Cowboys vs. Redskins: Takeaways from Dallas' 24-23 Win over Washington
After two devastating losses to Chicago and Green Bay, the Cowboys were able to avoid a third straight defeat. They went to the ground game throughout the contest on offense and made just enough stops on defense.
This Dallas team is still far from perfect, but it was able to make it out of FedEx Field with a victory. Dallas is now 5-0 in the NFC East.
Here are eight takeaways from this Cowboys win that ensures they will play Philadelphia for the division crown in Week 17.
All statistics from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Brandon Carr Struggled Against Pierre Garcon
The Cowboys' best cornerback is supposed to be Brandon Carr, considering his $50.1 million contract. Against the Redskins in Week 16, he didn't earn a dime of that deal.
Carr was lined up against Pierre Garcon much of the day. Washington's No. 88 tallied 11 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. Garcon had the most receptions and yards among wide receivers in the game.
After watching Carr get torched the entire first half, Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin began putting Orlando Scandrick on Garcon at times. Scandrick made more than a few stops when Kirk Cousins looked toward his best receiver, something Carr couldn't do most of the day.
Aside from the play he made in the red zone to break up a Cousins touchdown pass to Garcon, Carr was a liability in the secondary.
Cowboys Defense Made Just Enough Stands
The Cowboys defense has allowed six teams to score 30 or more points against it this season. The Redskins weren't able to add their name to that list in Week 16.
After allowing a combined 82 points to Chicago and Green Bay in recent weeks, the Cowboys were able to hold Washington to 23. Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense were only able to put up six points in the first half.
Cowboys fans likely got a bit nervous after watching their team's opponent put up 14 points in the third quarter. It looked like Monte Kiffin's squad was destined to allow another meltdown.
But it was able to buckle down in the fourth.
This Dallas defense created problems for Cousins, Alfred Morris and Co. more than a few times, and it helped seal an absolute must-win matchup.
Kiffin and the Cowboys defense have taken much of the blame for the team's recent losses. After Week 16, the defense deserves a little credit.
Bill Callahan Didn't Forget About DeMarco Murray
Good things happen for the Cowboys when they give the football to DeMarco Murray.
The running back posted 96 rushing yards and both a rushing and a receiving touchdown. But perhaps most importantly, he had 22 carries in the win against Washington.
Dallas has won all 11 of its games when Murray has carried the ball at least 20 times. ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon noted this statistic during the Week 16 game, tweeting:
Cowboys are one handoff away from a guaranteed win. They're 10-0 when DeMarco Murray gets 20 carries. That's how it works, right?— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 22, 2013
Murray was a workhorse for the Cowboys like he has been much of this season. It's actually quite impressive he has more than 1,000 rushing yards on the year. He has been infamously forgotten about in games such as Week 15 against Green Bay.
With their most recent victory, the Cowboys coaches have to realize just how vital having a balanced offense is to their team's success. Dallas needs to use the same formula it did against Washington when playing the Eagles with the division crown on the line.
Terrance Williams Came Through
Dez Bryant was able to grab four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown in Week 16, but DeAngelo Hall blanketed him much of the game.
With Bryant not exactly wide open for Tony Romo, No. 9 began to put his faith in rookie Terrance Williams to move the chains. Williams ended the contest with four receptions for 84 yards, including a 51-yard bomb he caught from Romo.
It's clear Romo has developed chemistry with his newest passing option, who started the year behind Bryant and Miles Austin on the depth chart. Williams has rewarded Romo on more than a few occasions this season and was clutch against the Redskins.
He hasn't been lighting up the stat sheet every week, but Williams has played a key role in some much-needed Dallas wins. He did so again in Week 16.
Third-Quarter Turnovers Nearly Cost Dallas
Dallas' defense was put to the test in the third quarter in large part due to the offense handing Washington the ball.
Fullback Tyler Clutts fumbled an easy checkdown pass from Tony Romo on the Cowboys' side of the field. Romo also hurt his team in the third by throwing a bad interception to DeAngelo Hall. Bryant, Romo's intended receiver on the play, slipped and was completely covered before doing so.
The Cowboys' defense wasn't able to stop Washington from hanging 14 points on the scoreboard in the third quarter, but that's not the defense's fault. Romo and the offense put the defense in two extremely tough situations.
Though the Dallas offense made up for its third-quarter mistakes when it mattered most, turnovers against Philadelphia will sink this team. The Cowboys need to take care of the football in Week 17 if they want to make the postseason.
Washington's Offense Hurt Itself in Red Zone
The Cowboys were able to hold Washington to field goals in all but the third quarter of the game. That stingy defensive play can be chalked up to some nice defensive stands and some bad penalties by the Redskins.
Washington was called for three penalties while in the red zone in Week 16. For a team that couldn't score 20 points between Weeks 11 and 14, that's an unnecessary obstacle.
The Redskins went 0-for-2 in the redzone, were minus in the turnover battle, and committed two penalties in goal-to-go. That'll kill ya.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) December 22, 2013
Dallas lucked out that the Redskins couldn't stop themselves from drawing yellow flags on their side of the field. Washington is a three-win team for a reason, and that shined through when its offense had chances to score touchdowns instead of field goals.
Tony Romo Fought Injuries, Led Team to Victory
Tony Romo was one of the goats after the Week 15 collapse to the Packers. But he's easily the hero of his team's Week 16 road win.
With 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, it wasn't Romo's best statistical game this season. What Romo did do against the 'Skins, though, was deliver a game-winning drive with just more than three minutes left in the game.
The Cowboys' season was on the line on that 4th-and-goal touchdown to DeMarco Murray. Romo was cool, collected and didn't hurry his throw. It was as smooth a pass as Romo has thrown all season.
Dallas could easily be out of playoff contention right now if Romo had not been on-point that drive. He continued to make plays for his team even after injuring his back in the second half, as Ed Werder of ESPN reported.
Jerry Jones says Tony Romo had back issue all week, aggravated it but will play vs Eagles. Romo said hit triggered and in different place LY— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2013
Romo rightfully deserved blame when Dallas blew its 23-point lead against the Pack in Week 15. Heading into the season's final week, however, No. 9 deserves praise for helping keep his team alive in the playoff hunt.
Dallas Earned a Win Under Pressure
Against their arch-rivals and needing a road win to keep their playoff hopes alive, though, the Cowboys were able to pull out a win.
The Redskins are not nearly as complete a team as the teams Dallas lost close games to, but they are a division rival. Washington knew its Week 16 opponent as well as any other team in the NFL.
For all their mistakes this year, the Cowboys are undefeated in the NFC East and need just one more division win to make the playoffs. They are in the most ideal situation they could ask for after another up-and-down regular season.
Dallas finds itself in a Week 17 clash for the NFC East crown for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Jason Garrett has lost both Week 17 battles he has been part of since becoming the Cowboys' head coach.
The Cowboys have not punched their playoff ticket yet, and there is no guarantee they will. But in a season full of injuries, controversy and meltdowns, this team deserves a bit of credit for still having a postseason chance.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.