Cowboys get badly needed win, stay in playoff race

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys needed any kind of win. It didn’t need to be pretty. It didn’t need to be dominating. They just needed a win Thursday.

They got it by beating the Washington Redskins 38-14.

With it, they ended a miserable three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 92-22. With it, they won for the first time without having Ezekiel Elliott. With it, they had a veritable offensive explosion (31 points) after not scoring more than nine points in their previous three games. With it, the defense was able to force four turnovers and sack Kirk Cousins four times.

Most importantly, with it, the Cowboys kept their playoff chances alive, improving to 6-6 and forcing the Philadelphia Eagles to win at least one more game before clinching the NFC East.

"You’re talking to a dreamer, so yes,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It’s not hard for me to look at the way we played, the way we answered the bell, the way we answered the bell in the second half with the players we got. We do get Sean Lee back by all measure and we will have players back as we look ahead. ... Any of these teams in the NFL can beat you, but I think we’ve got a good chance as I look ahead certainly no further than our next ballgame. But we’ve got a good chance to be better after this game."

A 6-minute, 57-second spurt in the second quarter woke up the Cowboys from their slumber. After four consecutive three-and-out drives to open the game, Dak Prescott hit Jason Witten for an 8-yard touchdown with 10:43 left in the first half. It was Prescott’s first touchdown pass since Nov. 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs, a 7-yarder in the fourth quarter to Cole Beasley.

On the next drive, DeMarcus Lawrence had his first sack of Cousins in the game -- and the Cowboys’ first in 30 possessions -- to force a fumble. The Cowboys turned that into a 24-yard field goal by Dan Bailey and then three plays later Ryan Switzer returned a Tress Way punt 83 yards for a touchdown with 3:46 left in the half.

It was the Cowboys’ first punt return for a touchdown since 2013 against Washington and the first by a Cowboys rookie since 2010. Before that return, Switzer’s long for the season was 21 yards.

The Cowboys had not had a double-digit lead since their 28-17 win against the Chiefs, but they learned how to finish, looking a little bit like they did with Elliott running the ball.

Alfred Morris, the former Redskin, finished with his first 100-yard game since he had 100 on the button against the Cowboys in the 2015 finale. He had his first 20-carry game since Nov. 29, 2015, with the Redskins against the Giants.

After 38 yards on 12 carries in the first half, Morris had 89 yards on 15 second-half carries and was able to score his first touchdown of the season, a 1-yarder in the fourth quarter. Morris had not had this many yards in a game since a 139-yard effort against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 7, 2013, his second season in Washington.

There was a historic moment, too. Dez Bryant became the Cowboys’ all-time leader in touchdown catches with a 13-yard reception of a Prescott fade on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was Bryant’s 72nd touchdown grab, one more than Hall of Famer Bob Hayes. It ended the longest regular-season touchdown drought of Bryant’s career at five games.

"It was exactly what we needed," Prescott said. "That was Cowboys football. That was exactly to our expectations and our standards, but we can't sit here on this one victory. We've got to move forward and we've got to grow off it and get better."

What does it all mean? The Cowboys are alive, maybe barely, but their next two games come against the reeling, 2-9 New York Giants, who have moved on from Eli Manning, and the 5-6 Oakland Raiders.

Win those two games and the Cowboys just might be in the playoff chase by the time Elliott returns from his suspension.

But if they hadn't beaten the Redskins, they would have been out.