Dallas Cowboys

Believe it or not: Matt Cassel wins his first game as Cowboys’ starter

Quarterback Matt Cassel returned to the starting lineup in place of the injured Tony Romo and led the Dallas Cowboys to a win over Washington Monday night.
Quarterback Matt Cassel returned to the starting lineup in place of the injured Tony Romo and led the Dallas Cowboys to a win over Washington Monday night. Star-Telegram

The Dallas Cowboys can win without Tony Romo. It took the improbable, but Matt Cassel, aided by two special teams plays, got credit for the team’s 19-16 victory over the Washington Redskins.

It ended the team’s nine-game losing streak with backup quarterbacks, including 0-7 this season. It also ended Cassel’s personal seven-game losing streak. (That doesn’t count the Buffalo Bills’ season opener this season when Cassel lined up at quarterback with starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor at wideout.)

Bigger still, it kept the Cowboys’ playoff hopes alive. They trail the other three teams in the NFC East by one game.

“It was one of the crazier games I’ve ever been part of,” Cassel said. “It was the battle of the back and forth, and then that fourth quarter. …The emotional rollercoaster that you go through is pretty intense. But I thought the way that our team finished and the resilience we showed, it shows a lot about the spirit of this team, and I was really happy to be part of it.”

The Cowboys’ first 10 possessions ended without a touchdown Monday.

Dallas failed to score a touchdown in three games without Romo this season, and until a DeSean Jackson fumble on a punt return with 1:26 left, it appeared the Cowboys would make it four. But punter Chris Jones recovered the loose ball at the Washington 15, and the Cowboys cashed in on two plays, with Darren McFadden scoring from the 6.

“A lot of frustrations at the beginning of the game, but you’ve got to keep yourself in check,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “You’ve got to keep yourself in check and understand we’ve still got an opportunity. At the end of the day, whenever you look at the bigger picture and stay poised and stay ready, good things happened. That’s what happened to us tonight.”

Cassel needed another score before he and the Cowboys could celebrate for good.

After the Redskins tied it, Lucky Whitehead returned the kickoff 46 yards to the Dallas 44. Cassel went 2-for-4 for 20 yards on the drive, which was enough to get Dan Bailey into range for a 54-yard game-winner.

“It was huge,” Cassel said. “He put us in basically a short field. …Then, you hit Dez Bryant, and then you hit another slant, and with our field-goal kicker, you just get in that range, and he’s money. It was a great win, and Lucky had a great game.”

The Cowboys had not won with a quarterback other than Romo since the meaningless season finale in 2010 against Philadelphia with Stephen McGee at the helm. They now are 7-16 without Romo since he became the starter in 2006.

It wasn’t pretty.

The Cowboys managed 317 yards, including 220 passing. Cassel completed 16 of 29 passes for 222 yards. He had Cowboys fans calling for backup Kellen Moore before the end of the first quarter.

But Cassel hung in there, as did the Cowboys, and they pulled out the victory.

“It’s a real tribute to the kind of guys we have on our football team, the personal character, the football character of our team,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The foundation of everything we try to do is fight. I thought we saw that tonight. There were a number of different situations where there was an escape hatch to say, ‘Ah, boy, we gave a great effort. Maybe it’s their night.’ Our guys refused to give in. They kept battling.”

Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean