ARLINGTON, Texas — Ron Rivera coached like he had nothing to lose. Mike McCarthy coached like a gambler chasing his losses with a payday loan.
Three entertaining hours later, the Washington Football Team became the first to four wins in the NFC East with a 41-16 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys, who were booed by their own fans multiple times in a Thanksgiving loss.
Antonio Gibson ran for three touchdowns for the Football Team, but it was the razzle-dazzle that kept Washington one step ahead.
Tight end Logan Thomas had a catch, a completed pass and a carry as a rusher; running back J.D. McKissic ran for a first down on a variation of the famous “fumblerooski” play; and linebacker Montez Sweat capped it off with an interception for a touchdown that had the Washington players dancing as a crowd of more than 30,000 headed for the exits.
“Gadget plays, misdirection — what better day to run those than Thanksgiving?” asked Washington quarterback Alex Smith.
Meanwhile McCarthy, the first-year Dallas coach, will face tough questions for his decisions in this one.
In the first half, the Cowboys had fourth-and-1 from their own 35. Instead of giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott, who appears to have fallen out of favor, they opted for a pass.
It was not only incomplete, but a personal foul penalty moved Washington into the red zone.
In the fourth quarter, with Dallas having cut the Washington lead to 20-16, the Cowboys opted for a fake punt on fourth-and-10. Instead of a pass or straightforward run, though, they opted for a reverse that left them with nearly 24 yards to gain by the time they started moving forward.
From there, the floodgates opened.
McCarthy defended both plays as sensible decisions. Washington’s players credited special teams coach Nate Kaczor, who they said had gives a weekly, thorough briefing so his players expected the unexpected — the punt formation was one he had flagged.
Dallas, meanwhile, didn’t do its research.
The McKissic play, in which Washington acted like the play hadn’t began while McKissic hid the ball, was an encore performance of a play Rivera, Washington’s coach, ran in Carolina in 2011.
Rivera said it was inspired by the movie “Little Giants,” which he watched “maybe a hundred” times with his daughter, Courtney, when she was young.
Now 4-7, Washington holds down first place until Philadelphia (3-6-1) faces Seattle on Monday night and the New York Giants (3-7) face the Bengals on Sunday.
“I couldn’t stop smiling on the sideline,” receiver Terry McLaurin said.
Gibson was the day’s biggest winner, finishing with 115 yards. He is the first rookie to score three touchdowns on Thanksgiving since Minnesota’s Randy Moss in 1998.
“Every time the spotlight comes on, it seems like God is watching down on me,” Gibson said. “To be able to come out on national TV and do this is an amazing feeling.”
While Washington now preps for a late-season title run, Dallas appears to be headed for a massively disappointing finish.
The Cowboys were undone by a number of injuries, most notably to their offensive line, but McCarthy appears to have been a poor fit in his first year as coach.
Elliott had another fumble, and the well-compensated star is struggling to find a role in the Dallas offense.
Andy Dalton, who was supposed to serve as a backup plan for Dak Prescott, was unable to do what other quarterbacks have done to the Washington defense, and pick them apart with quick throws.
On the other side, Smith had his traditional first-drive struggles, but bounced back to lead a unit that won’t be mistaken for the 2000 St. Louis Rams but ate up enough clock to give the defense a chance to make plays.
For Smith, it was yet another amazing moment in a comeback full of them. The last time Washington played in Dallas on Thanksgiving, he was in a hospital bed, with doctors fighting to save his leg.
“It’s hard to put into words. I never would have dreamt in a million years something like this would be happening,” he said. “I’m just thankful for it and will make the most of every day.”
Washington 7 10 3 21 — 41
Dallas 3 10 3 0 — 16
Dal—FG Zuerlein 33, 8:30.
Was—Gibson 5 run (Hopkins kick), 1:37.
Dal—Cooper 54 pass from Dalton (Zuerlein kick), 14:08.
Was—FG Hopkins 23, 7:13.
Was—L.Thomas 5 pass from Ale.Smith (Hopkins kick), 2:26.
Dal—FG Zuerlein 32, :19.
Was—FG Hopkins 36, 10:48.
Dal—FG Zuerlein 28, 2:32.
Was—Gibson 23 run (Hopkins kick), 12:07.
Was—Gibson 37 run (Hopkins kick), 3:31.
Was—Sweat 15 interception return (Hopkins kick), 3:24.
First downs 22 13
Total Net Yards 338 247
Rushes-yards 36-182 18-60
Passing 156 187
Punt Returns 2-15 1-9
Kickoff Returns 2-41 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 1-15 1-43
Comp-Att-Int 20-27-1 25-35-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 3-21 4-28
Punts 2-58.5 2-55.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-53 5-45
Time of Possession 35:56 24:04
Rushing–Washington, Gibson 20-115, Barber 11-57, McKissic 1-6, Thomas 1-3, Smith 3-1. Dallas, Elliott 10-32, Dalton 3-17, Pollard 4-12, C.Wilson 1-(minus 1).
Passing–Washington, Smith 19-26-1-149, Thomas 1-1-0-28. Dallas, Dalton 25-35-1-215.
Receiving–Washington, McLaurin 7-92, Gibson 5-21, Thomas 4-20, McKissic 2-21, Inman 1-15, S.Sims 1-8. Dallas, Cooper 6-112, Gallup 6-41, Schultz 5-24, Lamb 5-21, Pollard 2-10, Elliott 1-7.