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Thursday’s NFL: Smith, Washington in 1st after Thanksgiving win over Dallas

Schuyler Dixon
Associated Press

Arlington, Texas — Alex Smith has Washington at least temporarily in first place in the NFC East after winning on Thanksgiving for the first time, two years after a planned holiday showing was wrecked by the quarterback’s career-threatening leg injury.

Smith and his teammates aren’t going to concern themselves with how bad their division might be.

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) escapes a tackle attempt by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) in the first half.

Antonio Gibson ran for three touchdowns, Smith had a scoring pass and Washington pulled away in the fourth quarter of a 41-16 Thanksgiving victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

Smith was days away from a second career Thanksgiving start in a visit to Dallas two years ago when he was injured. Now he has a second straight victory in his improbable comeback.

“It’s hard to put into words,” said Smith, who was a modest 19 of 26 for 149 yards and got bailed out on his only interception when receiver Terry McLaurin ran down Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith to prevent a tying touchdown before the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.

“I never would have dreamt in a million years something like this would be happening. Just thankful for it and making the most of it every day.”

Gibson’s second score was a 23-yard run on the first play after an ill-advised fake punt attempt by Dallas as Washington beat its division rival on Thanksgiving for just the second time in 10 tries, the most frequent visitor for the Cowboys in their annual holiday home game.

Washington (4-7) slides ahead of Philadelphia (3-6-1) in the NFC East and will stay in first place if the Eagles lose to Seattle on Monday night. It was the third win in five games since a five-game losing streak dropped Washington to 1-5.

“Our record’s not the best,” Gibson said. “We’re still in it. That gives us hope. That’s what we’re pushing for is we can still make the playoffs right now. We’re going to keep going.”

Dallas (3-8) couldn’t build on a big win at Minnesota, losing for the fifth time in six games since star quarterback Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury.

The Cowboys were playing a day after strength coach Markus Paul died at a hospital following a medical emergency at the team’s facility. Paul was honored with a moment of silence before the game.

The Cowboys trailed 20-16 when they faced a fourth-and-10 from their 24-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Darian Thompson took the snap in front of punter Hunter Niswander and pitched to Cedrick Wilson on a reverse that was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.

On the next play, Gibson easily beat the Dallas defense to the left pylon. After another Dallas punt, Gibson capped a clock-killing drive with a 37-yard score for a 34-16 lead.

Washington made it a blowout when Montez Sweat tipped and intercepted a pass right in the face of Andy Dalton and was free to run 15 yards for a TD.

Gibson, who already was the rookie leader in touchdowns rushing and now has 11, finished with 115 yards on 20 carries.

And two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas had just 32 yards while losing his fifth fumble of the season, by far the most of his five-year career.

McLaurin had the defensive play of the game, tackling Smith at the Washington 4 after Smith’s interception in the open field near the 50. The Cowboys went 6 yards the wrong direction and had to settle for a short field goal and a 20-16 deficit late in the third quarter.

“I was just trying to make a play,” said McLaurin, who led Washington with seven catches for 92 yards. “But when our defense got that stop, that’s when I kind of felt like, ‘Wow, that was a big play.’ You never give up on any plays because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Dallas’ last lead was 10-7 in the second quarter after Dalton’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, who had 112 yards on six catches.

Smith’s touchdown pass was a 5-yarder to tight end Logan Thomas, the former college quarterback who chunked the ball into the second deck of seats not long after his 28-yard pass to McLaurin on a trick play set up Gibson’s first TD.

“I told him he’s got a pretty good QB rating right now,” Smith said. “Gadget plays are a part of football, and what better day to run it on than Thanksgiving. Obviously, we do multiple things with Logan. He’s a talented guy.”

Hanifan dies, 87

Jim Hanifan, the former St. Louis Cardinals coach who returned to the city as offensive line coach to help the Rams win the Super Bowl, has died. He was 87.

Hanifan’s daughter, Kathy Hinder, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he died Tuesday at Missouri Baptist Hospital. She said the cause of death hasn’t been determined, but said it wasn’t related to COVID-19.

The Cardinals’ head coach from 1980-85, Hanifan is best known for his offensive lines as an assistant with St. Louis and Washington. He coached star tackle Dan Dierdorf (Michigan) and notorious guard Conrad Dobler with St. Louis, then directed the “Hogs” in Washington.

Hanifan went 39—49—1 with the Cardinals, reaching the playoffs in 1982. He won Super Bowls as an assistant with Washington after the 1991 season and the Rams after the 1999 season.

Personnel dept

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has tested positive for COVID-19, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed, the latest player sidelined by a coronavirus outbreak that has imperiled Sunday’s game against the  Steelers.

Ravens players were informed of new positive tests for players, including Jackson and defensive end Jihad Ward, the source said. In a call, they were told that Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, already postponed from its original Thanksgiving Day date, is increasingly unlikely to be played.

... The Rams placed middle linebacker Micah Kiser on injured reserve, but coach Sean McVay says the injury is not season-ending and Kiser will be sidelined for at least three weeks.

... Sam Darnold (shoulder) was a full participant at practice, putting the Jets quarterback on track to start Sunday against the Dolphins.

... Tua Tagovailoa’s sore thumb was better and Dolphins coach Brian Flores expressed optimism his rookie quarterback will be able to play Sunday against the Jets.