The Dallas Cowboys basically won a game on Sunday night they had no business winning. They were out-played and out-coached for much of the game, and they were racking up penalties at an arming rate. But somehow, when it counted in the fourth quarter and overtime, they managed to do what it took to win the game. Let’s take a look at some of the important events of last night.
We’ll start, like normal, with Dak Prescott. For much of the night, Prescott suddenly looked like a fourth-round rookie quarterback thrown into the mix too early. Had the first part of the season been a mirage, fool’s gold?
Except for a 53-yard completion to Dez Bryant in the first quarter, Prescott was simply off all night. His most egregious mistake was an interception in the Philadelphia end zone late in the second quarter. With the score tied 10-10, Prescott forced a pass to Brice Butler that Jordan Hicks picked off.
The Eagles turned Prescott’s first interception at home into a 55-yard field goal to close the half.
In the second half, Prescott underthrew an open Bryant in the end zone. On third down, Terrance Williams saved his second red-zone interception with an offensive pass interference penalty, which allowed the Cowboys to kick a field goal.
That kind of play was what was expected at the beginning of the year, before we had seen him perform like a veteran for over a month. Not to fret, Prescott definitely turned it around.
In overtime, Prescott finally pulled out his magic, completing all five of his passes in the extra session for 56 yards, including a 5-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
On the play — second-and-goal from the Philadelphia 5 — Prescott ducked inside, spun backward, rolled left and found a wide open Witten in the end zone.
On that Romo-esque final play, Prescott made everything right again in Cowboys Nation, and rescued his worst evening as a pro.
For much of the night, Prescott’s counterpart, Carson Wentz, had the upper hand. Wentz was throwing everything short, but he was accurate and he was not turning the ball over. Prescott overcame him at the end, but this was the opening act on what is expected to be a decade long battle between the two.
Sunday night featured the Cowboys facing the Eagles in a battle of dueling narratives: rookies pressed into unexpected service— Prescott by injury, Wentz by trade—and turning their unexpected opportunity into career launchpads. The Cowboys won in overtime, 29-23, but long before Prescott found Jason Witten wide open in the end zone for the game-winner, these two quarterbacks had established themselves
The teams traded jabs throughout the entire game, fighters each searching for weakness in the other. Wentz was more accurate but shorter, completing 32 of 43 passes for 202 yards. Five Eagles receivers broke into double figures, but none caught a pass longer than 13 yards.
Prescott, by contrast, went for the theatrical, throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns, the highlight a 53-yard connection to the returning Dez Bryant. Prescott completed barely half of his 39 attempts, but strengthened over the course of the game.
In the end, Prescott got the ‘W’ in their first head-to-head matchup.
And for anyone wondering who will be starting next week against Cleveland.
Ezekiel Elliott has his string of 100+ rushing yards broken, but he was still very effective. In fact, it could be argued that the Cowboys should have fed him the ball more.
Of course, he wasn’t alone. Ezekiel Elliott was again a workhorse. In fact, some of the Cowboys struggles in the middle portions of the game came when they seemingly went away from the rookie running back. He produced 40 yards on just six carries and hauled in two passes for 35 more in the first quarter alone, but then over the next two quarters he carried the ball just seven times combined for 24 yards with only one catch for 7 yards.
In overtime, he carried the ball five times, which included a big 12-yard gain down to the Philadelphia 14-yard line. He finished just short of the century mark, totaling 96 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Welcome back, Dez Bryant.
Did someone really say out loud that the Cowboys should trade Dez Bryant? Obviously that would be foolish. Bryant provided the biggest of plays Sunday night, hauling in a highlight TD grab to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. Bryant finished with four catches for 113 yards. Not bad for his first game back from a hairline fracture in his right knee. A healthy Bryant and a healthy Elliott will make life a lot easier for whoever is playing QB in Dallas.
Just what has gotten into Jason Garrett? He used to be the most conservative of NFL coaches, never going for it on fourth down, never calling fake punts, or onside kicks. Suddenly, he’s a gambler.
Jason Garrett continues to show the confidence he has in this young team with the calls he makes at key moments. The decision to go for it on fourth-and-one in OT was the most significant. But his fake punt after the team had gone three-and-out on its first two possessions of the second half was also significant.
The Cowboys defense held it together, even though it was frustrating at times. The special teams unit made it hard for them in many cases, providing poor field position. And they let Wentz throw short all night.
The Eagles had exactly one drive of over 60 yards all night long and were beneficiaries of some short fields. Despite this, they were under 300 yards of total offense, gained a paltry 4.1 yards per play, never once threatened the Cowboys vertically, and relied on Darren Sproles and a bunch of slants. The Cowboys eventually closed things down and started getting pressure. Four punts and a fumble in the second half were vital for the defense to allow the offense to have a chance late. In a game of many twists and turns, Sean Lee and Tyrone Crawford stood very tall to lead this defense to victory.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys defense really went to work.
It was that defensive stand in the final 13 minutes that allowed the Cowboys to escape the Eagles with a 29-23 victory in overtime. The Cowboys sacked rookie quarterback Carson Wentz three times in the game and forced one turnover. Two of the sacks and the lone turnover came in the fourth quarter, allowing the Cowboys to rally from a 10-point deficit and force the overtime.
“At the critical moments we were able to make the plays and get off the field,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s really important when you’re in a game down by two scores. The defense did a really good job in the latter part of the game.”
Overall, it was kind of a miracle win for Dallas. Dak Prescott played poorly for much of the game, the special teams were bad except for one brilliant fake punt, and the team was very undisciplined with plenty of penalties. Still, they won. Which leads us to point this out from the David Moore article referenced above:
Something special is taking place here. If you don’t believe that, you didn’t see the celebration that erupted at AT&T Stadium when Prescott found a wide open Jason Witten for the winning score.
This team has now gone 49 days without a loss to establish itself as the best team in the National Football Conference. It has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as New England as the top teams in the NFL at the moment.
Every team in the NFC East now finds itself at least two games behind the Cowboys in the loss column.
Continuing that theme.
There is not a better team in the NFL than the hated New England Patriots, but the best team in the NFC is your Dallas Cowboys.
Don’t be afraid to think big — like Houston big. Houston may not be a good place to visit in early February, but it is home to the Super Bowl this season. And this team is good enough to go to Houston.
The Dallas Cowboys played nearly an entire game in which their quarterback was bad, and a whole host of other individuals from the coaches to the offensive linemen to certain members of the defense took turns drinking from the aged Barrel of Stupid.
Somehow they won.