There’s no delicate way to say it: If there was a beneficiary to Alex Smith’s season-ending injury, it was the Dallas Cowboys.
Before Smith’s brutal leg injury last week against the Houston Texans and Washington’s loss, Washington was leading the NFC East, winning four of its previous five games. But Washington lost Smith, lost to Houston, and suddenly its Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Cowboys looked a lot different.
And on Thursday, led by receiver Amari Cooper, Dallas took care of business, winning 31-23 and pulling into a tie for the NFC East lead.
Amari Cooper gets two big touchdowns
Receiver Amari Cooper, playing in his fourth game with the Cowboys after being traded from Oakland last month, had his biggest game so far with Dallas with his two long third-quarter touchdowns keying the victory.
Dallas was down 13-10 midway through the third quarter and seemed a little stale on offense when it faced a third-and-2 from the Washington 40. With Ezekiel Elliott on the roster, it was easy to wonder – as the Fox broadcast crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman did – whether the Cowboys would run the ball and, if they did get the conversion on third down, go for it on fourth down.
But instead, Dak Prescott threw a short pass to Cooper, Washington cornerback Quinton Dunbar fell, and Cooper took off, pulling away from the defense for the 40-yard score.
After forcing a Washington punt, Dallas was backed up deep in its own half of the field. On second-and-9 from the 10, Prescott threw to Cooper again, this time 20 yards downfield. Though there were three defenders nearby, including Fabian Moreau, who got his hands on Cooper but didn’t wrap him up, Cooper took off.
In a matter of minutes, Dallas went from a three-point deficit to an 11-point lead.
Cooper finished with eight catches for 180 yards and the pair of touchdowns, a big part of the reason why Prescott had a season-high 289 passing yards.
Officials miss personal foul against Cowboys
Washington, with Colt McCoy making his first start since 2014, didn’t fold, and made things interesting, pulling to 31-20 with 11:43 left in the game.
But late in the fourth quarter, the officials missed an obvious call that could have pushed things even closer. On third-and-3 from the Dallas 13 and 82 seconds left, McCoy threw for tight end Jordan Reed over the middle. As the ball came in Reed was drilled in the facemask by safety Xavier Woods.
Incredibly, the officials didn’t flag Woods for the personal foul. Fox officiating analyst Mike Pereira affirmed on air that it should have been a foul. Had the flag been thrown, Washington would have gotten half the distance to the goal and a fresh set of downs to try to get a touchdown.
Instead, they had to settle for a field goal, the onside kick went directly to the Cowboys’ Allen Hurns, and Prescott took knees to kill the remaining clock.
Reed was upset at the non-call, throwing his helmet on the field and coming up behind one of the officials to express his anger. A Washington coach pulled him back.
A few minutes earlier, Woods intercepted McCoy on a wobbly pass intended for Maurice Harris, the third interception of the afternoon by McCoy.
Ezekiel Elliott also tops 100 yards
It was the third straight win for Dallas, and perhaps not coincidentally, it was the third straight 100-yard rushing game for Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott had 26 carries for 121 yards and the game’s opening touchdown.
Dallas and Washington split their two meetings this season, but the Cowboys are atop the division standings by virtue of their 3-1 division record. Washington is 2-1 in the NFC east.