The Dallas Cowboys didn’t exactly have the happiest of Thanksgivings on Thursday as they were served a 41-16 blowout at the hands of the Washington Football Team. While this game eventually got out of hand, it was largely a one-score game throughout the first three quarters. What really lit a match to the Washington offense and allowed them to go into lightspeed was a fake punt play called by Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy with 12:54 to play in the fourth quarter.
At that point, Dallas was down just 20-16 and in a position to punt it away from their own 24-yard line. However, instead of booting it the length of the field to give Washington a much harder road to travel to find the end zone, McCarthy elected to deploy a fake punt.
Safety Darian Thompson took the direct snap, ran left, and pitched it to receiver Cedrick Wilson, who was turning back toward the center of the field. By the looks of the play, he either had the option of running it or throwing it to punter Hunter Niswander. Washington wasn’t fooled by the attempted trickery of the Cowboys as linebacker Khaleke Hudson first eliminated Wilson’s option of passing it to Niswander and then crashed in on him as he tried to get back to the line of scrimmage.
“It was a solid play call. It’s a good play design,” McCarthy said of the failed fake punt after the game, via the official team website. “Their gunner made a good play, came off of it, he put us in a high-low read for Cedrick. That’s the nature of those plays. You can never convert them obviously if you don’t call them, if you don’t believe in them. I clearly understood the situation when it was called.”
The failed opportunity to keep the offensive drive alive for Dallas only put the club in a deeper hole. On the first play after the turnover on downs, Washington running back Antonio Gibson ran for a 23-yard touchdown, his second of three scores on the afternoon. After that failed fake punt, Washington rattled off 21 unanswered points to roll away with the win.
“You won’t get anywhere if you’re thinking about negatives all the time,” McCarthy said when asked how much the risk of a negative result weighed into his decision to make that fake punt call. “There’s obviously film study that goes into the call and when to call it. But when you call it, you’re obviously looking to convert it. You obviously understand on fourth-down calls what your options are. You either convert it or you don’t convert it. The flow of the game, all those things are factored into that decision. I’m very confident in our players and put them into position to make plays.”
This loss momentarily puts Washington (4-7) in first place in the NFC East. They’ll continue to hold that position atop the division if the Giants (3-7) lose to the Bengals on Sunday and the Eagles (3-6-1) fall to the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.” Meanwhile, Dallas currently sits in last place after what has proven to be a pretty big swing game in the NFC East.