Dallas Cowboys

Five thoughts on a back-breaking 19-16 overtime loss by the Cowboys to the Texans

Houston Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (7) celebrates his winning field goal during overtime of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Houston.
Houston Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (7) celebrates his winning field goal during overtime of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Houston. AP

It took sudden death in the battle for Texas in what might also be considered a battle for their playoff lives.

The Houston Texans earned state bragging rights over the Dallas Cowboys with a 19-16 victory, thanks to a 36-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn with 1 minute, 50 seconds left in overtime.

It was sudden death because the Cowboys, who dropped to 2-3, had the first possession of overtime and had to punt, meaning the next score would win the game.

A game Cowboys defense that allowed just 16 points on five possessions by the Texans inside the 10-yard line finally tired out as receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught a 49-yard pass from quarterback DeShaun Watson to set up the game winner.

The Texans are also 2-3 and seemingly have new life on the season with a second straight win.

The Cowboys were hoping to build some momentum with their second straight victory after last week’s 26-24 win against the Detroit Lions. Now they are hoping to get back to .500 next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott was held to 54 yards and quarterback Dak Prescott tossed two interceptions in the back-breaking loss.

“It’s tough. It’s tough definitely this being as close a game as it was and the defense playing as well as they did,” Elliott said. “Two or three goal-line stands before the half. It’s really frustrating.”

The biggest post-game question was the Cowboys decision to punt on 4th and 1 at the Texans’ 42 on the first drive of overtime after failing on 3rd and 1 with an Elliott run for no gain. With so much invested in Elliott, the offensive line and the running game should they have gone for it and tried to win on offense rather than play it conservative and punt back to Texans and trust a tired defense to bail them out again?

Asked about the decision to punt, owner Jerry Jones said that’s a time for risk taking, but says he’s not second guessing.

Prescott certainly wanted to go for it but coach Jason Garrett didn’t waiver in his decision.

“I would but in that case you don’t question the coach’s decision,” Prescott said when asked if he wanted to go for it. “Defense had been playing good all night. Kept us in the game, a bunch of the game. I mean from the second quarter and then in the 4th quarter they gave us chances all day long. So I mean, coach made the decision to go with the defense.”

It’s the continuation of a troubling trend for the Cowboys who have lost all three road games and won their only two games at home.

“I don’t know we just haven’t got it going on offense,” Prescott said. “I don’t know if there’s one thing we can pinpoint and say this is the reason we’re not having success on the road and we’re having that success at home. That’s what we got to figure out. We’re 5 games in the season, we got a lot of ball left and lucky enough that we got a lot of time to do that. But it’s got to happen fast, it’s got to happen soon for us to figure it out and get better.”

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1. It certainly wasn’t a pretty effort for quarterback Dak Prescott who was under duress for much night because of constant pressure from the Texans defensive line, namely J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. He was sacked two times and would have been sacked more if not for scrambles out of trouble.

Prescott was also undone by his receivers, who couldn’t come up with key catchable passes, including one that went through the hands of receiver Tavon Austin. Deonte Thompson let a third-down completion go through his hands and Michael Gallup couldn’t come down with one on the sideline. Prescott completed 18 of 29 passes for 208 yards with one touchdown pass to Allen Hurns and two interceptions. His second pick was simply a bad pass and had two others that should have been picked.

But he was game enough in the fourth quarter to shake off a would-be sack and toss a 44-yarder to Austin to set up the game-tying field goal. Prescott also had six carries for 34 yards. But he probably should have had one more carry. A handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott rather than keeping it on the zone read killed the opening drive of overtime, setting up the Texans victory.

Austin said after the game that should have made the catch.

Prescott the time is now for he and the receivers to get on the same page because it is costing them games.

“You can’t sit around and bank on that in this league,” Prescott said. “When you do you obviously lose games like we have so. We’ve got to get it together and get it together fast and make sure our chemistry is where we need it to be heading into next week. Give ourselves a chance to win.”

2. Kicker Brett Maher has earned his place and proved the Cowboys right in keeping him over veteran Dan Bailey coming out of training camp. There are no longer any questions about that. Last week Maher hit the game winner in the victory against the Lions. On Sunday against the Texans, he made three field goals, including a 48-yarder late in the fourth quarter to tie the game up.

Ironically it was his 57-yard kick in the preseason finale at the Texans that helped him win the job. He has now made 11 straight field goals since an opening miss in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. His effort on Sunday came on the same day that Bailey missed two field goals for the Vikings.

The Cowboys were trying to give Maher a chance for the game-winner late in regulation but stalled at their 47 and 42 yards lines on the final two possessions of the fourth quarter.

3. It was a game of near misses for running back Ezekiel Elliott. He 54 yards on 20 carries and caught seven passes for 30 yards. The Texans had him bottled up for much of the night and seemed to sniff out the patented screen pass the Cowboys like to throw to him. Elliott had nine carries for 30 yards in the first half. He came close to popping loose a couple of times but was tackled by an arm.

He had six carries for 23 yards in the third quarter. The Texans were certain not to let Elliott break loose after seeing him record a career-high 240 yards in total offense in the 26-24 victory against the Detroit Lions last week when he had 152 yards rushing and 88 yards receiving. The best example was on the opening drive of overtime. Elliott was stopped on 3rd and 1, as linebacker Zach Cunningham keyed on him all the way.

“They were very active up front moving around with a lot of line stunts,” Elliott said. “They did a great job against our run game.”

4. Give the Cowboys defense credit. It certainly looked like the Cowboys were going to have trouble with the Texans offense and Deshaun Watson all night. Watson completed his first seven passes and had 29 yards rushing on their first two drives. They also got gashed by running back Alfred Blue early who had seven carries for 34 yards in the first half. But the defense hung in there and kept the Cowboys in the game.

They limited the Texans to a field goal after 1st and goal at the 6, stopping Watson on a scramble at the 2 and then forcing an incomplete pass. The Texans were set up again after a Dak Prescott interception with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the half and holding a 10-6 lead. A 1st and goal at the 9 soon became fourth 1 and the 1, thanks to a tackle by safety Jeff Heath on receiver DeAndre Hopkins at the goal line. The Texans went for it on fourth down with :03 left and linebacker Jaylon Smith sacked Watson for a two-yard loss.

The defensive opened the third quarter with a forced fumble by cornerback Anthony Brown on Hopkins. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis returned it 14 yards to set up a touchdown pass to Allen Hurns for a 13-10 lead. And then after another Prescott interception in Cowboys territory, the sudden change defense kept the Texans out of the end zone, forcing a game-tying field goal.

And the Cowboys defense did it again at the 8:31 mark of the fourth quarter following a first and goal at the 1, thanks to a pass interference penalty in the end zone on Jones against Hopkins. Two runs for no gain followed by a pass deflection by Heath forced the Texans to settle for a field goal and a 16-13 lead. Xavier Woods saved the Cowboys at the end of regulation with the team’s first interception of the season. The defense was simply tired in overtime when Hopkins made the big catch and run.

5. Defensive tackle David Irving should rejoin the team on Tuesday after Monday off. Irving did not make the trip to Houston for Sunday’s game against the Texans because of ongoing personal issues and concerns about his conditioning, per a source.

Irving has had just one practice since last November. He missed the final four games of 2017 with a concussion. He missed all of the offseason program, OTAs, minicamp and training camp dealing with personal issues. He missed the first four games of the season under NFL suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

He returned last Tuesday and practiced on Wednesday before missing Thursday and Friday with personal family issues. The Cowboys believe he will be ready to go on Tuesday and play against the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday.