Dwayne Harris and a "no-name group" of Dallas defenders made Tony Romo's job easy.
Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and set up another score with a 90-yard kickoff return, and a depleted defensive line forced a key fumble from Robert Griffin III, leading the Cowboys to a 31-16 victory against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night.
Kyle Wilber was the name behind the biggest defensive play for Dallas. He hit Griffin from behind on a sack and took the ball away, putting the Cowboys just 3 yards from a clinching score in the fourth quarter.
"The 'no-name group.' We're talking about the defensive line," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had plenty of reasons to celebrate his 71st birthday. "They fought all the way through it. As far as I'm concerned, they need a game ball tonight."
Romo had just 170 yards passing a week after he threw a costly interception to end a 506-yard performance, setting up the winning field goal for Denver in a wild 51-48 loss to the Broncos.
The Cowboys said all week they had Romo's back as their quarterback faced another round of criticism over late-game flubs.
Harris showed it with 222 return yards, as did Wilber and the rest of a defensive line that lost DeMarcus Ware to a quad injury in the second quarter.
"Dwayne did a great job and almost allowed us to kind of just sit over there as an offensive unit and rack up all his yards as if we did it without doing much work," said Romo, who made Harris' long kickoff return pay off with his only touchdown pass of the night a week after throwing five.
Five things to know after the Cowboys handed Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, his first loss in his home state:
MISSING MURRAY: The Cowboys lost their best pass rusher in Ware and their top running back in DeMarco Murray, who sprained the MCL in his left knee in the second quarter. Joseph Randle got his first career touchdown after Wilber's big play. He scored from the 1 when he stayed on his feet with a defender draped over him and was pushed into the end zone by center and fellow rookie Travis Frederick for a 31-16 lead. Randle had just 17 yards on 11 carries after Murray picked up 29 in seven tries before the injury. The first two touches of Randle's career were a pair of catches in the first half. "For all the hard work to pay off, it's a good feeling," Randle said. "The offensive line did a great job blocking — they even pushed me in the end zone."
GRIFFIN'S PROGRESS: Griffin displayed several flashes of that mobile, accurate quarterback that helped the Redskins win the NFC East title during his rookie year. Then there were the plays that showed he's still trying to return to the high standard he set last season before major knee surgery. After the fumble gave Dallas a touchdown, he had a 26-yard pass to Santana Moss and was trying to hit him again when the receiver was tripped up and fell down without a flag being thrown. Orlando Scandrick backpedaled for the interception and fell on his rear end in the back of the end zone, barely in bounds. "You aren't going to get any excuses from this guy," said Griffin, who had 246 yards passing and 77 rushing after getting just 72 yards on the ground the first four games.
THE HARRIS SHOW: Harris' punt return gave Dallas a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, when he got outside quickly and cut behind a block from Orlando Scandrick before running free from the 50 on the fifth-longest punt return in Dallas history. The kickoff return came after Kai Forbath's third field goal pulled Washington to 14-9 in the third. He found a huge seam on the left side and easily faked out Forbath before E.J. Biggers ran him down. "They opened up a hole that anyone could have run through," Harris said. "Kyle Orton (backup quarterback) came up to me and said he could have run through it."
NFC EAST RACE: The Cowboys (3-3) stayed atop the NFC East with the Eagles, and those teams play next week in Philadelphia. The Redskins (1-4) missed a chance to build momentum after a win and a bye following an 0-3 start — even though they outgained the Cowboys 433 yards to 213. "We've got to have perseverance. Got to have guys at work believe in themselves and have our defense come out and play the way it did," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.
DALLAS D BOUNCES BACK: Although the Redskins dominated time of possession and yardage, the Dallas defense came up big in the fourth quarter a week after not being able to stop Peyton Manning and Denver when it counted late. The Cowboys led by just five when they forced a 49-yard field goal that Forbath missed, then got forced consecutive turnovers by Griffin. "A swing of emotions, especially after last week," linebacker Sean Lee said. "This week, playing against a tough team, a division rival, to play like that is very nice."
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