Washington and the Dallas Cowboys faced off on Turkey day for the 8th time in their storied rivalry, and for the 7th time, the Cowboys bested Washington by a final score of 31-26.
The Cowboys came into this game having won six of the seven meetings that the two teams have had on Thanksgiving. Jason Garrett’s team was the favorite coming in, and despite Washington putting up a good fight, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were once again too much to handle.
This season, the Cowboys are 9-1, boasting the best record in the NFL with their dynamic duo of rookies Dak and Zeke, the NFL’s leading rusher. Washington came into this one hot, too. After starting 0-2 this season, they had gone 6-1-1, before ultimately losing to the Cowboys.
The first time these two teams met on Thanksgiving was back in 1968, and the Cowboys won the first six matchups:
- 1968 - Cowboys 29, Washington 20
- 1974 - Cowboys 24, Washington 23
- 1978 - Cowboys 37, Washington 10
- 1990 - Cowboys 27, Washington 17
- 1996 - Cowboys 21, Washington 10
- 2002 - Cowboys 27, Washington 20
- 2012 - Washington 38, Cowboys 31
But let’s take a look at the more memorable ones.
The 1974 Clint Longley comeback
Arguably the most notable game that these two have played on Thanksgiving came back in 1974. Washington came into the game with an 8-3 record, and was in position to secure a playoff berth against the 6-5 Cowboys. Washington was up 16-3 in the game when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game with 9:57 left in the third quarter. That opened the door for rookie Clint Longley to enter the game.
There must be something about Cowboys rookie quarterbacks, because Longley not only led Dallas to a comeback victory, but hit Drew Pearson for a 50-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left. The Cowboys secured the 24-23 win.
Washington’s coach at the time, George Allen, was almost speechless afterward. "I don't have very much to say," Allen told the Washington Post. "It was probably the toughest loss we ever had."
The blowout of 1978
This was the only game in the series in which the margin of victory was greater than 11. Both teams came in with 8-4 records. Leverage in the NFC East (which had the Cardinals in it back then) was up for grabs, with both teams needing to seize an advantage.
The Cowboys were quick out of the game, with 13 first-quarter points. Running back Scott Laidlaw got his first touchdown of the afternoon to close out the quarter, and set the pace for the game.
Drew Pearson and Roger Staubach connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass in what was the only score of the second quarter, to give the Cowboys a comfortable 20-0 lead going into the locker room. Washington never really had an answer for the team that was led by a big game on the ground from Laidlaw, who finished with 16 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns. His game made Tony Dorsett’s 21 carries for 72 yards seem like an afterthought.
Staubach threw just 19 times, for 218 yards with a touchdown, against an interception. All but eight of his passing yards went to Drew Pearson and Tony Hill, who had 116 and 94 yards, respectively.
That victory set the standard for the Cowboys the rest of the way. They ended up going to Super Bowl XIII, before ultimately losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in an attempt for back-to-back Lombardi trophies. For Washington, the Thanksgiving game proved to be the first loss of four consecutive to finish their season at 8-8.
Robert Griffin III’s arrival, and Washington’s first win
The next most entertaining game came when Washington finally got a win over the Cowboys in 2012. This was in Robert Griffin III’s rookie season, and Washington started the season off 3-6. The victory over the Cowboys was their second of what would be seven wins in a row to get Washington into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
That game was staged as much more than just another Thanksgiving Day game. It was Griffin’s first game back in his home state of Texas, where he had won a Heisman Trophy at Baylor. The second overall pick still had Washington D.C. excited about their future, and this was a game that was going to prove whether he was legitimate or not.
The first half — more specifically, the second quarter — led everyone to believe he was. Washington went off in that quarter, scoring 28 points to take a 28-3 lead into the half. Griffin had long touchdown passes to Aldrick Robinson (68 yards) and Pierre Garcon (59 yards). Tony Romo led a Cowboys second-half surge, but a Griffin touchdown pass to Niles Paul was all Washington needed to secure the victory.
* * *
In what has been one of the NFL’s more revered rivalries, a new chapter was written on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Prescott, one of the biggest stories and surprises of the NFL season, got his first signature win on Turkey Day alongside fellow rookie Elliott. With a young, talented core, it appears it will be the first of many games we look forward to watching on the last Thursday in November every year.
On the other sideline, Washington and Kirk Cousins, who has proven himself to be one of the more prolific passers in the NFL this season, put up a good fight. They weren’t able to overcome to red-hot Cowboys, but proved they can play with the most elite in the NFL.
Thursday afternoon’s game was just about everything you could want for a good NFL game, regardless of what day it’s played. Now, we see just how far the Cowboys can go.