November 1, 2014

Washington Redskins Game 11 Review: Griffin, Skins get out quickly; hold on to beat Cowboys 38-31

With each touchdown pass and each victory earned, the legend of Robert Griffin III grows.

Griffin’s four touchdown passes — and a handful of key defensive plays during a nailbiting fourth quarter — led the Washington Redskins over their arch-rival, the hated Dallas Cowboys, 38-31 before 90,166 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX — and a national television audience on Thanksgiving Day.

The win, which gives the Skins a 5-6 record and a share of second place in the NFC East with the Cowboys, was the Redskins first on Thanksgiving Day since defeating the Detroit Lions 20-0 in 1973. It was the first win against Dallas on Thanksgiving in team history.

It seemed like every single Griffin completion set another rookie team record for the quarterback, playing in just his tenth career game. Griffin completed 20-of-28 for 311 yards and four touchdowns and added 29 yards on the ground on six carries. In the process, he broke Norm Snead’s single-season rookie team record for most passing yards in a season, as well as Eddie LeBaron’s single-season rookie team record for touchdown passes at 14. For the season, through 11 games, Griffin has amassed 2,504 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The quarterback had help in defeating their bitter rivals. Fellow rookie running back Alfred Morris rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown — his sixth of the season. The much-maligned defense came up with three turnovers (one fumble recovery and two interceptions). And each of Griffin’s four touchdown passes went to different receivers with eight different receivers hauling in passes.

The Cowboys got on the board first, with Dan Bailey hitting on a 30-yard field goal at 9:17 of the opening frame. The Skins then went on a tear, scoring four touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding lead — one that would be challenged but never relinquished.

Griffin hit a streaking Aldrick Robinson behind Dallas’s secondary for a 68-yard touchdown to put the Skins up 7-3. Griffin’s play fake at the line of scrimmage held Cowboys free safety Charlie Peprah long enough for Robinson to get open deep and Griffin hit him in stride. On the Cowboys’ next possession, cornerback Josh Wilson forced a fumble that was recovered by safety DeJon Gomes, which set up Morris’ one-yard touchdown plunge and the Skins opened up a 14-3 advantage.

The onslaught continued.

On a third down play, Griffin found Pierre Garcon on a crossing route and the receiver made a great adjustment on the ball to make the catch in the first place, then ran away from the Dallas secondary for a 59-yard catch-and-run. It’s just the type of dimension the Skins hoped Garcon would be able to add when they acquired him via free agency last off-season. The receiving touchdown was Garcon’s first touchdown since scoring on an 88-yard touchdown at New Orleans in Week 1. Garcon’s five catches (93 yards) represented a season-high.

Late in the quarter, DeAngelo Hall picked off Tony Romo and returned it into Dallas territory. It was Hall’s fourth interception of the season and second in as many games. Veteran Santana Moss closed a 33-yard drive with a six-yard scoring grab with 0:05 left in the half. It was Moss’ seventh TD of the season, his most since 2005 — his first year with the Skins — when he registered nine and the third highest season total in his career. Moss finished the game with four catches for 42 yards.

The 28-point second quarter marked the first time the Redskins have accomplished that particular feat since scoring 28 points in the second quarter of the team’s 38-36 win vs. Carolina on Oct. 3, 1999, a span of 214 regular season games.

The third quarter belonged to the Cowboys, who did not go quietly. Bailey nailed a 33-yarder at 11:48 and Romo hit Dez Bryant for 85 yards for Dallas’ first touchdown of the day to cut the Skins lead to 28-13 by the end of the frame.

Griffin wasn’t done though. On third and less than a yard on the Cowboys’ 29-yard line, the rookie found a wide open Niles Paul, who stumbled and backed into the end zone for the first touchdown catch of his career. The play was a classic staple of the Joe Gibbs Era: a short-yardage, play-action fake and throw to the near side tight end. No one in the Dallas defensive backfield bothered to even cover Paul and he ran alone on his route into the end zone.

That did not deter the Cowboys though. Romo (37-of-62, 441 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) found Felix Jones for a 10-yard scoring strike and just a few moments later hit Bryant for 11 yards on a perfect back shoulder route that cut the Skins lead to seven at 35-28.

But the Skins pushed back into Dallas territory on the next possession and rookie kicker Kai Forbath was true from 48 yards to give the Skins another two-score cushion. The Cowboys managed to erase that kick with one of their own as Bailey hit from 51 yards out with 0:18 left in the game. But on the ensuing onsides kick attempt, Hall gathered the ball on the fly and raced with it down to the Dallas two yard line, where he fell down and allowed the Skins to simply snap the ball once to run the clock out on an entertaining game.

The resulting victory actually catapults the Skins into the playoff discussion in the NFC East. Should the New York Giants fall to Green Bay Sunday night, the Skins will play for the division lead the following Sunday when they match up with the Giants at FedEx Field.

The way Robert Griffin III’s season is playing out, no one should count anything out at this point.

Talking Points:

  • Washington held the Cowboys to 35 yards rushing, marking the Redskins’ second-best effort against the run the season and their best effort since holding New Orleans to 32 rushing yards in Week 1.
  • The Redskins are now 2-1 in NFC East play and 5-4 against all NFC foes this season.
  • The victory evened Washington’s road record at 3-3.
  • The Redskins have now won consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 1-2 of the 2011 season.
  • Including a win against Philadelphia in Week 11, Washington has now defeated NFC East opponents in consecutive weeks for the first time since defeating Dallas and Philadelphia in Weeks 4-5 of the 2008 season.
  • The victory gives Head Coach Mike Shanahan 170 combined regular season and postseason wins as an NFL head coach. The win was his 162nd regular season victory as an NFL head coach.
  • Linebacker London Fletcher started and extended his active playing streak, but left the game later after tweaking his ailing ankle and did not return to the game.
About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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