ARLINGTON, Texas — The story line was all too familiar for Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. Fall behind early. Try to rally late.
The hole Thursday afternoon was simply too deep for the Cowboys in a 38-31 loss to the Washington Redskins at Cowboys Stadium.
This time, the hole was a 28-3 halftime deficit.
In his first nationally televised game as a pro, quarterback Robert Griffin III showed why Redskins fans are excited about the future.
“You can see why they traded up to get him,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett. “He was such a dynamic player at Baylor. He won the Heisman Trophy and has been able to carry that same skill set to the NFL. They use him well-to-do a lot of the things he did in college.”
Becoming the first Redskins quarterback in franchise history to throw four touchdown passes in back-to-back games, Griffin accounted for 340 total yards, completing 20 of 28 passes for 311 yards.
Romo threw for 441 yards and three scores, two to Dez Bryant, the former Oklahoma State standout who had a big game (eight catches, 145 yards) for the second straight week.
But Dallas' annual Thanksgiving Day game might be remembered for two franchises headed in different directions.
Both teams are 5-6. But when looking to the future, the two teams look vastly different.
Dallas is an aging team that was hoping to make a playoff run. The Redskins are building around a quarterback who can beat defenses with his legs and a cannon arm.
“We've been talking about this since Day 1,” said Washington coach Mike Shanahan. “He learns every game. If there are mistakes made, he's very tough on himself. He doesn't make a lot of them, thank God. He makes things happen.”
Griffin and the Redskins made a lot of things happen during a 28-point second-quarter barrage that could prove to be the knockout punch to the Cowboys' 2012 season.
In the second quarter Griffin showed off his arm on a 68-yard TD pass to Aldrick Robinson, tossed a quick slant to Pierre Garcon who turned it into a 59-yard score and threw a 6-yard TD to Santana Moss with :05 left in the first half.
“You just hope (Griffin) makes plays and he seems to do that all the time,” Shanahan said. “There's going to be some tough games ahead. They're not always this easy. I shouldn't say easy. You just don't (usually) have that type of success a rookie quarterback.”
Griffin and the Redskins made it look easy at time, but Dallas once again staged a second-half rally.
Trailing 35-13 with just under 13 minutes left, the Cowboys closed to within 35-28 with just over eight minutes to play on Bryant's sliding TD catch on fourth down with 8:18 to play. But Romo and the offense would never have a possession with a chance to tie.
Washington answered with an 11-play drive that chewed up clock in addition to producing a 48-yard field goal that made it a two-possession game with 2:58 to play.
“It's hard to (focus on positives) after you lose,” Romo said. “The next few days this will eat you and consume all your thoughts, thinking about what I can do to make this football team better, what we can do to get off to better starts.”
In the big picture, Dallas has one playoff win the past 15 years since the Barry Switzer era ended, which is only one less than the Redskins have since 1997.
Washington still has several areas that need to improve. But if recent games are an indication the Redskins appear to be closer to being a viable playoff contender than their NFC East rival, in large part because of Griffin who enjoyed a return trip to his home state.
“To come here and play the way we did as a team is special for myself and the other Texas natives,” Griffin said. “It was really exciting to come out and showcase our talents to the world because everybody was watching. It couldn't have been a better homecoming.”
In the opposing locker room, focus will shift to whether Garrett will return next season with Dallas' playoff hopes fading. Garrett was asked if the remainder of the season could justify his job security.
“We're going to come to work as players and coaches and battle and try to win football games,” Garrett said. “I've been around this league a long time. The best teams, best coaches, best players do that.”