LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Dez Bryant’s tantrum on the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline was not a good look. Neither was Darren McFadden’s two-fumble performance. Matt Cassel’s passes often sailed nowhere near his receivers.
All in all, it was an ugly game, devoid of any style points or many scoreboard points until the final 1 1/2 minutes. Perhaps fittingly, a fumbled punt return by Washington’s DeSean Jackson deep in his own territory led to Dallas’ only touchdown.
And yet, none of that mattered to Dallas, really, because by beating Washington 19-16 on Dan Bailey’s 54-yard field goal with 9 seconds left Monday night, the Cowboys somehow kept themselves in the thick of the playoff chase in the woeful NFC East.
“We have everything to gain and everything to lose,” Bryant said. “We are still in this thing.”
Hard to believe, but true.
The last-place Cowboys (4-8) won for the first time this season without quarterback Tony Romo and are only one game behind the Redskins, Giants and Eagles, who are all 5-7.
“Our guys don’t blink,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to stay in it.”
After combining to score 18 points in the first 58 1/2 minutes, the teams combined for 17 the frenzied rest of the way. Dallas scored the game’s first TD with 74 seconds remaining to lead 16-9 after recovering Jackson’s miscue, Washington tied it on Jackson’s 28-yard TD catch, and then Bailey hit the go-ahead kick.
“A roller coaster,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins called it.
Washington had won its past five home games, but this loss continued a pattern: The Redskins have not won in consecutive weeks all season.
“We just had some unforced errors,” coach Jay Gruden said.
None bigger than Jackson’s.
With the score knotted at 9-9, Jackson — who hadn’t been used as a punt returner this season until last week — caught the kick at his 16, began running up the field and got past the 20, before reversing course and heading backward to the 1. As he again tried to move forward, Jackson was surrounded and the ball popped out, recovered by punter Chris Jones at the 15 with 86 seconds remaining.
“Well, it didn’t end up the way we wanted it to,” Gruden said about that play, quite an understatement.
Jackson did not deflect blame.
“I take that one on my chin,” he said. “I’m a veteran in this league, and I know I need to protect the ball.”
Dallas needed only two plays to cash in, jumping in front on McFadden’s 6-yard touchdown run. A 41-yard kickoff return plus a 15-yard facemask penalty on J.J. Wilcox set the Redskins up at Dallas’ 43, and four plays later, Jackson hauled in a perfect pass from Cousins to pull even with 44 seconds to go.
That left enough time for Cassel to lead Dallas 20 yards in five plays for Bailey’s fourth field goal.
“One of the crazier games I’ve ever been a part of,” Cassel said.
He was previously 0-4 as a starter in place of the injured Romo this season.
“I feel stunned we have not been able to win more games without Tony. I thought we could coach it up enough to put it together enough to not have lost those games without Romo early, and we’d be in better shape now,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We won one on will tonight.”
Both QBs were mediocre, with Cousins going 22 for 31 for 219 yards, the one TD and zero interceptions, marking the first time Washington has lost this season when he avoided throwing a pick. Cassel finished 16 for 29 for 222 yards, with several of his throws landing nowhere near teammates.
Bryant was yelling and cursing and generally carrying on along the Cowboys’ sideline in the first half, apparently upset about not being thrown the ball. By halftime, he had zero catches and had been targeted twice.
He finished with three receptions for 62 yards, including a diving 42-yard grab that led to — what else? — a field goal.
“I have to do a better job,” Cassel said, “of giving him more opportunities.”
NOTES: Redskins K Dustin Hopkins made three kicks but missed one from 43 yards with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining. … The teams combined for 16 penalties for 144 yards. There were 10 punts, seven in the first quarter alone. … Dallas lost three fumbles, but those led to only three points for Washington. … Because of a power problem, the tablets used by teams on the sidelines were shut off.