The Dallas Cowboys demonstrated they can win without Ezekiel Elliott, as long as they play the Washington Redskins every single week.
The bones and skeleton of this once proud rivalry are buried so deep that they are likely melting near the earth’s core.
The Cowboys improved to 6-6 with a “convincing” 38-14 win against the Redskins at AT&T Stadium. One-third of the Cowboys’ wins this season have come against Team Dan Snyder.
Breaks the heart.
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The Cowboys ended a three-game losing streak where they put up historically bad offensive numbers but, thanks to the Redskins, they bought themselves one more week of relevant football in 2017.
“We never counted ourselves out,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “I never counted us out.”
The Cowboys are doing what they have done so well under coach Jason Garrett since he took over as head coach: remain in the discussion for a playoff berth deep into the December night.
When they don’t make it, they somehow manage to stay close.
Thursday Night Football was another case of two mediocre teams fighting to reach .500; the Cowboys moved one step closer to potentially securing Garrett’s fourth 8-8 season.
Because it’s that time of year, however, and love is all around, allow us to dream of sugar plumes, free beer, and an invite to the playoffs from jolly St. Nick: There is a chance for the Cowboys to possibly reach nine wins, or even 10, and continue this flirtation with a postseason.
“The biggest thing we tried to emphasize is what’s in front of you,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Before we do that, let’s look behind us. Of the Cowboys’ six wins, one has come against a team with a winning record: The Kansas City Chiefs. Remember that game? It was a simpler time when the world made more sense; the Cowboys defeated the Chiefs all the way back on Nov. 5, when both teams were good.
As evidenced on Thursday, the Cowboys can beat a bad team. And, my God, the Redskins are bad.
Good news, Cowboys fans, and Jason Garrett’s accountant, half of the Cowboys’ four remaining opponents have losing records, the New York Giants and the Oakland Raiders.
At this point, I would put money on my North Texas Mean Green and coach Seth Littrell to defeat Geno Smith and the 2-9, we-have-quit Giants.
The Cowboys have 10 days before playing in New York.
When the Cowboys host the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve, Zeke will be back from his suspension and linebacker Sean Lee will likely be active, too.
We know when the Cowboys have Zeke and Lee they are a pretty good team that is playoff worthy. A Cowboys team with Zeke and Lee can beat the Seahawks at home.
The regular-season finale against the Eagles in Philadelphia could be a nothing game for the home team with their priority to avoid injury. Teams with the first- or second-seed locked up, as the Eagles will be by Week 17, normally play for about a quarter and then shut it all down.
In that scenario, the Cowboys can beat the Eagles and improve to 5-1 in the division.
The tricky/scary game will be Dec. 17, against the Raiders. In Oakland.
Much like the Cowboys, there is no bigger disappointment in the NFL this season than the Raiders. There is the chance that by that point, the Raiders might have checked out.
In order to defeat the Raiders, or any of these remaining opponents, the Cowboys must do what they did Thursday in the final three quarters against the Redskins.
For the first 15 minutes against Washington, nearly all of the ugly and horror from the previous three games was present. The Cowboys could not move the ball, and only generated punts off the two first-quarter turnovers they forced.
Persistence finally paid off as the Cowboys looked like the team that was playing so well when they defeated the Chiefs.
Alfred Morris ain’t Zeke, but he ran for 127 yards with a touchdown.
“He makes a lot of runs people don’t realize how good they are,” Garrett said.
Agreed, but when the standard is Zeke Elliott it’s easy not to appreciate Big Al’s style.
All told, the Cowboys ran the ball 42 times; NFL teams that run the ball that often don’t lose, even when their quarterback completes 11 of 22 passes, such as Dak did.
The defense/special teams forced turnovers, sacked Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins four times, held the running game to 56 yards, and rookie returner Ryan Switzer contributed an 83-yard touchdown.
From Dez Bryant to Dak Prescott, to Jeff Heath to Chidobe Awuzie, to Anthony Brown to Dan Bailey, to Ryan Switzer to “Tennessee Volunteers Head Coach” Jason Witten, to DeMarcus Lawrence and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, everyone made a play.
The Cowboys scored 38 points in one game after the previous three saw them score a total of 22.
The only reason to be worried about the win is the opponent. The Redskins are inept, flush with the type of leadership that is befitting of Washington D.C.
By crushing the Redskins, the Cowboys did not prove they are back to the level when they defeated the Chiefs, or are even a worthy playoff team, but that they are better than one of the worst teams in the NFL.
What the Cowboys did on Thursday is what they do in December under Jason Garrett: Remain relevant.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof