The crowd at FedEx Field for the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys game on Dec. 12, 2021.
The crowd at FedExField on Dec. 12 was split about 50-50 between Washington and Dallas fans Credit: Kelyn Soong

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The Dallas Cowboys sprinted onto FedExField Sunday afternoon to a mix of cheers and boos. Outside the stadium, a Cowboys fan shouted to anyone who could hear that “D.C.” stands for “Dallas Cowboys.” By the end of the first quarter, Washington owner Dan Snyder was trending on Twitter, with Washington fans expressing their disgust at the number of Cowboys fans at the home team’s stadium. USA Today NFL reporter Mike Jones estimated the crowd in Landover was split about 50-50 between Washington’s burgundy and gold jerseys and those wearing silver and blue.

“Watching on TV. Stunned but not surprised. Totally dominant Dallas crowd. Amazing,” D.C. sportscaster Steve Buckhantz tweeted. “Jack Kent Cooke is rolling in his grave.”

Washington (6-7) entered the division matchup against the NFC East leading Cowboys (9-4) with four straight wins, and Sunday offered the team an opportunity to solidify its standings in the playoff hunt. But those positive feelings took a hit as the Cowboys beat Washington, 27-20, despite a late Washington rally that made it a close game late in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like I let them down,” Washington head coach Ron Rivera said of his team’s fans. “I wanted them out here to cheer for us, and we should’ve given them a better first half. We gave them a very good second half, something to cheer about in the second half. If we put two halves together, we’ll deliver.”

Heading into the week, Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy essentially guaranteed a victory, telling reporters, “We’re going to win this game. I’m confident in that.” Before the game, the Cowboys stirred up more conversation when photos surfaced online showing benches the team had purchased and shipped to FedExField. Those headlines didn’t bother the team, players told reporters after the game, but Washington safety Landon Collins said he felt a heightened sense of emotions because of the nature of the rivalry and the importance of the division game. Last season, Washington beat Dallas twice and went on to win the NFC East.

“We want to shut them up, prove a point, repeat what we did last year against them, stuff like that,” Collins said of the emotions players felt during the game. “I would say that would be the biggest thing that came on our head, that we just really wanted this.”

Washington struggled in nearly every aspect of the game in the first half, and Cowboys fans at FedExField had reason to cheer. Facing a fourth and second late in the first quarter, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons sacked Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and Dallas defensive end Dorance Armstrong recovered the fumble for a 37-yard touchdown as Cowboys fans roared with approval. Washington headed into halftime trailing 24-0, and only generated 29 total yards of offense.

Rivera, Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb said, issued a challenge to the team during halftime.

“He wanted to see what we were going to do in the second half,” Holcomb said. “[Rivera] said, ‘We’re not even going to watch the first half, but I want to see what you guys got in the second half.’ I thought we came out and fought our butts off.”

Washington scored on a six-play drive in the third quarter in which Heinicke threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cams Sims. But the team had to continue the game without star receiver Terry McLaurin who did not return after being evaluated for a concussion. McLaurin finished with four targets and zero yards.

The injuries didn’t stop there, as Heinicke left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury with Washington trailing, 27-8. The quarterback told reporters after the game via a conference call that his knee is “fine.” Rivera said Heinicke will remain the team’s starting quarterback “if he’s healthy.” Backup Kyle Allen replaced Heinicke and went 4 of 9 for 53 yards.

“The knee is fine. It was a little scary at first, but it was really my throwing elbow that got me in the first half on a throw,” Heinicke said. “I didn’t feel right ever since. I think the knee should be fine, I should be ready this week.”

With about five minutes to play, running back Jonathan Williams scored on a one-yard rush to make it a two possession game, and shortly after, Holcomb intercepted Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott for a 31-yard interception return touchdown with 4:13 remaining. It was Washington’s second touchdown in under a minute. But less than two minutes later, Allen was sacked and fumbled the ball. When the officials upheld the call on the field after reviewing the play, the Cowboys fans in the stands erupted with cheers.

Washington will play division games for the remainder of the season, with the Philadelphia Eagles up next on Sunday. The team plays Dallas again on Dec. 26 in Texas.

“We still control it,” Holcomb said. “We got to keep stringing them along. Would have loved to got this win, but it’s still all right in front of us, so we just got to stay focused and keep grinding.”