Gil LeBreton

Cowboys prevail on a bad night for the NFL brand

After a punt return that went in reverse, DeSean Jackson, right, fumbled to lead to the Cowboys’ go-ahead score.
After a punt return that went in reverse, DeSean Jackson, right, fumbled to lead to the Cowboys’ go-ahead score. AP

You see? This is why the NFC East teams can’t have nice things.

Like a Monday Night Football appearance.

Or, in the case of the Washington Redskins, a chance to claim first place in the NFL’s most embarrassing division all by themselves.

Sometimes, of course, even the ugliest of books has a heroic ending. Which is where Dan Bailey of the Dallas Cowboys came in.

On a night made for the kickers, when drive after drive withered on the vine, Bailey split the uprights with the deciding 54-yarder to give the Cowboys a 19-16 victory.

This, you see, is what Bailey does. The fifth-year pro from Oklahoma State must ignore the chaos, the turnovers and the errant passes around him and focus on the task at hand.

Fifty-four yards? No problem. Bailey’s kick was the 10th game-winning field goal of his career.

The Cowboys needed every point, as it turned out, because possessions seemed to expire with barely a whimper all night long.

By halftime, the Matt Cassel-quarterbacked Cowboys had just 89 yards. The Redskins had punted five times. The two teams had combined for no touchdowns — none — and only 11 first downs.

The third quarter was no better. Each team completed the 15 minutes with only one first down. In 16 plays in the quarter, Washington’s offense netted eight yards.

Over the full 60 minutes, there were 17 total penalties stepped off and four lost fumbles. On third down, the Cowboys were just 1 of 9.

A case could be made for lauding both defenses, if only ...

If only both quarterbacks, Cassel and the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins, had not shown themselves to be so woefully ineffective.

If only the two teams hadn’t been so punchless on the ground.

If only Cassel had realized that No. 88 on his team was Dez Bryant.

A perfunctory tip of the hat, therefore, to the defenses. But the rest of this script showed only sputtering, misfiring, fumbling offensive football.

Sadly for the NFL brand, first place in a division was at stake. The Redskins were not up to the task.

Bailey’s third field goal of the night had knotted the game 9-9. Both teams traded defensive stops, and the Redskins were about to get the ball back on a punt with 1:47 to play.

That’s when DeSean Jackson, his feet clearly floating on clouds of grandeur, fielded Chris Jones’ punt at the Washington 16 and took off for parts unknown. At one point, Jackson circled back to his own 1-yard line.

But at the 15, Jackson was somewhat justly separated from the football — as if the NFL gods had decided that enough stupidity on this night was enough — and punter Jones, of all people, claimed the loose nugget.

The Cowboys promptly scored the game’s first touchdown. Washington answered with its own touchdown just 30 seconds later.

But with just 44 seconds left in regulation, the heretofore NFC East leaders couldn’t close the deal.

It was the Cowboys’ first non-Tony-Romo-assisted victory of the season, and it nudged them to within one game of first place.

There isn’t an NFC East team with more wins than losses. The neighborhood is in disarray.

Garbage lines the streets. Feral cats are terrorizing the children. If the networks are smart, they won’t let another NFC East team on television again.

But as Bailey showed, even the most unseemly of tales can have a heroic ending.

How ’bout those Cowboys?

How ’bout that division?

Yikes.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton

@star-telegram.com, @gilebreton

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