The Dallas Cowboys stormed into FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon fresh off their most complete game of the season and by all accounts superior in every way to their reeling archrival. The Redskins had not won since Oct. 2, and accomplishing even the most mundane assignments on offense had become an adventure.
When Dallas took a double-figure advantage into the second quarter, the only question, it appeared, was how lopsided the final score would be. These are the 2011 Cowboys, though, which means rarely do they get through a game the easy way, even if the opponent has virtually nothing at stake save for pride.
That’s why players in the Dallas locker room remained understated after a 27-24 victory in which they twice surrendered leads and watched the Redskins miss a field goal in overtime before Cowboys place kicker Dan Bailey converted from 39 yards to win it. Even the celebration on the field was brief, with Dallas fully aware how fortunate it was to escape.
“It speaks a lot about this team’s will to be able to find a way to win like this,” tight end Jason Witten said. “It’s been a tough season where we’ve been on the other end of it a few times. We let a lead go. We felt like they were about ready to quit. You almost had it, but they kept fighting, and we just found a way at the end.”
Witten was referring to the three games the Cowboys had lost by four points or fewer, and following a touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Jabar Gaffney that gave Washington a 14-10 lead 14 seconds before halftime, they were there again. Dallas fell behind by a touchdown on Graham Gano’s 40-yard field goal in the third quarter.
But the Cowboys strung together a 61-yard scoring drive on 14 plays, capped by quarterback Tony Romo’s seven-yard pass to wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who started in place of injured Miles Austin, to knot the score at 17 with 14 minutes 32 seconds left in regulation. The Cowboys followed that with their most polished possession of the game, twice converting on third down and eight to go 88 yards in just 2:22.
The final play of that series was Romo’s touchdown pass to Witten, who found a seam on the left side, caught the ball at about the 25 and ran into the end zone with 8:48 to go. All the Cowboys needed was a defensive stand or two against a team that had scored one touchdown over its last three games, and victory was theirs.
Dallas instead surrendered an 89-yard touchdown drive that ended when wide receiver Donte Stallworth caught a fade behind safety Alan Ball for a four-yard touchdown to force extra time.
“We talk about it all the time, the importance of playing through adversity and playing through success and understanding you have to earn it every second throughout a ballgame,” Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said.
Overtime tested Dallas again. The anticipation of a third consecutive win soon became trepidation as the strong-legged Gano trotted onto the field for a 52-yard attempt. The ball sailed wide right, allowing Dallas to take over at its 42.
Romo dropped back on third and 15, and the pocket broke down under a heavy rush. But Romo stepped to his left to gain valuable seconds and delivered a strike to wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had beaten cornerback DeAngelo Hall on an out pattern. The gain was for 26 yards, and Bailey did the rest.
“I don’t know how my times I’ve played [the Redskins] now, but I feel like every game comes down to the wire,” Romo said. “A last-possession kind of game every time against these guys. You just kind of know that going in. They know us. We know them, so it just comes down to that. You have to make some plays, and the guys stepped up today and made those plays.”