Photo: Michael Ainsworth (AP)

If the vibe around the Washington football team’s camp these past few days felt a little too optimistic—filled with reports about how, actually, he wasn’t that much of a dropoff from Alex Smith—Thursday’s 31-23 loss against the Cowboys likely tempered any lofty expectations. Now sitting outside the playoff picture at 6-5, Washington finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to gain ground in the NFC with a quarterback who’s less consistent and less experienced than the one they committed to this summer.

Though the one-possession final score belies what was a reasonably comfortable Cowboys victory, McCoy was at least kind of decent at times in his first NFL start since 2014. Completing 24 of 38 passes for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns, McCoy’s best play of the game came midway through the second quarter, when a drive-opening pass to Vernon Davis went 53 yards for a score that made the game 7-7. It was the longest pass of Washington’s season.

But along with Adrian Peterson’s deflating performance on the ground, it was McCoy’s mistakes that ruined the Washington offense. McCoy possesses the confidence to move outside the pocket and throw downfield, but carelessness doomed him into throwing a trio of avoidable interceptions: a ball he telegraphed right into the hands of Anthony Brown, a short pass thrown right at a D-lineman, and, most crucially, a fourth-quarter ball forced into heavy coverage. That also doesn’t count an interception that Josh Doctson saved, and a sack-fumble that Washington recovered. With Alex Smith only throwing three picks in his first nine games this season, McCoy’s irresponsibility with the ball definitely felt like a letdown for a division contender.

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But Washington, as a team, remains behind McCoy as their quarterback. Head coach Jay Gruden, while noting that McCoy had yet to have a full practice week with the first team, said that despite the mistakes, “He made some incredible plays, incredible throws. I think we can build off of it.”

Of course, it’s the job of the coach not to trash his new starting quarterback. And without many other options (at least on the current roster), McCoy is who Washington is stuck with at that position. But most interesting of the postgame quotes was safety and defensive leader D.J. Swearinger, who took the heat off McCoy by putting it all on his side of the ball.

“We lose two games in a row because of the defense,” Swearinger said. “Ain’t no damn offense, man. Defense, we lost the game.”

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Certainly Zeke Elliott’s free reign in the backfield and Dak Prescott’s zero interceptions were just as damaging to the Skins as McCoy’s three turnovers. But let’s be fair. Both sides need to improve if Washington wants to remain competitive.