The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Redskins lose to Cowboys, 31-23, creating a tie atop the NFC East standings

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott scores a first-quarter touchdown in Thursday’s win over the Redskins.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott scores a first-quarter touchdown in Thursday’s win over the Redskins. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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ARLINGTON, Tex. — D.J. Swearinger Sr. was irate. The Washington Redskins safety stood in the team’s locker room far beneath AT&T Stadium on Thursday evening, wearing a black hat, a black suit and a scowl.

On the field outside, the defense he helps lead, the defense that was supposed to be the strength of this Washington team, had given up 404 yards in a disheartening 31-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that left the two teams in a tie for first place in the NFC East. Seeing an opportunity blown to seize control in the division, which the team has led for most of the season, he shook his head.

“If we want to be a good defense, we got to be a good tackling defense,” Swearinger said. “If you miss tackles, you’re not going to win.”

Then he said this:

“We lost two games in a row because of the defense. Not the offense. The defense.”

And this:

“We can go out there and do whatever on teams that aren’t good,” he continued. “Against Tampa we could do whatever you want. . . . But when you got teams that can play with you, you got to prepare, you got to tackle, you got to do simple things right. You don’t do the simple things right, you’re going to get embarrassed on national TV, and that’s why we don’t get respect as Redskins: We don’t do the simple s--- right.

“I see why we don’t get the respect; we don’t win the big games.”

Redskins-Cowboys takeaways: Turnovers, Amari Cooper crush Washington on Thanksgiving

The Redskins lost a big game Thursday. They lost a game they desperately needed to win if they are going to make the playoffs. Had they beaten the Cowboys in this Thanksgiving Day game, projections gave them an 80 percent chance of taking the NFC East. Instead, by losing to a Dallas team that has won three straight games to storm into a first-place tie with them at 6-5, their odds have fallen to just 30 percent.

And that realization seemed to sink in around the gray locker stalls in which they quietly dressed after the defeat.

Dallas wide receiver Amari Cooper, a player the Cowboys acquired from the Raiders before last month’s trade deadline for a future first-round pick, beat them with eight catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. The scores, which came within five minutes of each other in the second half, totaled 130 yards and were part of a three-touchdown flurry that blew a 13-10 Redskins lead into a 31-13 deficit and essentially ended the game for Washington.

Part of what enraged Washington’s defensive players is that they missed chances to tackle Cooper, especially on the second touchdown — a 90-yard play — that came when cornerback Fabian Moreau tried to knock the ball from Cooper’s hands instead of bringing him to the ground. They also allowed more than 100 rushing yards to a player for the first time this season, when Dallas’s Ezekiel Elliott ran for 121 yards and a touchdown. And this was also something that made them seethe.

“We got to be better all around,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said.

The Redskins have never done well on Thanksgiving. Thursday’s loss made them 3-8 on the holiday, with all eight of the defeats coming to Dallas. But it was less the fact they lost Thursday that bothered them but they way they did, with the defense unraveling as it has done over the past month, giving up yardage totals of 491, 501, 320 and 404 in their past four games. They have lost three of those games, and the one they did take (a victory at Tampa Bay when they allowed the 501 yards) came when the Buccaneers repeatedly imploded inside the Washington 20-yard line.

Colt McCoy, in first start since 2014, looks ‘a little rusty’ as Redskins fall in Dallas

Because they don’t have an offense built for big plays, they have trouble coming back on those days they fall behind. Thursday was their first game without quarterback Alex Smith, who broke his leg Sunday and is out for the season. His replacement, Colt McCoy, helped Washington’s offense move downfield through the air in a way it has not all year, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He got the ball into the hands of key pass catchers such as Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson and Trey Quinn, who has shown promise in his first two games back from an ankle injury.

But McCoy also was intercepted three times. Two of those interceptions came in the second half when Washington was frantically trying to come back. He was able to get the game close, leading two late drives that ended in a Kapri Bibbs touchdown run and a field goal, but the Redskins could get no better than eight points from tying the game. An onside kick after the field goal was covered by the Cowboys.

Adding to a flood of disaster that started with Smith’s injury, star left tackle Trent Williams — who came back after three games away following thumb surgery — walked out of the locker room and into an ambulance. The Redskins said he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. He was hit in the chest during the game and missed a play, but it was unclear whether he was being looked at for a possible chest injury.

“We’ve got five games to get everything right,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said as he stood at a lectern Thursday evening. “We’re still tied for first place. We will get it going.”

Given what had happened in the game just finished and with his star players continually going down to injury, his words sounded faint in the cavernous halls of the giant stadium where Washington lost its grip on first place.

Read more on the Redskins:

The Redskins are playing like pie: Resistant at first, then crumbling into nothing

How concerning is Redskins’ recent defensive play? ‘Very, very. Very, very, very.’

Colt McCoy’s path from Browns castoff to scout team legend to Redskins’ most important player

The best photos from the Washington Redskins’ 31-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys

Adrian Peterson says he still uses a belt and switch to punish his son

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