Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Thursday afternoon's Week 12 game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, Texas:
The importance of a Redskins-Cowboys game needs no introduction, as the venom of this rivalry dates back more than five decades. When the schedule was released in April, the game had intrinsic meaning, never mind the fact that it was on Thanksgiving in front of a national television audience. Add in the Texas homecoming of Robert Griffin III and the postseason implications for both teams, and this was the Redskins' most meaningful game of the season.
After an early battle for field position, the Cowboys drew first blood with a first quarter field goal after a brilliant defensive stand. The Redskins were the first team in the end zone, and carried the momentum on for a huge holiday victory.
The Redskins offense came out a bit flat, leaning on Alfred Morris and the running game to key the attack. After driving from inside their own 10-yard line, Robert Griffin III found Aldrick Robinson deep, hitting him stride for a 68-yard touchdown. This was the first meaningful reception of the day, and opened up the entire offense for Kyle Shanahan and company to work for the rest of the game.
PLAY OF THE GAME
In a game with so many highlight scores, it would be impossible to distinguish the best of the group. This is why the play of the game actually belongs to Madieu Williams, who disconnected Dez Bryant from a touchdown in the game's final minute. The Redskins had a 10-point lead at the time, but the touchdown would have drawn it to one score with the opportunity to recover an onside kick.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Don't call him a rookie anymore, because he doesn't play like one. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III turned in a statistically perfect passing performance on Sunday and backed it up with a 272-yard, four touchdown performance today. The fourth score broke a franchise record for touchdown passes on Thanksgiving, and was his eighth touchdown in the last five days, a mark never accomplished by a single Redskins quarterback. Most importantly, it helped seal the Redskins' first win in four games at Cowboys Stadium, starting the first Redskins' winning streak since Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2011 season.
When the Redskins signed Pierre Garçon to be their top receiver this offseason, NFL critics questioned the strategy and money involved. Question nevermore. Garçon is a threat to score every time he lines up, evidenced by his 59-yard catch and run touchdown in the third quarter. Despite nursing a lingering foot injury and not practicing all week, Garçon was even with three defenders when he caught the pass and outran each of them on his way to paydirt. This score was vindication for the team's top receiver, as he has battled rehabilitation, setback and frustration to get back on the field.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins were last in the NFL last season in yards after the catch and were near the bottom of the league in big plays. That seemed like a distant memory today, as the Redskins scored big and fast, including four touchdowns in a single quarter for the first time since 1999. Griffin III threw touchdown passed for 68 and 59 yards, upstaging even Sunday's performance. Griffin III has a comfort with the deep ball and the Redskins are clicking on all cylinders when the deep threat is in place.
--Since his arrival in Washington last offseason, Aldrick Robinson has always flashed tempting potential with disappointing inconsistency. Even today, he committed a false start penalty on a promising first half drive, but made up for it on the next play with a 68-yard touchdown reception. Head coach Mike Shanahan called him one of the fastest players in the NFL, and he supplies the Redskins with a deep threat, the likes of which have not been seen in Washington since Santana Moss in 2005.
--Maintaining momentum: The Redskins nearly let the Cowboys come back today, but slammed the door in the game's final minutes. This may not be the 25-point shellacking that fans enjoyed on Sunday, but it is the team's first winning streak of the season.
--Although he may not appear in the highlight reels today, running back Alfred Morris turned in another stellar performance, rushing 24 times in the first half for 113 yards, a 4.7-yard per carry average. He also scored his first touchdown since Week 6 and his sixth score of the season. Morris may not be needed to carry the offense, but his performance keeps the defense honest and allows the Redskins the opportunity to milk the clock at the end of the game.
--Redskins linebacker London Fletcher was uncertain to play today after suffering an ankle injury in Sunday's win over the Eagles. After sitting out practice this week, Fletcher was cleared to play pregame and turned in a gritty three-tackle performance with a pass defensed and interception. Fletcher is now the third active player in the NFL with 20 interceptions and 30 sacks, joining Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. Fletcher is the emotional leader of the team, and his presence in the game goes beyond the stat sheet to the very heartbeat of the Redskins. The legend of his 235 consecutive games-played streak grows every time he shakes off injury to suit up and play.
