The Washington Redskins trotted onto rain-slicked FedEx Field on Sunday missing three-fifths of their starting offensive line and two defensive starters, the odds stacked against them and the Dallas Cowboys lined up across from them.
On a stage set for unheralded backups to make a name for themselves, the patched-together Redskins did well to keep the game close early, cheered on by poncho-draped fans who stood for the duration as rain pummeled the venue all afternoon.
But after scoring first and clawing back to retake the lead, the Redskins lost the momentum on a blocked field goal that resulted in a 10-point swing with just under three minutes remaining in a seesaw first half. And they fell, 33-19, as the ranks of injured players mounted and a chance at sole possession of second in the NFC East slipped from their grasp.
With the defeat, the Redskins dropped to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the division, including two losses to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Moreover, the tight end corps that has been invaluable amid struggles in the wide receiver ranks took a beating, further winnowing the playbook for a would-be comeback. Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed exited the game with a hamstring injury. And Niles Paul, the team's best blocking tight end, was ruled out after suffering his second concussion in the past four seasons.
While it seemed impossible for the injury-ravaged offensive line to suffer further blows, it did. Already without left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brandon Scherff and center Spencer Long, the unit lost a fourth starter, Shawn Lauvao, in the third quarter. He was soon followed by T.J. Clemmings, the third-string tackle who had been filling Williams's all-important role protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins's blind side.
With Dallas extending its lead one field goal at a time, dealing the Redskins what felt like death by incremental cuts, the proceedings were painful for Williams to watch from the sideline — proud of the fight displayed by the backups (including one rookie playing in his first NFL game) but frustrated he couldn't help.
"It showed a lot of grit, a lot of competitiveness against all odds," said Williams, sidelined by an injured right kneecap and an underlying bone bruise that, he said, makes it feel as if he's being knifed each time bone grinds on bone where the cartilage has worn away.
Sunday's game was more a battle of attrition than a battle of skill.
But the shorthanded Redskins slogged on, with Cousins still slinging it in the rain well into the fourth quarter, desperate to close a 13-point deficit. With 4:35 remaining, he connected with wide receiver Josh Doctson, who leaped for a one-yard touchdown catch that made it 26-19. Rookie place kicker Nick Rose, who previously had made field goals of 38 and 42 yards, missed the extra point.
But the Redskins' slim prayer of forcing overtime was scuttled by Cousins's lone interception in the final 30 seconds. With his team trailing by seven and with 84 yards to cover to do the implausible, Cousins threw to third-down back Chris Thompson. The ball was deflected by a Dallas defensive tackle and intercepted by safety Byron Jones, who ran it back 21 yards for the final score.
Under pressure from his first snap, Cousins was 26 for 39 for 263 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception while getting sacked four times. Again, the running game wasn't a factor, with Coach Jay Gruden calling only 15 rushing plays to the Cowboys' 39.
Dallas wasn't dazzling but did enough to keep the Redskins at bay in the second half — at least until the Cousins-Doctson strike made it a one-possession game.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was 14 for 22 for 143 yards. Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for touchdowns of 13 and one yards while rolling up 150 yards on 33 carries. And after missing his first field goal attempt wide left, Cowboys kicker Mike Nugent hit from 36, 48, 27 and 37 yards to steadily pad the lead.
Elliott fumbled on the first play, and cornerback Josh Norman recovered to hand the offense the ball on the Dallas 29. But protection issues reared up immediately, with Cousins clobbered on the Redskins' first offensive play. The Redskins salvaged three points out of the turnover on Rose's 38-yard field goal.
The Cowboys replied swiftly, totaling 15 yards per play to take the lead on a 13-yard touchdown run by Elliott.
Cousins's best throw — a 41-yarder to Jamison Crowder — came after he was hammered so hard by a Dallas defender that it made him grateful for the technology behind his helmet and earned the Cowboys a roughing-the-passer penalty. Cousins composed himself, made sure his vision was intact and heaved a beauty of a throw. Running back Rob Kelley plowed the remaining yard to retake the lead for Washington at 10-7.
After drilling a 42-yarder that made it 13-7, Rose had a chance to pad the lead. But the Cowboys' 6-foot-4 Tyrone Crawford leaped to block his 36-yard field goal attempt. Orlando Scandrick scooped it up and streaked 86 yards to the Washington 4-yard line. Scooted two yards closer by a low-block penalty on holder Tress Way during the return, the Cowboys took a 14-13 lead on Elliott's one-yard plunge into the end zone.
Afterward, it wasn't the score or any single play that dominated conversation in the locker room. It was the number of injuries, unprecedented in any veteran's experience.
"Never in my life, man," safety D.J. Swearinger said.
Summary: Cowboys 33, Redskins 19