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Cowboys vs. Commanders score, takeaways: Dallas wins NFC East, secures NFC’s No. 2 seed in dominant fashion

Cowboys vs. Commanders score, takeaways: Dallas wins NFC East, secures NFC’s No. 2 seed in dominant fashion

Week 18 marked a game in which the 11-5 Dallas Cowboys had everything to gain, and the 4-12 Washington Commanders had nothing to lose in their regular-season finale. That juxtaposition is something Cowboys Pro Bowl edge rusher Micah Parsons called “dangerous” on Wednesday. 

On Sunday afternoon, Washington proved Parsons right temporarily by presenting Dallas with some danger in a brief spurt in the second quarter before the Cowboys bounced back to secure victory with ease in a 38-10 win. The victory gives the Cowboys their first NFC East division title since the 2021 season. The NFC East has now been won by a different team for 19 consecutive seasons, extending the longest streak in NFL history without a repeat division champion. 

The Cowboys have also secured the NFC’s No. 2 overall seed in the postseason. That’s significant because it means Dallas, the only team that won all eight of their home games in 2023, is now guaranteed to play at AT&T Stadium through at least the first two rounds of the postseason. 

Dallas now has at least 12 wins for three seasons in a row under head coach Mike McCarthy after going 12-5 every year since 2021. This stretch marks the second time in franchise history for that to occur, joining the Cowboys’ 1990s dynasty run from 1992-1995 in which they three Super Bowls in four seasons. 

McCarthy is the first Cowboys head coach to accomplish this feat. Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson was Dallas’ head coach for the first two of those seasons in the 1990s from 1992-1993, but Barry Switzer was the Cowboys coach for the 1994 and 1995 seasons. 

After forcing a turnover on downs on the Commanders’ first drive, the Cowboys cruised to an opening-drive touchdown against the NFL’s worst scoring and total defense. Dallas marched 67 yards in eight plays, capping the scoring drive with Dak Prescott’s NFL-best 33rd passing touchdown on a 3-yard toss to second-year wideout Jalen Tolbert. Prescott completed all six of his passes for 57 and the score to put Cowboys up 7-0 with 6:26 left in the first quarter.   

Following a forced fumble and recovery by Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis, the Commanders blocked Brandon Aubrey’s 32-yard field goal attempt for his first miss of the season. They returned the ball 66 yards to the Cowboys’ 20. Aubrey famously said he didn’t believe in jinxes and was comfortable talking about the streak on Thursday, and his field goal streak ends at 35 this season. Aubrey then missed a second in a row in the second half after doinking a 36-yarder off the left upright. He finished his night with a make from 50 yards out on his third kick. His 10 makes from 50 or more yards this season are the most by a kicker in Cowboys history. 

After scoring an opening-drive touchdown with ease, the Cowboys failed to score on each of their next two drives. This time they committed their first turnover of the afternoon. Commanders rookie defensive back Quan Martin corralled Prescott’s tipped pass for the interception. 7-7 with 11:30 in the half. They turned Dak Prescott’s tipped-throw interception into three points after kicker Joey Slye drained a 36-yard field goal. That gave Washington its first lead of the game up 10-7 with 7:04 left in the first half.   

The Commanders’ lead evaporated on the next drive as Cowboys running back Tony Pollard snapped a four-game streak without a touchdown after pounding the football into the end zone for a 1-yard rushing score. Dallas jumped back in front 14-10 with 4:12 left in the first half. The Cowboys ensured they would take the lead into the half with safety Donovan Wilson intercepting Howell with 1:47 left to play in the second quarter. Howell finished the game with 153 yards, one passing touchdown and two interceptions on 19 of 27 passing. 

Dallas cornerback DaRon Bland hauled in his first interception since his NFL-record fifth pick-six against Washington on Thanksgiving in the second half on Sunday. Bland, the league’s interception leader with nine, marks the second time in the last three years a Cowboys cornerback led the NFL in interceptions. Trevon Diggs, the outside corner Bland replaced after he went down in practice back in Week 3 with a torn ACL, led the NFL in picks with 11 in 2021.  

Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb extended the football across the goal line as he lunged while being dragged to the ground on the Cowboys’ final drive of the first 30 minutes, giving them a 21-10 lead at the break. The football crossing the goal line gave him his ninth consecutive game with a touchdown, making him one of only three wide receivers in the 21st century to have a nine-game touchdown streak. Lamb caught all 13 of his targets for 98 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Lamb, who led the NFL with 135 catches this season, became the fourth player in NFL history with at least 125 catches and 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. He joined Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (2002), Antonio Brown (2014 and 2015) and Cooper Kupp (2021). 

Prescott held on to sole possession of the NFL lead in passing touchdowns (36) to become the first player in the Super Bowl era — since 1966 — and just the second in league history (along with Hall of Famer Bob Waterfield in 1945-1946) to jump from the NFL’s interception leader to passing touchdown leader in consecutive seasons, according to NFL Media researcher Dante Koplowitz-Fleming. He threw four touchdowns — two to Lamb, one to Brandin Cooks and one to Jalen Tolbert — 279 passing yards and an interception on 31 of 36 passing. 

Why the Cowboys won

Dallas outperformed the Commanders by a wide margin in every aspect of the game: first downs (31-12), total yards (440-180), turnover margin (three takeaways to one) and time of possession (33:55-26:05). Dak Prescott got whatever he wanted when throwing to CeeDee Lamb, completing all 13 passes thrown his way. Defensively, Micah Parsons finally got his 14th sack of the season, making him the fifth player since sacks have been tracked in 1982 to have at least 40 in his first three seasons.

Any Cowboy who desired to stuff the box score on Sunday was able to. 

Why the Commanders lost

Sam Howell continued to struggle, throwing two more picks to run his NFL-worst total to 21. Washington’s defense entered Week 18 as the NFL’s worst scoring and total defense, and they looked every bit like it on Sunday. 

Turning point

Lamb’s 4-yard touchdown catch right before halftime that put Dallas up 21-10. Washington put up a fight in the second quarter, but once Dallas went up double-digits, it was clear the Cowboys weren’t going to relinquish the lead. 

Play of the game

Prescott’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the right corner of the end zone. He perfectly lofted the football up over the Commanders’ secondary and right into Cooks’ arms. It’s unclear if Prescott could have handed Cooks the ball in a better spot if he stood right next to him.

What’s Next

The Dallas Cowboys will play host to the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium in the NFC Super Wild-Card Weekend next week. The Commanders will have the second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft thanks to their 4-13 record in 2023.