Redskins vs. Cowboys: Washington defense plays better, but not well enough

Washington’s defense needed a stop, and there it was. The Redskins had kept the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo in check for most of three quarters, and here was another opportunity.

The Redskins forced Dallas into a three-and-out, sacking Romo and watching as his next two passes fell incomplete.

“We thought we had the momentum,” Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo said later.

The defense put together a solid performance, something promising in a season that has so far gone sideways, and if nothing else Sunday night in Dallas, it gave the Redskins a chance to win. That’s something it couldn’t always say, and Orakpo and several of his defensive teammates indicated that this 31-16 loss stung worse than the three previous ones.

Rather than waking Monday morning and discussing how Washington held Dallas to 213 total yards, it’ll spend the next few days fixated on the mistakes that overshadowed the Redskins’ strengths.

“We’ve got to get out of our own way,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “We’re stopping ourselves, we’re beating ourselves, and we’ve got to figure out how to stop doing that and get these Ws.”

A week earlier, the Cowboys lost a shootout with the Denver Broncos, scoring 48 points and riding Romo’s 506 passing yards to a record-breaking performance, even in a defeat. Romo again proved himself to be versatile and slippery, unpredictable and on the fringe of the NFL’s list of great passers.

And so Washington spent the week talking about making Romo one-dimensional, removing the Cowboys’ rushing game from their arsenal and limiting big plays like those the Redskins’ defenders could’ve seen on television during their bye weekend.

“Try to make him one-dimensional, and for the most part, I think we did that,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said.

Washington’s penalties and special-teams blunders, along with two late turnovers by Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, kept that in the shadows, though. And now there’s another loss to keep talking about as this season drags on.

“We did a phenomenal job stopping them,” Orakpo said, “getting them off the field when we needed to get the ball back to our offense, and just keep fighting. Keep fighting and fighting, and we had some great turnovers on downs. I thought defensively, we flew around. We’ve just got to build on this performance and continue to get better.”

Romo was average Sunday night, as he occasionally is, and if nothing else he was not elite. He also was not a liability, as he also occasionally is. He finished with 170 yards passing and one touchdown, along with a tipped interception that gave Washington hope and kept its defens believing a road win was possible — and, perhaps, a season turnaround.

“I thought we did a phenomenal job defensively,” Orakpo said, “But still at the end, they prevailed. You’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, see the mistakes we made, and get ready for next week.”

That was the attitude in the locker room late Sunday, when there were more questions to answer; more doubt in a season that has so far been defined by what Washington has done poorly — rather than its strengths.

Orakpo said he would take no solace in his defense’s effort because he and others will work through another week with disappointment on their minds.

“Ain’t no moral victories, man,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. We lost. We played well defensively, we did this and that and still lost. It hurts. I can’t really hang high on a moral victory.”

Before he left, he continued.

“It hurts because we had this game in the fourth quarter,” he said, “and we thought we were going to come away with it but fell short. I just wish we stuck in there and finished it, but we fell short.”

Kent Babb is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.
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