Andy Dalton wound up to throw, spotted an open lane and instead tucked the ball to run on third-and-10 from the Cowboys’ own 3 with 6:32 to play in the third quarter.
The Cowboys quarterback scrambled 6 yards up the middle before sliding to avoid a collision course with two Washington defenders. No such luck. Washington linebacker Jon Bostic lowered his shoulder and rammed head-first into Dalton, delivering a blow fierce enough to knock Dalton’s helmet off. Dalton’s unprotected head hit the turf after his helmet had rolled more than 5 yards away, and his concussion diagnosis was confirmed before game’s end.
Rookie Ben DiNucci was left to answer for the Cowboys’ offense on the field. DiNucci was then left to answer postgame questions from a hazy Dalton, whom DiNucci said did not remember the details of the play. Meanwhile, questions loomed surrounding Cowboys teammates’ muted reaction to the hit.
“We speak all the time about playing for one another and protecting each other,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after the 25-3 loss. “So, definitely it was probably not the response that you would expect.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the Dallas Cowboys is helped off the field after being hit and injured by Jon Bostic #53 (not pictured) of the Washington Football Team in the third quarter of the game at FedExField on October 25, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo: Patrick McDermott, Getty Images)
Receiver Amari Cooper was closest to Dalton as the signal-caller was knocked down and separated from his helmet. Cooper clutched his head between his hands in shock at what he “would, to be honest” consider a dirty play.
“Because he was sliding and it was obvious,” Cooper said. “That player could have easily avoided doing what he did.”
Does Cowboys WR Amari Cooper consider hit on Andy Dalton dirty?
“Yeah, I would to be honest,” Amari said. “Because he was sliding and it was obvious. That player could have easily avoided doing what he did.” pic.twitter.com/mYpqjf156J
Cowboys offensive linemen, four of whom have replaced injured starters this season, surrounded Dalton as he lay in pain. Right guard Connor McGovern tapped the quarterback’s back a couple times. Medical staff then rushed onto the field to help Dalton to the locker room. Equipment staff, too, distributed sips of water to discouraged Cowboys players. No Cowboys player approached Bostic, who was immediately ejected after leading with his head on the tackle. Running back Ezekiel Elliott was asked why no words or shoves were exchanged. Should players have been more aggressive?
“I think you can say that’s fair, but doing that you got to be careful because we’re already down a bunch of guys,” Elliott said. “If you go in there and throw a punch, you get kicked out the game, you can’t help the team from the sideline. You can’t help the team from the locker room. So we’ve got to find a way to not cross that line but still got to protect our guys.”
Elliott didn’t clearly remember a lack of action from teammates. But after a second question about the response, Elliott said: “If you’re asking that question, I guess I do wish we would’ve acted stronger.”
Losing Dalton was just the latest blow for the 2-5 Cowboys. He becomes their second injured quarterback helped off the field after a run. Just two weeks have elapsed since quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in a win against the Giants. Prescott was carted off the field and transported immediately to a local hospital for surgery to cleanse the wound and mend the break.
Dallas’ lengthy injury lists includes five offensive linemen, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's season-ending torn quad tendon in training camp, tight end Blake Jarwin’s ACL tear in Week 1 and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s broken collarbone (he underwent surgery but missed a month). Dallas’ defense has allowed 34.7 points per game.
Dalton’s concussion, so soon after Prescott’s gruesome fracture, left Elliott dejected.
“Just how [expletive] this year has been,” Elliott said of his first thought when Dalton went down. “Just how bad this year has been. But, we still got a lot of time left. … We gotta go out there and find a way to win.”
DiNucci understands he could be QB1 next week vs. the divisional-rival Eagles. Former SMU and Texas product Garrett Gilbert, whom Dallas signed after Prescott’s injury, could back up DiNucci. Gilbert was inactive vs. Washington. DiNucci said Sunday afternoon that he hadn’t yet thought through a potential start after a quarter and a half of play during which he completed two of three pass attempts for 39 yards while taking three sacks.
It wasn’t enough, but I like Ben DiNucci’s message to Cowboys when in.
“Let’s go. Let’s have some fun. We got nothing to lose, it’s raining & there’s no one in the stands. So let’s create our own energy here, try to find some positives from this…& go put points on the board.”
“I haven’t really thought that far down the road yet,” DiNucci said. “I just got out of the shower and put my warmup gear on. I’m not sure how all the protocols work and stuff of that nature. But if my number is called, shoot, I’ll be the first one in the building tomorrow and the last one to leave. I’ve got to prepare like I have been for the last two months; nothing changes.
“I’ve learned more from sitting in a room with Dak and Andy the last two months than I have playing the last eight years. You can’t say enough good things about those guys. Again, you hate that injuries have to happen for me to be on the field, but this is an opportunity that everyone wants playing football.
“If your number is called, you’re going to go out there and have fun and try to make some plays and do what you do.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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