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Football

Dallas Cowboys Week 16 Checklist: What Got Accomplished Versus Washington

Total domination
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Dak Prescott played his best ball in weeks on Sunday. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas disembowled/demolished/decked/dismantled/devastated/dominated/[insert any additional d-verb of your choosing here] the Washington Football Team 56-14 Sunday night. It was pretty hilarious. Even our new and improved website doesn’t have enough bandwidth to list everything the Cowboys accomplished. So consider the following an abridged—and still quite impressive—version.

Celebrated a division title in style

The Cowboys had already clinched the NFC East by the time this one kicked off by way of Las Vegas defeating Denver in the afternoon, which could have provided some impetus to snooze through this game. Could, not should, being the operative word. It isn’t terribly hard to imagine a team easing off the throttle on a holiday weekend with the division in the bag, no matter how crucial the battle for playoff positioning remains.

So it means something that Dallas instead turned in perhaps their most complete game of the year. Pick a department, any department, and the Cowboys came out ahead, from yardage (497 to 257) to efficiency (six red-zone touchdowns and 11 third- or fourth-down conversions on 16 attempts compared to two scores for Washington and four conversions on 15 attempts) to turnovers (zero for Dallas, two for Washington—both of which became scores). When your biggest quibble is picking up 15 penalty yards compared to your opponent’s 13, things have gone extraordinarily well.

It’s remarkable to think back to just two weeks ago, when these teams first met this season. Dallas came in wobbly, fresh off a hard-fought win over New Orleans that had snapped a skid of three losses in four games. Washington, meanwhile, was the hottest team in football, winners of four straight and playing in front of fans who’d chirped, “We want Dallas,” all week long. It was billed as collision course.

The Cowboys won that week, and they won bigger Sunday, and, with the benefit of hindsight, these two are better recognized little more than ships passing in the night. The Football Team is plummeting out of the playoff race just as the Cowboys reassert themselves as title contenders, and if the story of Week 14 was Dallas proving they could win with defense alone, the story of Week 16 is that if the offense shows up, too, good luck to anyone they line up against.

Statement win? Let’s pop that bottle if they defeat the Cardinals next week, even with Arizona on a three-game losing streak. But two weeks ago, you’d be hard pressed to give Dallas much of a chance in that one. Now, after two resounding wins over their arch rivals, it’s hard not to like the Cowboys’ odds.

Spread the love around

On a collective level, the storyline was the Cowboys controlling every phase of this game. On an individual level, this was about Dak Prescott playing his best ball since the New England game, connecting on 20 of his first 21 passes and rolling into halftime with 10 completions of more than 10 yards, which per the NBC broadcast is the most for a quarterback in a first half this year. Here’s how hot he was:

As impressive as the raw totals were, the distribution was more so. It would be one thing if this were Prescott leaning on an Amari Cooper or CeeDee Lamb to carry the passing game. Instead, Prescott made it an ensemble effort, sprinkling completions throughout the roster. By halftime, nine players had caught passes while four—Cooper, Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz—had also cracked 50 receiving yards.

Once Prescott tacked on a touchdown to Terence Steele, he became the second quarterback in history after Kurt Warner to throw a touchdown to a running back (Ezekiel Elliott), wide receiver (Cooper), tight end (Schultz), and offensive lineman. He dissected—one more d-verb for the road—Washington however he damn well pleased, which is to say: every way imaginable. Speaking as someone who has declared this final stretch of regular season to be about Prescott and perhaps Prescott only, it was monumental progress for a player who has mostly struggled since the bye.

He’s not out of the woods yet, mind you, and he won’t be until he flashes this sort of production against a playoff-caliber opponent, particularly on the road. The latter might be more important than the former; heading into Sunday, Dallas was 30th in red-zone touchdown percentage on the road (34% conversion rate) compared to second at home (78%, a number that ticked up after the Cowboys punched in all six of their opportunities versus Washington). That gap is the biggest in the NFL, and it won’t close in any meaningful way—as in, top half of the league—unless Prescott is at his best.

Still, the needle is moving in the right direction. Big picture, that’s worth even more than the win.

Showed the big men some love

We should take a beat and discuss this because life is too short to skim past big-man touchdowns.

For weeks, the Cowboys have teased chucking the ball to Conner McGovern, the reserve guard who often moonlights at fullback. They almost did it last Sunday on a touchdown pass to Schultz that Prescott acknowledged very well could have gone McGovern’s way had the Penn State product not been “well covered.” So when McGovern lined up at fullback late in the second quarter on the 1-yard line and plunged forward, Washington presumed—understandably—that there was no big-man trickeration in the offing.

Not so much.

This could not have been executed any better, and props to Steele for unleashing a spike best described as “thunderous.” Even bigger props to Kellen Moore’s warped football mind for apparently stashing multiple big-man touchdown plays in his playbook. This is the kind of demented football I’m here for.

Made some history … and talked some trash, too

Trevon Diggs wasted zero time snatching his franchise-record-tying 11th interception, picking off WFT quarterback Taylor Heinicke on the Cowboys’ first defensive snap of the game to match Everson Walls’ total from 1981. Walls, for what it’s worth, was also the last person on any team to crack 11 picks. That’s right. It had been 40 years—10 full presidential terms—since an NFL player intercepted as many passes as Diggs has in 2021.

It is a fool’s errand to test him, and it is especially foolish considering the Cowboys handed rookie Kelvin Joseph his first-ever NFL start after Jourdan Lewis was added to the team’s COVID list on Friday. In fact, leave it to Lewis to best sum up how doomed that endeavor is:

Turns out the Cowboys were only getting started with milestones. Later in the quarter, Tank Lawrence made a house call that we’ll pause to replay again because, I mean, look at this:

According to the team’s PR department, that pick-six did all of the following:

*Became Dallas’ sixth defensive touchdown of the season, a new team record.

*Set another team record for pick-sixes in a season with five.

*Made Lawrence the 17th Cowboy to score a touchdown this season, a—wait for it—new team record that would get extended later in the half after Steele caught his touchdown pass and once more in the third quarter when Chauncey Golston returned a blocked punt for a score.

*For good measure, Lawrence and Steele became the first defensive and offensive linemen to score in the same game in team history.

The Cowboys also tied yet another team record by hitting 42 points in the first half because, sure, why not?

Let’s throw it back to Jourdan Lewis for some final thoughts:

Indeed.

Rang out Christmas in … style? Sadness? Something.

Let’s do a quick podium for everything that’s going on here:

Bronze: A blue Santa suit

Silver: Making said blue Santa suit your gameday attire in some of the most expensive seats in the house, only to get bounced before halftime

Gold: The extremely jolly strut as security shoos him up the stairs

Won the bench war

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys imported custom-painted benches to Washington’s RFK stadium. There was an actual reason for it—you can read more about it in that week’s Checklist, should you be so inclined—although the paint job was totally gratuitous. For the record, I remain extremely in favor of it; the NFL needs more rivalry shenanigans.

Also for the record: Washington was far less amused, as evidenced by the Football Team importing their own custom-heated benches to Arlington on Sunday despite the temperature being in the 70s and AT&T Stadium’s roof being closed. “Turnabout is fair play” and all that.

So how’d that work out for them? Well, the benches did make it on to television. It just happened to be for this:

Score that, and every other round of these eight quarters, for Dallas.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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