Dallas, for the moment at least, has saved its season with back-to-back road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta. The Cowboys can pull even with Washington for the NFC East lead with a win on Thursday.
And it will be the ninth time the Cowboys have welcomed the Redskins to town on the fourth Thursday in November. Dallas has won seven and lost just once in the previous eight Thanksgiving meetings between the rivals.
But there’s a catch.
When the Redskins (6-4) defeated the Cowboys (5-5) on Thanksgiving in 2012, Texas native Robert Griffin III passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns to lift Washington to a 38-31 win.
Now, with Redskins quarterback Alex Smith out for the season and possibly part of next year after suffering two broken bones in his leg in Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Houston Texans, another Texan will lead the Washington offense in Dallas.
Colt McCoy stepped in for Smith midway through the third quarter on Sunday and passed for 54 yards and a touchdown, though the Redskins still fell 23-21 to Houston.
The Cowboys have firsthand experience with McCoy and his ability to turn it on in Dallas. The Texas Longhorns alum passed for 299 yards and ran for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter as he directed the Redskins to a 20-17 overtime victory in Dallas in 2014.
“I don’t see them changing very much in what they do because (McCoy is) capable of doing everything physically and he’s got a good command of what they want to do,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.
McCoy is in his fourth season with the Redskins and has played in nine games, though he hasn’t started since 2014.
McCoy didn’t take a snap in 2016 behind Kirk Cousins and was on the field for just four snaps in 2017. He appeared in just two games in 2015 in relief of Cousins.
McCoy came on in relief of Smith on Sunday and completed 6 of 12 passes. He was sacked twice.
This is the opportunity that McCoy has waited for since 2014 when he outlasted an overmatched Cousins and injured Griffin. He entered in relief in a Week 7 win over Tennessee and in Week 8 shocked the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in a Monday Night Football game.
“Now is not a time to really kind of think about what got me to this point right here. Now, it’s time to play,” McCoy said. “I rely on a lot of the preparation I’ve put in the last several years when Kirk (Cousins) was here. Kirk never got hurt. He played well, but I was always ready to play.
“You know the same thing with Alex (Smith). Now my preparation is going to be key this week, but at the same time, I’m fortunate that we’ve played Dallas once already this year so I’ve been through that game prep, that preparation. I mean it’s a huge game, let’s be honest.”
Four years later, at the site of his biggest win as an NFL quarterback, in his home state, McCoy gets another chance. The Redskins will try to stay ahead of the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
Dallas, a traditional Thanksgiving combatant along with the Detroit Lions, has a 30-19-1 record all time on the holiday. It’s part of Dallas’ organizational structure to prepare on a short week in mid-November.
So it’s no surprise that Garrett and the Cowboys have a well-established Thanksgiving week routine.
“Everything’s modified this week,” Garrett said Tuesday. “It is Thursday in our mind. The content of practice is what we would typically do on Thursday. The practice and tempo and feel is going to be a little bit like a Friday.”