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Red Zone Struggles Cast Shadow On Kirk Cousins' Big Day

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During a three-game, 11-day stretch, Kirk Cousins and the offense tallied impressive numbers, but couldn't pull out a victory on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys.

After just three days of rest and little time to heal and prepare for the Dallas Cowboys, boasting the best record in the NFL, quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense continued their recent trend of performing exceedingly well in the national spotlight. But it was their earlier season trend, not capitalizing in the red zone, which ultimately would hurt them on Thanksgiving.

Despite another historic statistical performance from Cousins, who threw 41-of-53 for 449 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, the Redskins couldn't convert on three consecutive red zone chances to start the game. That enabled the Cowboys to jump ahead early with a lead they wouldn't relinquish in the Redskins' 31-26 defeat at AT&T Stadium on Thursday.

And so, much like digesting the tie to the Bengals at Wembley Stadium in October, Cousins stood at the podium after the loss less than content after 505 total offensive yards only earned the Redskins 26 points.

"We held behind earlier, fought our way back, but in the end it wasn't good enough," Cousins said. "The Cowboys are a good team, they're 10-1 for a reason, and we knew it was going to take an extraordinary effort today. We got a lot of good plays, a lot of good efforts from everybody, but we just came up short."

For the entirety of the game, Cousins moved the ball down the field at will, unable to rely on a consistent run game that had to be curtailed because of Washington's early deficit. No matter, Cousins connected with nine different receivers, converting 53 percent on third down and converting two fourth down situations as well.

The most explosive plays – the ones that led to each of the team's three touchdowns – occurred in the second half. Tight end Jordan Reed, who collected two scores, returned from a shoulder injury he suffered at the beginning  of the second quarter and made an impact in the third quarter right away, including a one-handed 33-yard haul that set up his first touchdown score.

That was followed by a 67-yard touchdown to wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who took advantage of a blown coverage and kept the game within striking distance. Cousins returned to Reed in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard strike to finish out the scoring before the Redskins couldn't recover an onside kick.

"Overall, I think he competed," head coach Jay Gruden said of Cousins. "In known passing situations, he stood in the pocket and made some big time throws. I think he threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns.  On a typical day that's good enough but today it wasn't. We've got to do better in the red zone early in the games.  That got us behind a little bit. We missed some opportunities down there, that's a fact, but, overall, I think Kirk had another pretty good day."

Thursday night's performance continued Cousins' ascension towards potentially becoming the team's long-term quarterback. With his 449 passing yards, he claimed sole possession of the most career 400-yard passing games in team history (three), passing Sonny Jurgensen and Mark Rypien. He also became the first player in team history to record multiple 400-yard passing games in a single season.

With five games remaining in the regular season, Cousins has already attained 3,540 passing yards, which is 10th-most in a single season in team history, a pace that will also exceed his 4,166 yards passing from last season.

Most impressively against the Cowboys, Cousins became the only quarterback since 1950 with 50-plus pass attempts to complement a completion percentage of 75 percent or better and no interceptions in a game. His offensive line didn't allow a sack to Dallas defenders, creating a formidable pocket to achieve those statistics.

"I think [to] drop back 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 takes 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."

Still, the missed opportunities – the pair of missed field goals, the first half lack of efficiency in the red zone, a defense unable to stop the Cowboys late -- will sit with Cousins and the rest of the team more than these personal accomplishments, knowing that they have the talent to win games like this but for their mistakes at crucial times.

"We didn't finish in the red zone, unfortunately, but we did on other times," Gruden said. "Twenty-[six] points should be good enough to win in the NFL, but it wasn't today against a very good offense. Hats off to the Cowboys."

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