Associate Sports Editor
Monday Night Football has been an American tradition for nearly five decades and in that time it has covered some stunning games that have shaped the course of seasons for many of its participating teams. This Monday, December 7th, was the second game in a row to host two sub-.500 teams, but it would have a much greater impact.
Unlike last week’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, this week pitted two teams that are still fiercely competing for the NFC East. Monday Night Football on ESPN played host to the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins entered the game with only a half-game lead on the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants.
The biggest test that the Cowboys faced entering this game was whether or not they could manage to win a game without their starting quarterback, Tony Romo at the helm. Out with his second clavicle fracture of the season, the Cowboys have not won a single game without Romo under center.
The game was make-or-break for both teams. A loss for the Cowboys meant that they fall even further behind in the chase for possession of the NFC East. A loss for the Redskins meant that they are back to being in a three-way tie with their other division rivals, the Eagles and the Giants.
The game started in a fierce defensive battle, mainly due to a lack of offense on both teams. Each team exchanged punts for the majority of the first half. Ending the drought was Dan Bailey, scoring the first points of the game off a 38-yard field goal. He would kick three additional field goals during the game. The Redskins would also gain some traction and tie the game at 3-3 heading into halftime.
Darren McFadden, running back of the Dallas Cowboys, ran into some issues with ball handling during the course of the game. The Cowboys’ opening drives during the each half were ended by a fumble from the former Oakland Raider. McFadden left the game for a short time after the second fumble under concussion protocol. Wide receiver, Devin Street also committed one fumble.
The Redskins attempted a field goal in the fourth to take a 12-6 lead but it was wide right. The game remained a low scoring nail-biter as the Cowboys tied it up at 9-9 with less than 5 minutes left in regulation.
The Cowboys were forced to punt later in the fourth. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson prepared to return the ball with 2 minutes left in the game. Catching the punt around the 16-yard line, Jackson attempted to create more blocks downfield by circling back to the opposite side of the field but was met with a horde of Cowboys players. Jackson fumbled the ball, allowing the Cowboys to recover at the 6-yard line. McFadden, who had since returned to the game, ran in the touchdown two plays later.
The Washington Redskins continued to fight with under a minute left. Jackson was able to achieve his redemption for his previous fumble by receiving a 28-yard pass for a touchdown to pull the Redskins to within one point. When given the decision to either tie the game with an extra point or take the lead with a 2-point conversion, Washington opted to tie the game and try to take the game into overtime.
The Redskins special teams’ coverage didn’t help their efforts on the following kickoff. Cowboys kick returner Lucky Whitehead took possession of the ball at the 2-yard line and carried it out to the 46-yard line, setting up a great field position for the game winning drive. Matt Cassel, backup quarterback for the Cowboys, drove the team down the field another 20 yards before bringing in Bailey. Bailey kicked the game-winning field goal from 54 yards away.
The biggest take away for the Cowboys is how well Cassel is now communicating with the rest of the offense. Cassel threw for 222 yards against the Redskins defense. This was the first time a backup quarterback won a game for the Cowboys since 2010 when Stephen McGee accomplished the feat. Jason Witten also achieved a milestone in his career. The tight end reached 1,000 receptions. He’s only the 12th player in the NFL to accomplish this massive achievement.
The Redskins hope to stay competitive with the NFC East. The first step in doing so is to turn it around when they face off against the Bears in Chicago this weekend. They are still tied for first in the division and according to head coach, Jay Gruden, “[we] have a lot to play for.”