LANDOVER, Md. — When the Dallas Cowboys are at their best, they like to say they play complementary football in which all three phases contribute.
Ezekiel Elliott finished with 150 yards on a career-high 33 carries and had two more rushing touchdowns as the Cowboys’ offensive line controlled the tempo so well Dak Prescott did not need to do much with his arm (143 passing yards).
After giving up points on their first three drives, the Cowboys’ defense was able to sack Kirk Cousins four times, including one in the third quarter by DeMarcus Lawrence to give him 10.5 on the season and at least one sack in the first seven games. They also limited Washington to 49 rushing yards.
But it was a special teams’ play that changed the tenor of the game.
Staring at a 16-7 deficit late in the second quarter, Tyrone Crawford blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by Nick Rose. Orlando Scandrick returned the block 90 yards to the Washington 4-yard line. Two plays later, Elliott had his second rushing touchdown of the game for a 14-13 lead.
It was the first of three fumble by the Redskins that let the Cowboys slowly take control of the game.
On the sixth play of the second half, Crawford sacked Cousins and forced a fumble that Lawrence recovered. The Cowboys were able to turn that into the first of four second-half field goals by Mike Nugent, their new kicker, filling in for Dan Bailey.
The lead grew to 26-13 before Washington made it interesting with a touchdown with 4:35 to play but then the Cowboys simply wore down the Redskins’ defense with more Elliott and a key third-down conversion from Dez Bryant to chew up more than three minutes.
It was fitting the Cowboys ended the threat of a Washington comeback when Byron Jones intercepted a Cousins’ pass that was deflected by David Irving and returned it for a touchdown. The last time the Cowboys had an interception return for a touchdown was Rolando McClain in 2015.
That was complementary football at its best.
“When you look at us last year when we went on the run, there was great complementary football,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “We were helping each other, being able to get stops and turnovers for the offense and playing well together. That’s something we have to continue to do going forward. We’ve done a better job these last two weeks.”
For the first time this season, the Cowboys have won back-to-back games and, most important, they were able to stay within shot of the 7-1 Philadelphia Eagles with their second NFC East win of the season.
Later this week, the Cowboys could learn if they will have Elliott for the rest of the season, pending his preliminary injunction hearing in New York on Monday.
If they don’t have their leading rusher for six games, either starting this week against the Kansas City Chiefs or the following week at the Atlanta Falcons, they at least can point to this formula for success.