ARLINGTON, Tex. — Against a Dallas Cowboys team mired in a three-game losing streak, the Washington Redskins simply had to do the basics Thursday night to avenge an early-season defeat and keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
They needed to score early to take the crowd of 91,712 out of the equation at AT&T Stadium. And as Coach Jay Gruden had put it earlier in the week, they needed to avoid "shooting themselves in the foot."
They did neither in their most hapless performance of the season, turning the ball over three times before they converted a third down. That late-developing window of opportunity came with barely two minutes remaining in the first half, when the game was well out of hand.
And with injuries mounting and quarterback Kirk Cousins clobbered repeatedly when dropping back to pass, the Redskins fell, 38-14, effectively extinguishing their playoff hopes.
With the defeat, the Redskins dropped to 5-7 (1-4 in the NFC East) in an NFC playoff race that almost certainly will require 10 victories to qualify for a wild card. And the notion of winning their four remaining games seems fanciful given the attrition in the ranks.
Cousins conceded afterward that 5-7 was "not where we want to be" but insisted the team would keep battling.
"While people on the outside may not view it like we have a lot to play for, we on the inside do," Cousins said. "It's our job and it's important to us. We'll be pros every single day and hopefully finish this season strong."
Gruden rejected a suggestion that the Redskins came out flat, attributing the loss to turnovers and errors while acknowledging that the Dallas's offense, which had failed to score more than nine points in its three previous losses, was "able to wear our defense down a little bit."
Said Cousins: "We were playing hard. It was just miscues. A dropped ball here. . . . It was one thing after another."
The defeat, which gave Dallas (6-6) a season sweep of the Redskins, was costly.
Right tackle Morgan Moses, the sole first-string offensive lineman to start every game, exited with a right ankle injury. Wide receiver Maurice Harris followed with a concussion. And the Redskins' defense, already shorthanded, allowed Dallas to rush for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
The impact of Moses's injury was profound, shuffling assignments of an offensive line that was ailing from the start. From then on, Cousins played behind a line that included a third-string left guard, a third-string center and a backup right tackle.
Given the pressure from all sides, there was only so much Cousins could do, yet he made some terrific off-script plays. He kept alive the Redskins' first touchdown drive by scrambling for one first down and firing a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Jamison Crowder as he backpedaled out of the clutches of on-rushing defenders for another.
Cousins finished 26 for 37 for 251 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions, while being sacked four times.
Crowder, a normally reliable asset on offense and special teams, was a hazard in the early going, letting a likely touchdown throw zip through his hands into those of a Dallas defender for the game's first interception. Then he fumbled the ensuing punt return.
The game shouldn't have been difficult for the Redskins, installed as the favorite at Dallas for the first time since 2004.
This Cowboys team wasn't nearly as formidable as the one that handed the Redskins a 33-19 defeat earlier in the season at FedEx Field, where Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns, linebacker Sean Lee dealt a concussive blow to tight end Niles Paul and a ferocious defense forced two turnovers in a downpour.
Thursday's iteration of the Cowboys lacked Elliott, serving a six-game suspension, and Lee, their defensive captain. And the game got underway amid rumblings about Coach Jason Garrett's job security and suspicion, in some quarters, that the squad had essentially quit on the season.
There was reason to wonder. The Cowboys hadn't scored more than nine points in their previous three losses — blown out by 20 points or more in each game. Quarterback Dak Prescott (11 for 22, 102 yards, two touchdown passes Thursday) hadn't thrown a touchdown pass in his previous three games. And the once-feared pass rush hadn't had a sack in the previous two.
Dallas started poorly, going three-and-out on back-to-back series, with Prescott sacked on its 4 to quash the second drive.
While the Redskins had more success moving the ball, their second series ended in calamity. Having marched to the Dallas 16, Cousins fired the throw that Crowder let land in the hands of Dallas safety Jeff Heath at the 2.
Dallas did nothing with the gift, forced to punt again.
Instead of atoning, Crowder fumbled the punt return and Dallas recovered.
The quarter of mutual futility came to a scoreless end with Dallas driving. Helped by a Redskins pass-interference penalty, Prescott threw his first touchdown pass in four weekss — an eight-yarder to tight end Jason Witten that gave Dallas a 7-0 lead.
Trouble then came for the Redskins in bunches.
Moses was injured. Cousins, backed up and looking for an open receiver on third down, was sacked by defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who dislodged the ball. Dallas recovered and ran it back to the Washington 19. The upshot was a 24-yard field goal that extended the Cowboys' lead to 10-0.
Soon after it was 17-0 after Dallas return specialist Ryan Switzer ran back a punt 83 yards for a touchdown.
The Redskins avoided the first-half shutout on Cousins's grit. With a scramble and two deep throws, he hit Ryan Grant in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard strike to pare the deficit to 17-7.
Washington got the ball to open the second half but could do nothing with it. By then, the late-arriving crowd that had seemed almost indifferent to its Cowboys was hooting and hollering and gyrating every time Cousins was thrown to the ground.
Prescott, playing with an injured hand, hit wide receiver Dez Bryant with a 13-yard touchdown pass that made it 24-7.
With two seconds, at best, to get off every throw, Cousins managed to find a leaping Josh Doctson in the end zone for a 14-yard strike that made it 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. It did nothing to change the momentum.
Dallas stuck with the run, giving each of its backs — former Redskin Alfred Morris (127 yards) and Rod Smith (27 yards) — a chance to cap drives with one-yard touchdowns that put the game out of reach.
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Game summary: Cowboys 38, Redskins 14