How the East Was Won: Redskins beat Dallas behind Alfred Morris

The entire DC Metro area was abuzz on Sunday in anticipation of the prime time match up pitting the home town Washington Redskins versus the visiting division rival, Dallas Cowboys. As if there wasn’t enough of a story line built up around this game already, the Chicago Bears added an extra level of drama with their win over the Detroit Lions earlier in the day. The Bears win (and subsequently, the Minnesota Vikings win) meant that the loser of Sunday nights match up would be sent home with no shot at making the playoffs.

On a cold December night at home, Alfred Morris turned in a monster game to the tune of 200 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Washington Redskins (10-6) showed why they may be America’s new team with a monumental victory over bitter rival Dallas (8-8). The Redskins fed the ball early and often to Alfred Morris and the Redskins showed tremendous trust in both their star rookies as the Redskins pulled away late and beat the Cowboys 28-18.

The game started with tensions running high for both teams. On a 3rd down during thier first drive, Robert Griffin III threw across the middle to Josh Morgan who dropped a catch-able pass and the Redskins were forced to punt. A short punt to mid field and a great return by Dwayne Harris got Dallas started at the Redskins 27-yard line, but Richard Crawford came up with a big interception, nixing the Cowboys chance to strike early.

The Redskins got a nice drive going on their second possession, but were unable to convert on the Tony Romo interception when Kai Forbath surprisingly missed a 37-yard field goal, his first miss of the season. On the following drive, Romo threw another bad pass, this time under throwing a deep route, which Josh Wilson came up with for the interception. The Redskins again got some momentum going by feeding Alfred Morris often, but ultimately were unable to get any points off the turnover.

The first quarter ended 0-0 with the Redskins having the majority of the momentum, but not being able to score any points in the end. On the Cowboys third possession they were able to put a nice drive together and set themselves up with a 1st and goal. On 3rd and goal, the Cowboys benefited from a no call on an obvious delay of game as well as what seemed to be a holding call. With only three linemen rushing, Tony Romo was able to connect with Jason Witten for a 9-yard touchdown pass, giving Dallas a 7-0 lead.

On the ensuing possession, the Redskins began to capitalize on the Cowboys inability to stop the run. Alfred Morris broke runs of 13 and 12 yards before taking a 17-yard rush in for a touchdown. Morris dominated the drive and with RGIII visibly slowed by his injury, the Redskins made an important adjustment by feeding the rookie running back the ball for a majority of the drive.

With a little over 3:00 minutes to go in the half, the Cowboys drove the ball down the field and got themselves into position for a make-able 51-yard field goal, but opted to punt on 4th down instead. Alfred Morris finished the half with 92-yards on 13 carries and really kept the ‘Skins in the ball game. RGIII was only 5 of 11 for 43 yards in the first half, a telling stat for the dynamic rookie quarterback.

Early in the 3rd quarter, Alfred Morris eclipsed the 100-yard mark, but the drive was stalled when Pierre Garcon dropped a pass right on the numbers, which would have given the Redskins a first down. After trading punts, the Redskins retained possession and continued giving Dallas a heavy dosage of running led by Morris. Mid way through the 3rd quarter, Alfred Morris surpassed Clinton Portis as the all time leading rusher in Redskins history. As if the Cowboys weren’t expecting it, Morris continued to run with success off of multiple looks including stretch plays and tosses.

After multiple runs, the Redskins finally took advantage and ran a play action pass allowing RGIII to hit Garcon over the middle for 18-yards. A couple of plays later, the ‘Skins surprisingly ran a read option with RGIII keeping the ball and gingerly running it in for a 10-yard touchdown. Griffin III showed his toughness by keeping the Cowboy defense at bay with key runs while noticeably being in pain.

Dallas kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 14-10, but on the following drive Morris continued to make big runs, none bigger than a 32-yard touchdown run. With the touchdown, the hometown crowd rejoiced and with 10:30 to go, the Redskins went ahead 21-10 and were in great position to pull out the victory. After it looked as though Dallas was putting together a decent drive, London Fletcher came up with a huge sack on 3rd down for a 15 yard loss, pushing the Cowboys to the 50-yard line and forcing them to punt. The Redskins dialed up blitzes all game, which successfully stifled the Cowboys, a great strategy by Jim Haslett.

With a 21-10 lead in the 4th quarter, the Redskins had a good chance to put the game away but weren’t able to put a drive together to run enough clock down before punting the ball. The Cowboys got another great return from Dwayne Harris and were aided by a face mask penalty. The Cowboys struck quick and converted the two point conversion, cutting the lead to 21-18. After a key return by Niles Paul, which gave the Redskins great field position, it was again up to the offense to try and put the game away for good. On a big 3rd and 8, Griffin III was unable to escape the rush and took a costly sack. Dallas took possession with 3:35 left and a chance to tie or win the game.

The Redskins defense has been ripped apart all season by fans and reporters alike, but when they needed to come up big, they did. With a defender coming at him, Tony Romo rushed his pass and threw another costly interception, this time to Rob Jackson. After playing so well the last few games, Romo again threw multiple interceptions in a game and put his team in a tough position to win.  The Redskins took possession of the ball with great field position and after having their drive extended by a costly Cowboys penalty, Morris punched in his third touchdown of the game and sealed the victory, 28-18.

After starting the season 3-6, coach Mike Shanahan dug deep into his bag of tricks and spoke harshly at a post game press conference after a loss to the Carolina Panthers, seemingly throwing in the towel on another dismal season. The Redskins coach was instead motivating his team and effectively ignited a spark in his players, which in turn has led to seven straight victories and an NFC East title. The division title marks the first for Washington since 1999.

For those fans who aren’t old enough to remember the fails of years past that include big name free agent flops and draft picks like Desmond Howard, Heath Shuler, and Michael Westbrook; Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and this years team might not mean quite as much. This game and moment may mean a little more to those of us who have rooted for mediocre or down right terrible teams year in and year out.  Those of us who stayed true to the Burgundy and Gold while singing “Hail to the Redskins”, even when the new kid on the block rolled into Baltimore and won a title shortly after arriving. Tonight’s win may be a little sweeter for us and a sign that the future is bright for our once down and out home team. With this win, Washington earns the number four seed in the NFC and will host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday at FedEx Field. Hail!

Game Notes:

Alfred Morris needed 104 yards to become the all time leading Redskins rusher. He ran for 200 yards on 33 attempts and 3 touchdowns.

The Redskins become only the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting the season 3-6.

The Redskins host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday at 4:30 pm.

14th straight season that London Fletcher leads a team in tackles.

First playoff berth for the Redskins since 2007.

First two sack game for London Fletcher since 2005.

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