5 takeaways from Washington’s big-time blowout over Dallas on Thanksgiving

The dust has settled, and we’ve now had some time to sleep on this latest win from the Washington Football Team — possibly the biggest win they’ve had in years. By beating the Dallas Cowboys, 41-16, on Thanksgiving, on the road, Washington is now the proud owner of its first winning streak of the 2020 season, and they also hold onto the No. 1 spot in the NFC East for the time being.

A lot of things went right on Thursday, and things seemed to finally click into gear for the young team down the stretch. As Ron Rivera would say after the game, they seemed to finally understand how to win a football game; not just hang on until the end, but put it away and drive the point home. With 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, it’s clear that they were trying to send a message.

Received, loud and clear. Here are our biggest takeaways from the game.

Antonio Gibson, ladies and gentlemen…

(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

What more is there to say that hasn’t already been said a million times at this point? Antonio Gibson is the real deal, and he absolutely proved that in front of millions on Thursday afternoon. In the first nationally-televised NFL game of his career, Gibson threw a coming out party for himself, rushing for 115 yards and three touchdowns, and giving the Dallas defense fits from start to finish. Early on it was clear that Washington was going to make him a huge part of the game plan, getting the ball to him as much as they could, and he took that feature back role and ran with it. While Washington absolutely has a nice complimentary piece in J.D. McKissic, and a solid 3rd and 1 back in Peyton Barber, McKissic proved what we already knew on Thursday — he is the No. 1 guy in Washington’s backfield, and he just might be the best RB in a group of outstanding players to come out of the 2020 NFL Draft. He leads all rookie RB’s in touchdowns this season by a large margin — outpacing Clyde Edwards-Helaire, James Robinson, J.K. Dobbins, and DeAndre Swift — and his performance on Thanksgiving can be compared only to the great Randy Moss. Need I say more? It didn’t take until this week for Washington fans to scream Gibson’s name from the rooftops, but now it’s at least clear that other people understand why we’re screaming so loudly.

Second-half defense STAND UP

(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

One of our biggest frustrations with Washington this whole year has been the fact that they seem unable to get off to a fast start, and tend to fall behind in games. While the offense is definitely at fault, we continue to see it with the defense as well, giving up chunk plays and making some stupid mistakes in the early going. While we can continue to be frustrated by this disparity, at least we can rest assured knowing that Washington’s second-half defense is usually good enough to cure all mishaps. It happened once again on Thursday. Washington gave up 13 points and 174 total yards of offense to the Cowboys in the first half, including a chunk play of 54 yards to Amari Cooper for a touchdown. It was a different story in the second-half though. Washington opened the third quarter by forcing a fumble for Ezekiel Elliott, and they later surrendered a field goal late in the frame, but that was it. Washington gave up just 73 total yards in the final two quarters, and they forced two turnovers, both of which they turned into points. They also had three turnover-on-downs forced, which helped give them optimal field position for the offense. In the end, the defense was great, and they did everything they needed to do while the offense more than shouldered their share of the load. Now, if only we could find that dominance in the first half, it might be a whole different story for Washington…

Special Teams, take a bow

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We’ve been pretty hard on K Dustin Hopkins so far this year, and deservedly so. He hasn’t been great, and a number of his misses have been crucial down the stretch, sometimes turning a W into an L for Washington. I believe that as a professional athlete, you are susceptible to criticism when you don’t perform up to snuff — it’s just part of the job, and part of what you sign on for when inking your name on a million-dollar contract. However, I also believe that you are absolutely deserving of praise when you do your job and do it well. That’s exactly what Hopkins did for Washington on Thursday, playing yet again with a hurt groin. He was perfect on the day, literally. Hopkins finished 2/2 on field goals, with makes from 23 and 36. He was also 5/5 on extra points throughout the game, doing everything that he was asked to do. There’s still some room for him to grow on the season, but I think many Washington fans can start to feel a little bit better that they got their kicker back. On a separate note, punter Tress Way also deserves some praise here. He was not needed very much on Thursday, only punting twice in the game, but he made the most of his limited appearance. Way had two punts for 117 total yards, an average of 58.5 yards per boot, and one of which was pinned inside the Dallas 20. The other was a 60-yard boot that completely flipped the field for Washington. At this point, we should expect nothing but the best from our Pro Bowl punter.

Alex Smith, a mediocre King

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Remember earlier this week when Ron Rivera remarked that he actually felt better when Alex Smith put forth middling stat lines, and that it likely gave them more of a chance to win? Here was his quote: “I promise you if you go back and you look at teams that win consistently, steady winners, you’re going to see QBs that throw for 150 to 225 yards,” Rivera said Monday, via NBC Sports Washington. Well, that’s what Smith did on Thursday, and it resulted in a Washington victory. The veteran QB finished the day going 19-for-26 for 149 yards, one TD and one INT. Of course, the offense was buoyed by an explosive running game that put up 174 yards and three touchdowns, but that just might be the recipe for success in Washington. Smith has never been a player that is going to pass for 350 yards and 3 TDs in a shootout victory. Instead, he’s much more likely to give you a touchdown or two, while getting the ball to his playmakers and largely avoiding mistakes. That happened on Thursday, and it might have been exactly what Rivera wanted.

Bend, don’t break

(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

Something needs to be said for Washington’s red zone defense on Thursday. As a team, they gave up 16 total points on the day, which consisted of one touchdown and three field goals. The touchdown was a 54-yard bomb from Andy Dalton to Amari Cooper, which is another story in itself, but the field goals are all worth looking at. From distances of 33, 32, and 28 yards, respectively, the Dallas offense was able to get into the redzone three times on Thursday, and each time Washington forced them to settle for a field goal. If they are able to keep that ‘bend, don’t break’ mentality, and meanwhile able to rein in the chunk-plays that often come back to bite them, this defense could really take a step up into the top tier in the league. It’s something to keep an eye on, at the very least.

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