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Cowboys beat Redskins, keep faint playoff hopes alive

Alfred Morris enjoyed his finest rushing performance in four years, leading the Dallas Cowboys (6-6) to a 38-14 victory over the Washington Redskins (5-7) in Week 13. Here's what we learned in Thursday night's action:

  1. Break out the defibrillator! With playoff hopes on life support following a historically inept three-game skid, the Cowboys' heart is suddenly flickering with winnable matchups versus the Giants and Raiders the next two weeks before All-Pro tailback Ezekiel Elliott returns from suspension to provide an added jolt against the imposing Seahawks and Eagles on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
  1. Taking advantage of a series of game-changing second-quarter miscues out of Washington, Dallas rode rookie Ryan Switzer's 83-yard punt return to a 17-7 halftime lead. Dez Bryant asserted himself on a late third-quarter drive that stretched into the final frame, following an impressive 24-yard catch-and-run with a vintage leaping touchdown over Bashaud Breeland. Coming under heavy scrutiny for a limited route tree and dwindling production leading up to the game, Bryant managed to vault past Hall of Famer "Bullet" Bob Hayes for the franchise record with 72 career receiving touchdowns. Although four consecutive three-and-outs to start the evening provided a bleak outlook for the Cowboys' slumping offense, the once-dominant run-blocking unit began dictating the action in the second half, pushing Redskins defenders around as a hard-charging Morris moved the chains for 127 yards and a 1-yard plunge. The odds remain heavily stacked against a postseason appearance, but Thursday's victory provides a glimmer hope for Dallas faithful.
  1. The same can't be said, however, for a resilient Redskins squad finally breaking under the weight of a season-long injury plague. After shutting Dallas down in the first quarter, Washington's defense cracked in response to a pair of Jamison Crowder turnovers, a Kirk Cousins fumble and poor special teams play leading into halftime. Already forced to soldier on with third-stringers at guard and center, the offensive line reached sieve status when right tackle Morgan Moses' ankle injury forced backup Ty Nsekhe into a glaring mismatch with NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence. The undermanned Redskins were simply pummeled in the trenches on both sides of the ball, as the Cowboys imposed their will throughout a one-sided second half. Even with the league's easiest schedule down the stretch, Washington's decision-makers will have to start turning their attention to 2018.
  1. Although team president Bruce Allen has painted himself into a corner with his handling of Cousins' contract over the past two offseasons, the quarterback has proven too valuable to lose in the coming offseason. Emphatically putting the lie to the notion that he can't elevate his surrounding talent, Cousins has proven his toughness, playmaking ability and accuracy behind a shaky offensive line with little help from an inconsistent ground attack and drop-prone receiving corps. Over 44 games since the start of the 2015 season, the only quarterbacks with a higher passer rating than Cousins' 99.4 are five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady (107.8), future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (102.0) and 2016 MVP Matt Ryan (100.9). How little help has Cousins received this season? With a 2017 passer rating of 99.6, he has a chance to join Brees as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 10 starts and a passer rating over 100 in a losing season, per NFL Research. It's hard to imagine Cousins reaching the open market in 2018. If it does happen, he will almost certainly incite a bidding war that will result in the richest contract the NFL has seen.
  1. Speaking of contracts, DeMarcus Lawrence's breakout season could end up leading to the franchise tag in 2018. With two more sacks Thursday night, Lawrence now boasts an NFL-high 13.5 QB takedowns to go with four forced fumbles in a push for his first All-Pro nod. With one more sack in the final four games, Lawrence will tie Harvey Martin for the most by a Cowboys defensive end in a single season since the 1970s.
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