The Washington Football Team beat the Dallas Cowboys (41-16) on Thanksgiving Day. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer

A fourth win on Thanksgiving is nothing to hang a championship run on. Nonetheless, for the Washington Football Team it was the ultimate giant leap forward in a rebuilding process toward respectability.  However, to sweep the Dallas Cowboys for the first time since 2012 sets a tone that the tide is changing for the Burgundy and Gold.

Ron Rivera earned a season’s worth of credibility in his locker room and with the fan base with a dominant performance in Dallas on Thanksgiving.  The Cowboys were playing with heavy hearts after the death of their strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul, who died at the team’s facility two days earlier.  In the unforgiving world of the NFL the games continued and Washington took advantage of a passionless Cowboys effort where they left no doubt who was the better team – at least this year.

Alex Smith, Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin turned the floor of AT&T Stadium into their personal stage and proved to “America’s Team” who really has talent.  Smith was efficiently brilliant finishing 19/26 for 149 yards with a TD and an interception. His performance, though unspectacular, was enough to firmly establish him as the team’s field general for the balance of the season and gives them the best chance to win the NFL’s worst division.

It’s hard to put into words,” said Smith.  “I never would have dreamed in a million years something like this would be happening. Just thankful for it and making the most of it every day.”

McLaurin, his primary target, made his case for the Pro Bowl with seven receptions for 92 yards. He only needs 37 yards for a 1,000 yard season despite playing with three different quarterbacks, while learning a new system without benefit of a true offseason.  His biggest play ultimately turned out to be tracking down Cowboys linebacker Jaylen Smith after an interception, which prevented a touchdown and saved Washington four points and the rout was on from there.

“When our defense got that stop, that’s when I kind of felt like that was a big play,” McLaurin said. “You never give up on any plays because you never know what’s going to happen.”  

However, it was the relentless pounding of Gibson, who proved that he is the best in their stable of running backs, who helped them control the line of scrimmage.  He rushed 20 times for 115 yards and scored three touchdowns.  Gibson was more physical than the Dallas defensive front that brought fond memories back for fans of the halcyon days of the hogs and the counter trey forcing them into submission.

“Our record’s not the best,” Gibson said. ”We’re still in it. That gives us hope. That’s what we’re pushing for is we can still make the playoffs right now. We’re going to keep going.”

Washington has played themselves into position to win the NFC East heading into Sunday’s scheduled game at Pittsburgh, which is anything but a certainty given how COVID-19 wreaked havoc with their schedule for Tuesday’s game against the Ravens.  They will be underdogs against the Steelers, San Francisco, and Seattle over the next three weeks, but will enter those games with a puncher’s chance to win.

This Sunday’s Steelers will be coming off a short week following a tough game with Baltimore. The 49’ers will literally be homeless for the next three weeks after the latest set of pandemic restrictions in northern California will keep them from playing at Levi’s Stadium or practicing at their facility, which may level the field in that game as well.

Washington has wanted to be in this position for meaningful games in December since the season kicked off.  They now have their wish as coach Ron Rivera learns if there are enough players to perform under the pressure of a playoff hunt to build around for the future.