In the fourth quarter, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense had to do something it hadn’t done since Thanksgiving — make a second-half stop.
It made two.
Orlando Scandrick broke up a pass on a third-and-6 play to give the Cowboys the ball back for a go-ahead drive, and after Washington got the ball back with a chance to drive for a field goal to win the game, the defense forced a four-and-out.
The most maligned part of the team in losses to Chicago and Green Bay came through.
“I will tell you this — after watching our defense step out there and get them four-and-out when all they had to do was get in field goal range with the wind at their back? I am proud of that bunch, too,” owner Jerry Jones said. “And they deserve some good things happening to them, the defense, the staff. And they got that out there.”
Every third- and fourth-quarter possession the Cowboys’ defense had faced since the Oakland game had resulted in points or a knee to end the game.
The second half Sunday against Washington began the same way — with points on the first three possessions: two touchdowns and a field goal, which turned a 14-6 Cowboys lead into a 23-14 Redskins lead.
But giving up the field goal was actually a partial victory. Despite surrendering a bonus first down on J.J. Wilcox’s late hit, the Cowboys did not allow it to become a touchdown drive, which in turn kept the offense from needing two touchdowns to win.
The field goal wasn’t a stop. But it was something tangible after the previous two games, and the Cowboys did not give up points after that.
“We proved before we can finish games. We’ve just got to make it more consistent,” safety Barry Church said. “We had to show it to ourselves, because after Green Bay, that was a tough loss — one of the toughest losses we’ve faced as a team. We never really doubted ourselves. We just had to get our confidence back, and we did today.”
Tackle Jason Hatcher said the defense did not necessarily need a chance to prove itself at the end.
“We would have taken the clock running out,” he said. “That’s the easiest way to win. But it was on us. It wasn’t a chance we were looking for, it’s just a chance that we got. We took care of business. Four downs, we got off the field.”
Church, who had seven tackles but missed the second-to-last series because he was getting his ankle retaped, said the defensive players had a heart-to-heart before the final two series, with the offense having cut the lead to 23-17.
“We had a meeting before we went out there as a defense and just said, ‘Hey, our backs are against the wall, our playoff lives are against the wall, so we’ve just got to make a play. Don’t look at somebody else to make a play, just make a play yourself,’ ” Church said. “We went into the last couple series with that mindset. It ended up being vital for us.”