Colt McCoy made his first start in four years Thursday. It showed.
Although he was far from the only culprit on his team, McCoy struggled in place of injured starter Alex Smith, throwing three interceptions as the Washington Redskins were knocked off by the Dallas Cowboys 31-23 in a showdown for first place in the NFC East.
Although the teams are tied at the top of the division with 6-5 records, Dallas currently owns the tiebreaker after avenging a 20-17 defeat in Washington on Oct. 21.
The Redskins have dropped three of four and their only victory in that span was against lowly Tampa Bay. Their schedule does not do them any favors the rest of the way, with three of the five remaining games away from home.
McCoy was forced into the lineup when Smith suffered a gruesome season-ending injury in last week's loss at the Houston Texans. Thursday's game was his first start since November 2014, which also came against, coincidentally, the Cowboys.
Washington has relied on a vanilla offense and rugged defense for much of the season and seemingly had seized control of the division with three straight wins to move to 5-2 through the first eight weeks.
Smith, who earned a reputation as a game manager for the ability to protect the football and not take chances, threw only five interceptions in his 10 starts. Of course, he also had only 10 touchdown passes and averaged 218 yards passing per contest.
A third-round draft pick of Cleveland in 2010, McCoy has 25 career starts under his belt, but his lack of game experience showed against the Cowboys. McCoy threw for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns but the most noteworthy stat was the three interceptions -- a stark contrast to Smith.
"You can't turn the ball over in the division on the road and expect to come out on top," said McCoy. "I take full responsibility for that. A little rusty. ... I put our team in a couple bad positions, and I can't afford to do that if we want to win. I'll clean some things up, and we'll go from there."
While agreeing with his quarterback's assessment that McCoy might be "a little rusty," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said that was not unexpected.
"He hadn't taken a rep with the No. 1 offense since OTAs," said Gruden. "I still think he competed. He threw some balls he shouldn't have thrown."
McCoy, who was 6-of-12 for 54 yards and a touchdown in relief of Smith last weekend, had only three days to prepare for the Thanksgiving Day clash in Dallas. He will receive plenty of practice time before the next game -- on Dec. 3 at reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.
"There's little things throughout the game that I think came up just because I just haven't had a whole lot of reps with those guys," McCoy said in breaking down Thursday's defeat. "Depth of receivers' routes -- maybe I thought he was making a break here and the ball ended up being six inches behind him and it's a turnover. Those things will just eat at me for a while. Frustrating, but I know that I can clean those things up.
"I was throwing some trust balls to guys knowing that this is how we're coaching this up and this is how I see it. I'm going to fire it in there. Couple times it got me in trouble, but I also want those guys to know that I trust them and I'm going to let the ball fly. I'm going to give them a chance to make plays."