By Eric Edholm
Tony Romo was heroic, but Colt McCoy was clutch.
McCoy, making his first start since Week 14 of the 2011 season, filled in for an injured Robert Griffin III and an ineffective Kirk Cousins to deliver a thrilling overtime victory for the Washington Redskins against the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17, on Monday night.
Romo was knocked out early in the second half of Monday’s game, taking a shot to his surgically repaired back on a sack, before returning to the contest in the final two minutes in heroic fashion.
But McCoy played his best ball down the stretch and finished completing 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards — the second-highest total of his career — and a rushing touchdown with his Texas-resident parents watching from a booth at AT&T Stadium.
To start overtime, McCoy led a strong drive — one of the more memorable ones of his career. He opened with a 23-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, then made a backyard improvisation throw to Jordan Reed for 5 yards on third-and-3, with Reed tiptoeing the sideline for a fantastic catch.
Although the Redskins drove to the Dallas 22, they couldn’t go any farther and settled for a 40-yard Kai Forbath field goal to take a 20-17 lead in the extra frame.
Romo came back out for his shot in OT, but DeMarco Murray was caught for a loss on a second-down throw, Jason Witten dropped a third-down pass and — after a timeout — Romo’s fourth-down pass amid heavy pressure was knocked down.
The postgame conjecture: Should Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett have stuck with Brandon Weeden, who competed four of six passes for 69 yards with a touchdown and two scoring drives? Romo was blitzed heavily after returning, and he was sacked six times on the night, but it’s impossible to know how much his back limited him or whether Weeden would have been better in overtime.
McCoy was 6-15 as a starter entering the night, and the Cowboys were one of the hottest teams in football at 6-1. Although he was shaky at times, McCoy made several clutch plays in the state where he became a high school and college legend and delivered the first signature victory for the 3-5 Redskins and new head coach Jay Gruden.
The Redskins started the game quickly. After the defense forced a punt on the Cowboys’ first possession, Redskins returner Andre Roberts brought back the punt 37 yards to the Dallas 48-yard line. McCoy hit Niles Paul for 20 yards and just missed hitting Roberts on a touchdown pass. Washington ended up with a Forbath field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Romo faced some early heat. He was sacked twice on the first two drives, and the second one — a seven-man blitz — prevented Dallas from getting into field-goal range.
After a Redskins punt, the Cowboys gave it back again. Joseph Randle, subbing for Murray, lost a fumble on his own 25-yard line, which appeared to be a crucial error. But the Redskins, giving as always, gave it back two plays later when McCoy threw up a pass for grabs into double coverage in the end zone and Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox easily picked it off for a touchback.
There was controversy on the play, though, as Wilcox appeared to fumble the ball out of the back of the end zone without being touched down. By NFL rules, that’s a safety, but the referees did not call it that way.
The Cowboys got the ball back and appeared poised to burn the Redskins for their missed opportunity and their bad luck. They moved the ball into Washington territory, and Murray had a 36-yard reception inside the 10-yard line, but he fumbled at the end of it — his fifth lost amid an otherwise brilliant season — to give the ball back to the Redskins.
McCoy struck back by hitting DeSean Jackson on a post pattern for a 49-yard completion, but the Redskins moved backward with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (over Logan Paulsen entering the huddle, then leaving the huddle?) and a third-down sack of McCoy by defensive tackle Henry Melton, his former teammate at University of Texas.
The Cowboys finally struck gold on an eight-play, 80-yard drive midway through the second quarter. Romo hit Dez Bryant for 20 yards, Murray for 24 on a brilliant dump-off on a Redskins blitz, Terrance Williams for 15 yards and then Bryant again for a mannish effort of a touchdown. Bryant caught the off-target pass, broke the tackle attempt of David Amerson and then blasted through safety Ryan Clark for the unreal score.
The Redskins avoided disaster on their next possession, as Silas Redd’s fumble deep in Dallas territory was ruled down by contact, but they could not get into scoring position before the end of the half. Offsetting penalties — with Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson retaliating after contact with Cowboys corner Brandon Carr — didn’t help.
The Cowboys got the ball back but could do nothing, as pressure once more took down Romo, and the first half expired with a tenuous 7-3 lead in an ugly game.
McCoy was better on the Redskins’ first drive of the second half. His throws weren’t always crisp or right on target, but he led an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. Alfred Morris ripped off a 29-yard zone stretch to kickstart the drive, then capped it with a 5-yard score to make it 10-7, Redskins. They had only 23 rushing yards in the first half but ran for 67 on that drive alone.
Romo got hurt on the subsequent drive. After the injury, Murray got the Cowboys in business with a 51-yard run on the first play of the drive. Weeden missed on his only two pass attempts after entering, but the second one was a catchable pass to Bryant that was broken up by impressive rookie corner Bashaud Breeland.
McCoy answered. He overcame a shaky start to the drive by converting a third down and then hitting Jackson for 45 yards on a perfectly thrown arrow route. McCoy finished the drive in style, too, taking a third-and-goal quarterback draw in — despite getting crunched by three Cowboys — from 6 yards out, giving the Redskins a 17-10 lead early in the fourth.
Weeden matched his former Cleveland Browns teammate with a touchdown drive of his own to tie it. He hit Williams for 14 yards, hit Murray for 23 more on a screen and then found a wide-open Jason Witten, whom the Redskins forgot to cover, on a 25-yard score to tie it at 17-all.
McCoy was not done. He converted two key third downs on a scramble and a pass, and then hit fullback Darrel Young on a play-action bootleg on 4th and 1 from the Dallas 49-yard line for 12 crucial yards with just under four minutes left. But a delay of game call and a sack — both brutal hits — pushed the Redskins out of field-goal range. That forced them to punt back to the Cowboys just under the two-minute warning.
In his first dropback after returning to the game, Romo was crushed by Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather on a blitz, and it looked as if linebacker Ryan Kerrigan fell on the ball. But DeMarco Murray — who missed the blitz pickup — fell on the ball incredibly.
Then on the next play, Romo almost threw an interception to Breeland, but Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams bailed them out with a great theft of a catch.
After a Romo intentional grounding, the Cowboys punted and they went to overtime.