The visiting Dallas Cowboys, who had clinched the NFC East title the week before, had even less at stake in the teams’ season finale.
Rather than resting quarterback Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray, their league-leading rusher, the Cowboys fielded their stars, used the Redskins as postseason practice dummies and, in the process, showed their hosts what it means to compete.
The result was a 44-17 defeat that left Washington 4-12 and highlighted numerous areas of concern, if not outright alarm, in all three facets of the team — offense, defense and special teams — heading into 2015.
Among them: a muddled picture at quarterback, a roster with so many urgent needs that a cache of draft picks couldn’t remedy them and a defense incapable of mounting two credible halves, much less back-to-back games.
As architect of the mess, Gruden said he could give himself only a poor grade in his first season. “[We’re] not getting the most out of our players. We’re not getting enough victories, and that’s the bottom line,” said Gruden, who vowed that everyone in the organization would be evaluated in the offseason.
Dallas (12-4) rolled up 457 yards of offense against Washington’s erratic defense, with Romo firing touchdown passes of 65 and 23 yards to Dez Bryant, who got the better of second-year cornerback David Amerson much of the afternoon. And Murray and Joseph Randle rushed for two other scores.
The Cowboys gained nearly 300 yards in the first half alone, prompting a halftime tirade from Gruden, who called it the worst half of defense he had ever seen.
Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, making his eighth start this season, was attempting to build on last week’s victory over Philadelphia and solidify a hold on the starting job heading into next season. Instead, he imploded, particularly in the red zone, throwing a pair of interceptions and losing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
Griffin finished 27 for 41 for 336 yards and was sacked three times. His two scores — one touchdown throw, one run — were offset by the two interceptions.
Washington scored on its opening possession, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson electrifying the crowd of 80,897 with a 69-yard catch-and-run that put his team up 7-3.
The Redskins then fell silent on consecutive three-and-outs, while their poor-tackling defense allowed Dallas to reel off 20 consecutive points.
“Our fans deserve better than that; our coaches deserve better than that,” a disgusted Ryan Kerrigan said afterward. “We as players got to do better than that — than what that crap was we put on film. Especially the first half. That was totally just a butt-kicking.”
After taking a 20-7 lead, the Cowboys kept scrapping rather than rest their best. They recovered a nicely executed onside kick to give them possession at the Washington 49-yard line. It was on that drive, midway through the second quarter, that Washington’s defense appeared to flat-out concede.
From the Washington 9, Murray caromed off a series of lackluster tackles into the end zone to extend Dallas’s lead to 27-7 with more than eight minutes remaining before the half.
Despite playing with a broken hand, Murray finished the game with 100 yards, bringing his season total to 1,875, shattering Emmitt Smith’s single-season franchise record.
With a chance to narrow Washington’s deficit as the first half ticked down, Griffin threw two incompletions inside the 10. So Gruden tapped Kai Forbath on fourth down for a 25-yard field goal that made it 27-10 at the break.
Once Washington fell behind by 17, Gruden all but abandoned the ground game — a decision he conceded may have been premature.
After Gruden’s halftime rant at the defense, the unit played with more spirit in the second half.
And the offense put together a promising drive late in the third quarter. Griffin got completions of 47 and 17 yards to Pierre Garcon and Jackson, respectively, to march Washington inside the red zone again. But from the Dallas 7, he threw directly into the hands of linebacker Bruce Carter, who returned it to the Dallas 40 before being brought down by Trent Williams.
Early in the fourth quarter, Washington reserve linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat intercepted an underthrown Romo pass and ran it back nine yards to the Dallas 16. An apparent touchdown reception by Jordan Reed was negated because his helmet was ripped off just before he crossed the goal line and the play was whistled dead. So Griffin carried for the two-yard score with 6:45 remaining. With it, Washington cut Dallas’s lead to 27-17.
It was the last thing that went well for the hosts.
Romo again exploited Amerson for a 51-yard completion to Terrance Williams that took the Cowboys to the Washington 9, and Dallas added a field goal.
Griffin was sacked, then fumbled to commit his third turnover. Dallas’s Anthony Spencer picked the ball up on the 5 and ran it in for a score.
The final indignity took just nine seconds. On the first play of its next drive, Dallas’s third-string running back, Joseph Randle, ran 65 yards for the touchdown that supplied the final margin.
Asked to critique Griffin’s day, Gruden said: “I think he’s out there trying his best. . . . There are some plays I think he wishes he had back, as do I wish I had back calling them.”
Summary: Cowboys 44, Redskins 17
Photos: Scenes from FedEx Field
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