Dallas defensive end Kyle Wilber (51), left, is about to strip ball from Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) near the one yard line to set up clinching fourth-quarter Dallas touchdown. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins fell to 1-4 Sunday after wasting an opportunity to turn things around against the Dallas Cowboys. Now, the team remains in third place in the NFC East, facing an even bigger mess to clean up and with less time to do so.

Here are five observations from the 31-16 loss to Dallas.

1. Griffin good and bad: For starters, Robert Griffin III had some impressive moments as he proved as dangerous a threat with his legs as he has since Week 14 of the 2012 season. Griffin rushed for a season-high 77 yards on nine carries. He eluded pass-rushers as well as we’ve seen and, when running along the sideline, displayed enough craftiness to coax the Cowboys into two late-hit personal fouls. Griffin doesn’t appear to be quite as explosive or fast as he was last season, but he still has enough of a burst to cause problems for defenses. Griffin improved as a passer — particularly on third downs, where he helped the team convert 8 of 16. Griffin had his struggles, however. Issues with timing and accuracy crept back up. A number of times, he narrowly missed crucial completions because the passes were slightly behind receivers and got broken up. Griffin also held onto the ball too long at times. His protection wasn’t great, and at times the rush forced him to pull the ball back down and readjust. But several times, Griffin could’ve better served his team by throwing away the ball quickly. He needed better awareness on the fumble at the Washington 3-yard line, where Dallas recovered to set up an easy touchdown. Griffin wasn’t to blame for the interception in Dallas’s end zone. Santana Moss fell down on the play and was asking for a flag to be thrown. Griffin made a couple risky throws that the Cowboys failed to capitalize on for turnovers. There were miscommunications on a couple throws to Pierre Garcon, and the wideout didn’t hide his frustration during the game, throwing up his hands in disgust after miscues between he and the quarterback. After the game lamented on the fact that for some reason, he and Griffin “weren’t on the same page.” Overall, however, the game showed that Griffin has made more progress. But, it wasn’t yet a complete breakout.

2. Defensive showing: Hats off to Washington’s defense, which rose to the occasion and limited Dallas to just 213 total yards of offense. They shook off early struggles against the run and held the Cowboys to 48 yards on 19 carries. Washington caught a break when DeMarco Murray got hurt, but tackling improved as a whole. Washington flustered Tony Romo, who last week passed for 500 yards. This week he completed just 18 of 30 passes for 170 yards. DeAngelo Hall had another monster game, limiting Dez Bryant to five catches for just 36 yards and no touchdowns. Brandon Meriweather helped limit Jason Witten to three catches for 27 yards. Perry Riley Jr. led the charge up front, recording five tackles, a sack, one tackle for a loss and also three hits on the quarterback. Washington’s defense allowed three touchdowns, but one was on a drive that started at the Redskins’ 3. And another came when the Cowboys got the ball at Washington’s 15. The Redskins allowed the Cowboys to convert 5 of 12 third downs. It’s just a shame this all around strong effort went for a waste.

3. Special teams woes: It’s funny how fans loved to blame any special teams struggles in past seasons on former coordinator Danny Smith. Now, the units have regressed under first-year coach Keith Burns. Redskins special teams leaders such as fullback Darrel Young, tight end Niles Paul and linebacker Bryan Kehl expressed embarrassment over the struggles that came in the form of an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 90-yard kickoff return, careless penalties and a missed field goal attempt. The punt unit’s fumble recovery deep in Dallas territory was negated because officials ruled that the Cowboys player had been blocked into the ball. This unit is a shambles. The return game is basically non-existent. Josh Morgan took over for a benched Chris Thompson but managed just 4.3 yards on punt returns. As Young said, “We found the enemy tonight. It was us.” It will be interesting to see if Mike Shanahan takes an active role in trying to help Burns cure the ills of this unit, because terrible play Sunday definitely cost Washington the game, and as Paul said, “We just can’t be this bad on special teams.”

4. Penalties: The Redskins continue to shoot themselves in the foot by committing penalties that either put the team in negative situations, bail out opponents, or wipe out positives. A penalty by Jerome Murphy gave the Cowboys a second chance at a punt return, and Dwayne Harris wound up capitalizing by ripping off that 86-yard touchdown. Holding calls away from the play on offense forced positive gains to be called back. In all, Washington committed 12 penalties for 104 yards. This lack of discipline is killing this team. Mike Shanahan has noted in the past that last season the Ravens ranked among the most penalized teams in the league, and they still won the Super Bowl. Well, Washington simply isn’t good enough to overcome their frequent miscues.

5. Dangerous position: Now at 1-4, the Redskins are teetering on the edge.  Yes, 11 weeks remain, but the strong teams such as Denver and Kansas City are coming up soon. The Redskins are starting to run out of time to say, “We’ll get them next time.” Frustration is starting to mount. You saw it in the  body language exhibited by players when key plays were blown. The finger-pointing hasn’t begun yet, but some players are getting more pointed in their comments. The leaders of the locker room vow that they will not allow the team to splinter, and that they will all keep fighting to save their season. It’s hard to imagine a dramatic playoff run out of this group right now, but pride is on the line. We’ll see how much of that the Redskins have.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

 What’s ahead:

● Follow-up blog posts from Texas and an Outsider review.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Redskins fall to 1-4 with a 31-16 loss to the Cowboys | Game summary

The Takeaway: Bye week was not a cure for the Redskins’ woes

Special teams struggles continue | Defense allows 213 yards, but loss stings

Wise: Griffin is going through growing pains | Photo gallery

D.C. Sports Bog: Best and Worst from Redskins vs. Cowboys

Shanahan defends clock management | Kehl, Sundberg to have MRI exams

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