ARLINGTON, Texas — Perhaps Washington wanted to embarrass Dallas when it brought climate-controlled, “WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM”-branded benches to the moderate-temperature sideline of a “Sunday Night Football” matchup with the Cowboys.
Embarrassment, indeed, described the Cowboys-Football Team contest.
But it was Washington, suffering a 56-14 defeat, who most suffered embarrassment. Washington’s 42-point loss was the worst in franchise history to the Cowboys, the series’ most extreme decision formerly a 38-3 Dallas win 28 years ago to the day.
The game got out of hand early.
Sure, the Cowboys failed to score on their first offensive possession.
But then cornerback Trevon Diggs nabbed an interception on the Cowboys’ first defensive snap of the game. Diggs’ 11th pick—tying Everson Walls for the single-season team record—set up Dallas’ initial touchdown, and Washington would never recover.
The Cowboys scored by pick-six and by big man touchdown, by Ezekiel Elliott’s legs and through his arms. Tight end Dalton Schultz, receiver Amari Cooper and receiver Malik Turner caught touchdown passes. Rookie defensive end Chauncey Golston returned a blocked punt for a special teams score.
Records abounded. Their 42 first-half points matched the Cowboys’ franchise record before halftime, the first time they had reached the mark since Oct. 19, 1969. Some players’ parents were not yet born then.
The Cowboys entered the weekend aiming to re-establish offensive rhythm. They wanted to keep riding a defensive takeaway streak. They wanted to win the NFC East by the end of their “Sunday Night Football” contest vs. the Washington Football Team.
Done. Done. Done.
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Thursday, the Cowboys clinched a playoff berth after the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Tennessee Titans.
Late Sunday afternoon, the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Denver Broncos to…seal the Cowboys’ division title? It was a bizarre chain of events, but such is the NFL strength-of-victory tiebreaker. No longer did the Eagles’ win over Denver, against whom the Cowboys had lost, carry enough weight to save Philadelphia’s division title hopes.
So the Cowboys arrived at Sunday night’s kickoff as 2021 NFC East champions, their playoff spot clinched for the first time in three years.
They exited with a resounding statement that their No. 2 seed in the NFC won’t easily be wrestled from them.
“We had confidence that we’d check this box,” McCarthy said Friday after they made the playoffs, “but this is about winning the division outright and staying in the hunt for a higher seed.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott finished the contest 28-of-39 for 330 yards, four touchdowns (all in the first half) and a 131.4 rating. The Cowboys’ defense nabbed two more takeaways with a DeMarcus Lawrence pick-six and Diggs’ interception. Five different targets surpassed 50 yards, Cooper catching seven balls for 85 yards and a score.
“Just a great team effort,” Prescott told NBC’s Michele Tafoya after the game.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.