For much of the United States, Thursday was a day where many tried to remember what they have and to offer thanks for those many blessings and fortuitous circumstances that they are afforded.
For the Dallas Cowboys, it was a day to look in the mirror and to see how far they are from being the team they fancy themselves being.
It doesn’t appear that they are as close as many had hoped. In fact, the reality check that Washington dropped on the heads of the Dallas Cowboys in front of a national audience told a story that could make one panic, realizing that the Redskins may have found their “chosen one” to lead them out of the same football wilderness that the Cowboys are stuck in.
The show Robert Griffin III was able to perform on Thanksgiving 2012 may have rivaled the 1998 Thanksgiving clinic that Randy Moss devastated Texas Stadium with for best shows by a visiting rookie in these holiday classics in DFW. That may seem ironic, given that like Tony Romo’s career-high 441 passing yards yesterday, Troy Aikman had a career-high 455 passing yards on that day – as both were spending the entire afternoons trying to mount a rally that never fully materialized. However, it did rack up huge passing statistics as a reminder of just how hollow those passing yard totals can be. If you pass for over 400 yards in a game, chances are really good that your team got destroyed on the field when the game was in doubt. And yesterday was no exception.
The Cowboys started the game with some reasonably positive vibes as the pass rush was active and the offense marched. But, the opening drive stalled when another red zone penalty was committed by Jason Witten and 3rd and 7 became 3rd and 12. That 3rd and 12 was nearly converted as Romo hit Miles Austin on the dig route, but Austin was unable to secure the ball before London Fletcher blasted him right out of the game. The Cowboys had to settle for 3 and although Austin would play one more snap, he had suffered yet another injury on his long list of ailments and the Cowboys would have to play the rest of the game with Dez Bryant and their deepest WR reserves the rest of the way.
The 2nd Cowboys drive – the rarest of birds, a Cowboys drive in a home game where they had a lead – was also sabotaged by the ridiculous back-to-back penalties on 2nd and 5 that marched the ball back to 2nd and 15. First, it was a false start on Doug Free, but then, the unthinkable: A delay of game penalty after a false start penalty? How in the world does that happen? They called the false start penalty on Free at 3:26 of the 1st Quarter and then started the clock. It is only a 25-second play clock, but every player is standing right there and presumably, they were running either the same play or one that did not require any personnel changes. So, why, with 3:02 left is Romo shouting “kill, kill, kill” and trying to get the ball snapped with panic as the play clock turns to :00? How could you have a delay of game in that scenario? This is just not a team that executes their duties well.
That drive ended in a punt, and even though there was 1:44 left in the 1st Quarter, it would be the last time they would take a snap with a lead all day long.
For, Griffin was about to engineer the biggest play against the Dallas defense of 2012. It was 1st and 15, as Aldrick Robinson had just committed a false start penalty for the Redskins. This allowed Aikman to share the back-story of Robinson with the television audience that took the Waxahachie High School product through SMU and his terrifying speed. The Redskins then faked an inside handoff to Alfred Morris and went max-protection to give RG3 time and space to look for his 2 potential targets; Leonard Hankerson underneath or Aldrick Robinson over the top. One would suspect that since Robinson just went over the top 4 days ago against the Eagles for a touchdown on a similar play that this was noted over and over again in the Cowboys meetings to the safeties, and yet, that inside fake to Morris got reserve safety Danny McCray to take those fateful steps forward. As he does that, Robinson takes his sprinter’s speed right past McCray on his way downfield. Griffin launches a pass that travels 60 yards in the air and lands in the hands of the Mustang who is roughly 10 yards clear of the nearest Cowboys defender.
Touchdown. It was the first of many and the Cowboys would play from behind for the rest of the game.
The Cowboys played their 5th home game of the season yesterday. In those 5 games, they have held the lead for just over 24 minutes of possession. When you consider that 18 of those 24 minutes came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1st home game, that tells you a story that would make any expansion team shudder.
In the second home game – against Chicago – the Cowboys had possession of the ball with the lead for 0:00. Chicago had 16:15.
