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Cowboys' offense wakes up just in time

11/22/2009
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After drawing criticism all week for his play calling in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett produced a much more balanced approach against the Washington Redskins. And the results weren't a whole lot better.

This week, though, the defense bailed out the Cowboys long enough for the offense to finally show up in the fourth quarter in a 7-6 victory. On the surface, a 6-3 Cowboys team should've dominated a 3-6 team that is simply playing for pride at this point. But for the better part of four quarters, the Redskins were the best team on the field.

Garrett, a man who'd run the ball 41 percent of the time through the first nine games, answered his critics by calling 22 running plays against only 12 passes in the first half. Marion Barber and Felix Jones combined for 107 yards in the first half, but the Cowboys came up empty on the scoreboard. It didn't help that Barber fumbled on the Redskins' 16-yard line in the first quarter.

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall scooped up the fumble, causing quarterback Tony Romo to become a defender. That's not a good scenario for the Cowboys. Romo made the tackle but he suffered a back injury in the process. He winced in pain with each warm-up throw on the sideline, but never missed a snap.

Romo spent the rest of the afternoon subjecting his receivers to devastating blows from Redskins safety LaRon Landry. The quarterback was losing the ball high, something that normally takes place with Rangers pitchers a couple of blocks down the street. Romo was 15-of-27 for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Redskins were playing without All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and they quickly lost starting running back Ladell Betts to a knee injury. This wasn't supposed to be a fair fight, but it went to the wire because the Cowboys' offense that helped lead the team to a four-game winning streak has gone in the tank. The Cowboys can probably get away with just showing up against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday, but they won't beat teams such as the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers playing like this on offense.

"This is also one of those kind of games you can look at and know you have to get better because if we play that type of football week in and week out, we won't be able to accomplish the goals we need or want," Romo said. "Saying that, it's mostly us on the offensive side of the ball. The defense played outstanding today, they gave us a chance to win the game."

When you hold a team to six points, I guess "outstanding" is an appropriate superlative, but the Redskins helped out the Cowboys with missed opportunities and baffling coaching moves. Linebackers London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh both dropped easy interceptions in the first half that would've given the Redskins the ball inside Cowboys territory. And late in the first half, the Skins' lame-duck coach, Jim Zorn, went conservative for no apparent reason. The Redskins had a third-and-1 at the Cowboys' 21 with 15 seconds left in the first half. Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, Zorn sent the field-goal unit onto the field. Shaun Suisham hooked a 39-yard attempt and the Redskins only had a 3-0 lead at halftime.

It's hard to say that a quarterback played an excellent game in a 7-6 loss, but that's exactly what happened with Jason Campbell. He beat the Cowboys' blitz by finding his receivers on hot routes and somehow shook off outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to extend plays. His efforts were undermined by a poor effort from Suisham, and a playcaller and head coach who took their feet off the Cowboys' throats at the worst possible moments.

Clinging to a 6-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Redskins had a third-and-2 at the Cowboys' 30. They had hurt the Cowboys on third down all day with quick deliveries from Campbell, but they decided to send Rock Cartwright up the gut for a 2-yard loss. Perhaps for a moment, playcaller extraordinaire Sherm Lewis forgot the Skins had one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

Suisham was wide right on a 50-yard attempt, and the Cowboys had new life. Romo was 7-of-8 on the ensuing drive. And with 2:50 left in the game, he spun away from rookie-of-the-year candidate Brian Orakpo's sack attempt and fired a 10-yard touchdown pass back across the field to Patrick Crayton.

Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen tipped a Campbell pass at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted by Anthony Spencer and the Cowboys escaped. No one in the Cowboys' locker room apologized for the win -- and they shouldn't have to. But at some point this season -- preferably before December -- this offense needs to find an identity. Garrett reintroduced balance to the offense Sunday, but it didn't yield any more points than his pass-happy approach at Lambeau Field.

"We weren't consistent enough," Garrett said after the game. "But at the end of the day, we found a way to win the game."

With a huge assist from the Redskins, of course.