ARLINGTON, Tex. — If the Washington Redskins thought their bye week would cure what ailed them in the season’s early stages, they were mistaken. They emerged from their time off resembling the same struggling team they had been beforehand. Breakdowns on special teams proved particularly costly, and the Redskins lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 31-16, here Sunday night.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III had his best running game of the season, rushing for 77 yards. Tailback Alfred Morris had a long third-quarter touchdown run. But the Redskins too often settled for field goals by place kicker Kai Forbath, and their record plummeted to 1-4.
The Cowboys gave owner Jerry Jones a victory to celebrate on his 71st birthday and evened their record at 3-3, putting them in a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Dwayne Harris had a touchdown on an 86-yard punt return in the second quarter and added a 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter to set up a touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to wide receiver Terrance Williams.
“That’s kind of the difference in winning and losing the game,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said of the special-teams failures. “That’s 14 points right there and it”s hard to overcome that.”
Tailbacks DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle had rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, with Randle’s one-yard run all but sealing the outcome with just less than nine minutes remaining after Griffin lost a fumble on a sack at his 3-yard line. Griffin threw an interception to end the Redskins’ next drive.
Romo threw an interception and managed a relatively modest 170 passing yards for the Cowboys. But that was enough for a win one week after he passed for 506 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos. Romo threw a late interception in that game that led to the Broncos’ winning field goal, and that raised all of the old, familiar questions about his ability to produce in big moments.
The start was not particularly promising for the Redskins as their defense had no answers for Romo and the Cowboys on the game’s opening drive. Romo had a key third-down completion to tight end Jason Witten, and Murray got the touchdown on a four-yard run.
Griffin was sharp at the outset, with a 19-yard completion to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and a 15-yard run on a scramble on the Redskins’ first two offensive plays of the night. Rookie tight end Jordan Reed had a pair of catches on the Redskins’ opening drive, and they moved quickly into scoring position. But Griffin was stopped two yards shy of the end zone on a third-and-goal run on a quarterback draw from the Dallas 9-yard line — a play call from which the team seemed to shy in the season’s first few games as Griffin worked his way back from knee surgery in January — and the Redskins were left with the first of Forbath’s three field goals.
“We’re close on offense,” Griffin said. “But close doesn’t do it in this league. . . . We’ve got to punch it in when we’re in the red zone and finish these drives.”
The Redskins generated a second-quarter turnover when blitzing cornerback Josh Wilson batted a pass by Romo into the air and linebacker Rob Jackson, playing in his first game of the season after serving a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, grabbed the ball on the deflection for an interception. But the Redskins failed to convert, punting on each of their next two possessions.
The second of those punts resulted in Harris’s touchdown. The Redskins initially had the Cowboys backed up in their own territory but had to punt again because of an illegal-motion penalty on their first attempt. This time, Harris caught Sav Rocca’s punt at his 14-yard line, weaved his way through would-be tacklers and sprinted along the sideline to the end zone as the Redskins’ Darryl Tapp and Jerome Murphy collided with one another while in pursuit. The Redskins also received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when special teams coach Keith Burns, standing on the sideline, made inadvertent contact with one of the officials who was running to try to keep up with the play.
The Redskins regrouped and used Griffin’s 29-yard completion to Reed to set up Forbath’s 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Forbath connected again, this time from 33 yards, after Griffin’s 26-yard run on a scramble, plus 15 additional penalty yards for absorbing a late hit out of bounds, early in the third quarter.
No matter. Harris took the kickoff after that field goal five yards deep in his own end zone and sprinted practically the length of the field before being knocked out of bounds by the Redskins’ E.J. Biggers at the 15-yard line. On second down from there, Romo eluded the blitzing Wilson and lofted a pass in the corner of the end zone to Williams.
Morris, given little running room to that point, had a swift reply by cutting across the field on his way to a 45-yard touchdown dash. But Forbath missed from 49 yards early in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys got a 30-yard field goal by their kicker, Dan Bailey.
“Definitely the losses are not what we planned for or expected or prepared for,” Wilson said. “But we’ve got to accept our destiny right now and do something about it and change it.”
More on the Redskins:
Game summary: Cowboys 31, Redskins 16
The Takeaway: Redskins did not fix their special teams problems
Photos: Scenes from AT&T Stadium
The Insider: Latest Redskins updates