LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — As important as it was for the Washington Redskins to finally put together two consecutive victories, coach Jay Gruden knows that being in first place atop the NFC East at this point in the season is truly not really a big deal at all.
“It’s great to get two in a row, get the monkey off our back this year,” Gruden said, “but we have a long way to go before we start celebrating.”
The Redskins (4-2) extended their division lead by beating the Cowboys 20-17 on Sunday, holding on when Dallas kicker Matt Baher put a 52-yard field-goal try off the left crossbar as time expired after a 5-yard penalty on his long snapper pushed the attempt back.
The result stopped Washington’s pattern of alternating wins and losses this season. It also allowed Gruden’s club — which began the day 18-18-1 since the start of the 2016 season — to briefly enjoy a rare cushion in the standings.
Dallas heads into its bye week at 3-4, the same record as the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who also lost Sunday.
The fourth team in the division is the New York Giants, who take a 1-5 record into their game against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. The Giants also happen to be Washington’s opponent next week.
Get this: The Redskins hadn’t won their opening NFC East game in any season since 2011.
“It’s pretty early to talk about that kind of stuff,” Washington quarterback Alex Smith said. “But you do realize that those division games, down the line, have huge ramifications.”
What we learned about the Cowboys and the Redskins moving forward:
The good news for Dallas is that it gets two weeks to try to work on all of its issues, from the inefficient offense, to the key penalties, to the week-to-week inconsistencies. “We got time now to fix it — over drinks,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence joked. The loss to Washington continued a real problem: The Cowboys are now 0-4 on the road, 3-0 at home. They host the Tennessee Titans (3-4) in their next game, on Nov. 5, then travel to play at Philadelphia on Nov. 11, and at Atlanta on Nov. 18.
AS ZEKE GOES …
When RB Ezekiel Elliott is held under 75 yards, Dallas is 0-3 this season and 0-5 for his career. He gained only 34 yards on 15 carries against Washington, and a Cowboys team that put up 40 points in a victory over the supposedly defensive-minded Jacksonville Jaguars was held to less than half that this time around. Getting that straightened out is a big must for Dallas. “Teams are going to game-plan around him,” center Joe Looney said about Elliott.
After limiting Elliott, the Redskins next challenge shapes up as taking on Giants rookie Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick who enters Monday with 438 yards, a 5.2 average per carry and four TDs. “Our defense, they’ll have a tough challenge, but they’re well-equipped to stop him,” Redskins RB Adrian Peterson said. “They did a great job at controlling the front (against Dallas). They’re going to have to do the same thing next week.”
PETERSON STILL DOING IT
Peterson was the better running back Sunday, even though he is 33, a full decade older than Elliott. Peterson, who was available for any team when he was signed by the Redskins in the preseason, gained 99 yards on 24 rushes against Dallas. “I think everyone else around is surprised; I’m not,” Peterson said. “I expect greatness from myself.”
There were quite a few mistakes made by Smith that wound up limiting Washington’s scoring and making things tougher on the team than they needed to be. He missed a wide-open Jeremy Sprinkle in the end zone on one first-and-goal situation that resulted in a field goal. Another poor pass to the end zone led to another field goal following first-and-goal. A third-down scramble on which he ended up out of bounds with 78 seconds left stopped the clock for Dallas before Washington punted. “If we do a better job in the red zone, then the game could have been different, ended up much different, not as dramatic,” said Smith, who was 14 of 25 for 178 yards and one TD pass. “We could have opened that up a little bit.”