After Antonio Gibson got the edge, after he knew he could outrace the defense to the pylon, he allowed himself a glance back. The rookie running back saw Dallas Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson. In moments like these, when he was putting the exclamation point on a win, Gibson usually threw up the peace sign. But this time, he switched the ball from his right hand to his left and waved, a farewell to the Cowboys, a hello to the national TV audience, a swaggering statement about what this team believes it can be.
For all their miscues and mistakes, the Washington Football Team has proven to be a tough and resilient unit — and the promise finally shone through in the 41-16 Thanksgiving thumping. This was the clearest example yet that Coach Ron Rivera is molding the team in the image he said he would, and the play of several of his young players — Gibson, wide receiver Terry McLaurin, defensive end Montez Sweat — illustrated it.
What Gibson said after the game perhaps best embodies the mind-set of a team that, at 4-7, jumped into first place for the NFC East.
“Our record isn’t the best; our conference isn’t the best; but we’re still in it,” Gibson said. “That gives us hope. If we can make the playoffs, why not?”
After a career day — 25 touches, 137 yards, three touchdowns — Gibson couldn’t help but think back to November 2019. He was at Memphis then, and he set a school record against then-No. 14 Southern Methodist with 386 all-purpose yards, including a 50-yard receiving touchdown, a 78-yard rushing touchdown and a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown. He couldn’t believe the symmetry, another breakout game on another national stage against another team from Dallas.
“It’s the story of my life,” he said. “Every time the spotlight come on, it seems like God’s always watching on me. … The SMU game put me on the map.”
Four takeaways from Washington’s 41-16 blowout win over Dallas
Since then, no one embodies the progress and maturation of the team better than Gibson. Washington drafted Gibson in the third round as a project, a young weapon who had played a little running back and a little receiver in two seasons of Division I. Rivera compared him to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, the league’s highest-paid running back, and put him in the running backroom full time.
Early in the year, Gibson looked like a receiver playing running back. He missed holes; he misjudged linemen; he confused protections. Slowly, though, he made strides. His role expanded, and he lined up in two-back formations with J.D. McKissic. He used his athleticism to help the Air Coryell-based offense, uniquely dependent on running backs, turning check-downs into first downs.
On Thursday, Gibson’s progress was evident. He proved too tough for one tackler in