- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 12, 2021

LANDOVER — Taylor Heinicke was sacked and the crowd cheered. This would be an unusual sight at almost any other stadium. Fans were happy? Over the home quarterback going down? 

At FedEx Field, it all made sense. 

All one had to do was look into the stands and see the overwhelming number of fans decked in Cowboys gear to understand. 

On a wild afternoon for the Burgundy and Gold, Washington suffered a 27-20 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, the team’s top rival in the NFC East. Heinicke suffered a knee injury on the sack that brought him down in the fourth quarter and did not return. 

Heinicke’s injury was just one bad Washington play on a day of many. Dallas (9-4) snapped Washington’s four-game win streak, while the Burgundy and Gold fell to 6-7. 

Sunday’s game was more one-sided than the final score indicated. Heinicke was largely ineffective before getting injured — throwing for just 122 yards on 11 of 25 passing for a touchdown and interception. His replacement, Kyle Allen (53 yards) wasn’t much better. 

But Washington was put in a position to possibly steal a victory late. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott inexplicably threw a pick-six with 4:13 left that was returned for 36 yards by linebacker Cole Holcomb — making it a one-score game late. 

Allen, though, couldn’t rouse Washington’s moribund offense. On third and 3 from Washington’s 30, the quarterback scrambled outside the pocket and fumbled to the Cowboys after a jarring hit by the Cowboys‘ Dorance Armstrong. Washington argued that Allen was in the motion of throwing, but replays confirmed the fumble called on the field.

The Cowboys got the ball back in scoring territory and were able to run out the clock with Prescott converting a crucial third down with his legs in the process.

The buzz for this rivalry was considerably higher than in past years. Not only was momentum in the division on the line — with Washington suddenly the hot team — but Cowboys coach  Mike McCarthy added fuel to the fire by guaranteeing a Dallas victory. Coach Ron Rivera tried to take a diplomatic approach in his response, yet further stirred the pot by calling McCarthy’s comments “a mistake.” 

The back-and-forth trash-talking didn’t end there, either. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones noted the strong contingent of Cowboys faithful residing in the District. “Outside of the Texas area, Washington is where we have the most support,” he said in a radio interview, pointing to merchandise sales. 

Dallas arrived at FedEx Field in style, using their own Cowboys-branded benches on the sideline. The Cowboys custom ordered the benches from a private vendor after hearing from the Seahawks, Washington’s last home opponent, that the stadium’s heated benches weren’t working. The tactic was an unusual move — made even more noticeable thanks to the large “Cowboys” font stretched across the benches.

The theatrics led to an amped atmosphere come kick off — with at least a 50-50 split between Cowboys and Washington supporters in the packed crowd. 

But for all the hype over the matchup, only the Cowboys and their fans were celebrating at the end.

At first, the Cowboys looked as if they were going to cruise to an easy victory. Prescott had plenty of time early, as Washington was without its top four defensive ends with Chase Young (ACL) injured and Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill all added to the COVID-19 reserve list in recent days. 

The Cowboys jumped out to an early 11-0 lead when Prescott found a wide-open Amari Cooper for a 7-yard score. That play was indicative of the larger self-inflicted problems that dogged Washington all afternoon: Dallas would have settled for the field goal if an offside penalty did not give the Cowboys a second chance on third down. With another chance, the Cowboys capitalized. 

Washington spent most of the game unable to do the same. For instance, prior to Cooper’s touchdown, Prescott threw an interception to safety Landon Collins — only for Heinicke to get picked by Cowboys edge rusher Randy Gregory on a batted screen pass. 

The Cowboys’ defensive line absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage, with first-rounder Micah Parsons wreaking havoc. The 12th overall pick blasted Heinicke on a sack, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown with 3:13 left in the first quarter.

The hit left Heinicke crumpled and caused him to miss a play the next series, though the quarterback eventually went back in. 

It only got worse from there. By the end of the first half — with Washington down 24-0 — the Burgundy and Gold had more penalties yards (50) than offensive yards (29).

Washington managed to show a brief sign of life in the third. Heinicke hit wideout Cam Sims for a 43-yard touchdown and followed up with a successful two-point conversion to make it a two-score game. 

But not long after, running back Antonio Gibson fumbled — his sixth of the year — with 3:12 left in the third quarter, squandering any momentum Washington had created. 

It was only until Prescott threw his second interception that put Washington truly back in the contest. But as it had for most of the contest, Washington’s offense failed to rally. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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