, I think on a short week like that, obviously you want to win the game and losing overshadows everything. But I'll go back and watch it and try to clean up some of my mistakes that are going to help the team win. Put our defense in a couple bad spots with some turnovers. You can't turn the ball over in the division on the road and expect to come out on top. I take full responsibility for that."
It took McCoy a couple drives to find a rhythm, but head coach Jay Gruden was intent on initiating him to the national stage with a few pass plays to start his day. Run plays eventually filtered in the game plan, but the ground game was ineffective for the majority of the afternoon, as the Cowboys defense smothered running lanes for Adrian Peterson.
McCoy calmed down nerves during the second drive of the second quarter. Set up with good field position, on the Redskins' 47-yard line, McCoy found tight end Vernon Davis on a fly route for a 53-yard touchdown, tying the game on the first play from scrimmage. It was the team's longest completion of the season and foreshadowed a big day for Washington's tight ends. Davis finished with two catches for 73 yards while Jordan Reed hauled in six catches for a season-high 75 yards.
The Redskins' second score came in the third quarter, on another quick drive set up with a Trey Quinn 30-yard punt return. He bookended the drive with a 10-yard touchdown catch, the first of his career, and it temporarily gave the Redskins their first lead of the afternoon.
With the good came the bad, and the expedited practice week and McCoy's own rust started showing their effects. McCoy threw three interceptions, and got away with a couple of deflected passes that could have added to that total. The deficit, and the need to throw the ball downfield in the second half, contributed to those mistakes.
"You know he had ups and downs really," head coach Jay Gruden said. "I think he competed like I knew he would, I think it's not bad. He still has not had one rep in practice with the ones. Last week obviously Alex got hurt and this week we didn't have any live practice time with the short week so, all that being said he made some poor decisions obviously, but he made some incredible plays, incredible throws. I think we can build off of it but hopefully we get a nice long week of recovery and practice time for him and the guys."
McCoy finished the day passing 24-of-38 for 268 yards. At moments he looked poised and made strong throws, incorporating multiple wide receivers, while other passes sailed and floated out of reach, like his third interception, which wobbled out of his hand.
It's an understandable outcome for someone that never got even one full practice before his first start of the season. He's looking forward to that changing next week, as the team prepares for the Eagles with some extra time.
"I think it'll help me, but I think it'll help everybody," McCoy said. "There's little things throughout the game that I think came up because I just hadn't had a whole lot of reps with those guys. Maybe depth of receivers routes. Maybe I thought he was making a break here, and the ball ended up being six inches behind him and it's turnover. Those things will just eat at me for awhile, frustrating. But I know that I can clean these things up and we can get on the same page. Listen, our division is tough, we have a long road ahead of us but I certainly believe in everybody in our locker room and in our coaches. We'll button some things up."