Offensive coordinator Scott Turner seems to love trick plays, especially in the red zone — “He told us last night he was going to come out and hold nothing back,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said — and Coach Ron Rivera had run it successfully in 2011, so why not? Something had to jump-start an offense that had a habit of starting slow.
“It actually goes back to a movie called ‘Little Giants’ and it’s called — I hope I don’t get in trouble — the annexation of Puerto Rico,” Rivera explained. “We nicknamed it the ‘Bumerooski,’ and most of these guys don’t understand it so we had to explain to them who Bum Phillips is, and we did as a tribute to him.”
But Washington saved its best Thanksgiving Day trick for last: a 41-16 blowout win over its rival on the road to claim the division lead — at 4-7.
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Washington earned its second so-called “statement” win in only five days to complete a season sweep of Dallas and hand the Cowboys their second-worst loss in Thanksgiving games.
Washington, however, wasn’t the only one that came armed with tricks. It’s just that its tricks actually worked. Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy was ridiculed on social media throughout the game after he had his team pass on fourth and one at its 34-yard line after losing both of its starting tackles to injuries, and then basically handed the game to Washington with a failed fake punt deep in his team’s territory in the fourth quarter.
Washington turned both Dallas gambles-gone-wrong into scores — and continued to build upon its midseason turnaround, with many young players who have emerged as foundational pieces for the future.
For much of the first half of the season, Washington beat itself, committing mistakes it couldn’t overcome. Over the past three games, with 16th-year veteran Alex Smith at quarterback, the offense has found stability and efficiency while boosting a defense that had been relied upon too often to lead the way.
Washington amassed 338 yards, 22 first downs and seven scoring drives, and Smith — who two years ago this week was fighting for his life after suffering a severe leg injury — went 19 for 26 for 149 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
“To get two wins in five days is hard in this league, especially coming on the road in a short week, juggling the covid protocol that’s intensified. I thought guys just did a great job locking in and not letting any of that stuff be a distraction,” Smith said. “To get the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving is special and with this rivalry even more special. So to come down and get a win like we did today, means a lot.
“And as far as me, it’s hard to put into words. I never would have dreamed in a million years that something like this would be happening.”
But it was Washington’s youngest stars who shined the brightest.
Rookie wide receiver-turned-running back Antonio Gibson had 115 of the team’s 182 rushing yards and added three touchdowns to become the first player with at least 100 rushing yards and a hat-trick of rushing touchdowns on Thanksgiving since Barry Sanders in 1997. His first touchdown — a five-yarder in the first quarter — capped a 12-play drive that included another trick: Tight end Logan Thomas, a former quarterback, threw a 28-yard completion to McLaurin on a reverse.
“Scotty’s got some innovation, and when you watch some of the things that we do, some of the things we work on in practice, you can see the potential for big plays,” Rivera said. “And using the guys and giving them the opportunities to use their skills, that’s huge. … We have players with specific skill sets we need to take advantage of.”
Thomas later caught Washington’s go-ahead score in the second quarter, a five-yard touchdown after Dallas’s failed fourth and one.
Dustin Hopkins, who had struggled with misses, had a perfect kicking game with 23- and 36-yard field goals to pad Washington’s lead, and a big play from McLaurin preserved it. Smith was intercepted by the Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith in the third quarter, and McLaurin sprinted downfield to bring down the linebacker at Washington’s 4-yard line.
Rivera lauded the hustle play because it gave the defense “a chance.” And the defense capitalized. Jeremy Reaves, an undrafted safety, broke up a would-be touchdown that forced Dallas to kick a short field goal to make it 20-16 late in the third quarter.
Washington quickly expanded that edge to 25 points in the fourth, thanks largely to Gibson. The rookie needed only one play to find the end zone after Dallas’ failed fake punt, running it in for 23 yards. He followed with a 37-yard rushing touchdown to all but seal the victory before Montez Sweat provided the exclamation point: a pick-six with 3:36 remaining.
Throughout the season, Rivera has stressed to his players the need to “take ownership” and to learn to win. Their victory Thursday, he said, was proof his players have heeded his teachings. But just how far they’ve come will be determined in the week ahead, when it awaits a meeting with the league’s only undefeated team, the 10-0 Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We got a hell of a test next week,” Rivera said. “We’ll see where you are when you get to test yourself against one of the elites.”