In the third home game against New York, the Cowboys had possession of the ball with the lead for 1:08, while the Giants countered with 17:20.
In the fourth home game against the Browns, Dallas had the ball with the lead for 1:16, while the Browns had the same situation for 17:54.
And then yesterday, Dallas actually had one full possession with the lead for 3:46. Washington played the final 3 quarters with the lead the whole time for 23:55.
In total, that means the Redskins on one day had the lead at Cowboys stadium 13 seconds less than the Cowboys have had it ALL YEAR.
They have 6 minutes of possession with a lead in their last 4 home games. You can take every other statistic from these games – including the 1,781 passing yards Romo has put up largely when the team has trailed big – and table them. This is all the sign that you need that we are deluding ourselves if we think this team is close.
If that total doesn’t stagger everyone associated with this franchise, I don’t know what will. They never have the lead in games they play at home.
And they never have leads because their offense cannot function at even a reasonable level of performance. If there is even one mistake – just one – it seems that the offense cannot overcome it. But, the ensuing drive after the long touchdown to Robinson had the Cowboys on the march. Until, Josh Wilson put his helmet right on the ball in the arms of Dez Bryant, and the fumble put the Redskins in a great position to find distance between the two teams.
And with no Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, or Kenyon Coleman due to injuries, the Cowboys could not stand up to the inside running game of Alfred Morris. 24 carries for 113 yards, including real nice 1st down numbers where the Redskins constantly stayed ahead of the chains. This is made possible because of fakes from Griffin that freeze DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on the outside because of the real threat of RG3 keeping and getting into the open field if they don’t protect the flanks.
After a week of hearing from many readers complain about how much hype Griffin is getting, I imagine now it was on full display to everyone in Texas that their greatest fears have come true. Washington has a difference maker at the most vital position. It has been many moons since this was the case, but if you were ever going to overpay in a trade, you would do it for that player at that age at that position. He seems worth any price when you see how he can take over a game and stay out of trouble for almost his entire rookie year.
And that is what makes Washington scary moving forward. Sure, they are 5-6, just like Dallas, but it seems that RG3 puts them in a spot where when they get health back and continue to build with a GM in Bruce Allen who knows how to build (notice the owner is making fewer decisions in the last few years in Washington) and a coach who understand a little something about winning, that they may finally be on their way out of their football wilderness.
But, what of this team that we follow? It seems that there is almost nothing the offense does well. What is their identity? What is their calling card? Or their go-to strength? And how much of it is health related and how much of it is simply a house with a really bad foundation that might need a bulldozer to truly fix?
They battled back yesterday, like they always seem to do. They have guys in this room that want the same thing everyone wants. But, desire only takes you so far. At some point, you have to have someone who can read a map helping you navigate out of this desert.
And with repeated self-inflicted wounds and moments of madness like a QB sneak on 1st and 10 because they thought it was 3rd and 1 (this really happened at 4:50 left in the 3rd Quarter) and another moment where the defensive coordinator has to convince the head coach to challenge a play where it otherwise appeared they were going to allow an absurd spot of the ball, it makes you wonder.
It makes you wonder about pretty much everything that this organization is about right now. They are building, but are they using the right plans? Are they demanding accountability and progress? Or are the simply running just to stand still?
Before the game, yesterday, there were snickers in many circles about these two rudderless franchises squaring off on Thanksgiving Day. It was the two owners who constantly change philosophies like a bottom feeder in your fantasy football league, all while making sure the public was aware of who was in charge. Jerry Jones versus Dan Snyder, owners who run two of the most valuable sports franchises in this country and will not be outdone in the all-important category of maximizing income.
But as one of them was bringing us an sparkly half-time show that looked like a very successful concert in a palace of entertainment, the other was up 28-3 on the scoreboard, and appeared to have understood the idea that if you cannot read a map, perhaps you should hire some people who can.
And now, the Redskins appear to be potentially on their way up the standings in the years to come.
And the Cowboys? Well, the Cowboys had Kenny Chesney play halftime, Kelly Clarkson sing their team anthem (who knew a team had an anthem?), and may host the biggest fight in UFC history next year at their stadium.