--Redskins receiver Santana Moss had an impressive encore to Sunday's 61-yard catch, showing the finesse that makes him one of the best receivers in Redskins history. With 10 seconds remaining in the first half and the ball at the 6-yard line, Moss sprinted for the corner and turned to find the ball on his inside shoulder. Spinning around, he snagged the pass and dragged his toes, earning the team's fourth touchdown of the second quarter. With his seventh touchdown of the season, Moss extends his team lead and has the most since scoring nine in his first season in Washington.
--Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall should be singled out for his performance since the bye week, intercepting his second pass in five days, his fourth of the season. Hall has been put in a position to drift more this season, acknowledging that he isn't the best cornerback, but he might be the secondary's best playmaker. He also had a heads up play on the final onside kick, returning the ball 27 yards for an easy would-be touchdown, before sliding to ensure the Redskins could run out the clock. After catching criticism for his play against the Cowboys last season, Hall was more than satisfactory today.
--Cleaning up their act: The Redskins won last week despite committing 70 yards in penalties. Shanahan told the media that playing clean football was a point of emphasis this week, and the Redskins accomplished that, committing only five penalties for 41 yards.
--The Redskins limited the Cowboys entire rushing attack to a season-low 35 yards on 11 carries, forcing Tony Romo to throw the ball. Romo passed 50 times on Sunday against the Browns and another 62 times today. With that kind of game plan, it's no wonder his accuracy suffered; fortunately the Redskins were there to take advantage with a pair of interceptions.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--In the early battle for field position, Redskins punt returner made an egregious error returning a punt from inside his own end zone. Very rarely do returners field punts in the end zone, especially not with the coverage team bearing down on him. At that point in the game, the Redskins were struggling to move the ball on offense, and his seven yard return put the offense in the shadow of their own goal posts. Banks should have either cleared out or downed the punt for a touchback, and was lucky the team was able to score a touchdown.
--Playing 60 minutes of football has been the Achilles' heel of the Redskins' defense all season, and it reared its ugly head again today. After holding opposing offenses to more than 116 minutes of touchdown-free football over seven quarters, the Redskins defense allowed three in the second half, including a two-point coversion.
--When locked in, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is too talented to be contained for 60 minutes, but yielding an 85-yard touchdown is unacceptable. That catch keyed the Cowboys' offense, and accounted for more than half of his 142 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
With his 68-yard touchdown pass in the first half, Robert Griffin III became the first player in NFL history to throw for four touchdown passes of 60-plus yards and rush for a touchdown of greater than 60 yards in a single season. As a side note, all four passes were to different receivers (Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson), and the Redskins have six touchdowns of 60-plus yards on the season.
The Redskins enjoy a miniature bye week after the short week, getting three extra days to rest up and get ready to host the Giants on Monday Night Football. It is the Redskins' third division game in a row, and the second time they will face the Giants this season. A loss in the first game sent the Redskins into a three-game losing streak. A victory at FedExField a week from Monday could deliver the team's third victory in a row and a shot at the division lead (depending on Giants' game on Sunday). This will be the Redskins' second nationally televised game in a row, and Griffin III's Monday Night Football debut.
The lights are always brighter in a Redskins-Cowboys game, and they can be blinding in a nationally televised game. But Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III wrote his own homecoming script, disappointing the masses at Cowboys Stadium with the Redskins' first-ever win in the stadium.
The Redskins jumped out to a huge lead, but needed every point to hold off a Cowboys comeback. Critics will look at the team's collective inability to put the game away in the second half, but nothing is assured in a rivalry game. Battling travel on a short week, the Redskins needed a win and they got it done on the biggest stage of the year.
Today was a well-deserved team win and sets up a huge division battle next Monday night. From Dallas, hail to the fans for your year-round support, and Happy Thanksgiving to Redskins Nation!