Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may have been exaggerating when he said before the game that he wouldn’t trade quarterback Dak Prescott for two first-round picks.
Nevertheless, Prescott rewarded Jones’ faith by leading the Cowboys to a 22-19 victory against the Atlanta Falcons while continuing to give life on what had been a lost season.
It was the second-straight victory for the Cowboys (5-5), who are back at .500 heading into Thursday’s first-place NFC East showdown against the Washington Redskins (6-4), who lost 23-21 to the Houston Texans.
That a Cowboys team that was left for dead at 3-5 after a loss to the Tennessee Titans two weeks got a win in Atlanta, the place their season went off the rails a year ago, is playing for first place on Thanksgiving Day was not lost on a pleased Jerry Jones.
“It’s all that much more reason to appreciate how this team has come together to be where we are right now,” Jones said. “We’ve got a big one against as big a rival as there is in sports. We [the Cowboys and Redskins] don’t always play for a title, but to some degree, we’re playing for it out there Thanksgiving Day.”
After the Falcons tied the game on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones with 1:52 left in the game, Prescott led the Cowboys 51 yards on 10 plays.
He completed passes of 5 yards to tight end Geoff Swaim, 10 yards to receiver Michael Gallup, 11 yards to running back Ezekiel Elliott and 19-yards to receiver Cole Beasley to set up the game winner.
Brett Maher kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Cowboys sideline into a frenzy and a mobbing of their first-year kicker.
“Of course, Dak doesn’t blink,” Jones said. “I can’t imagine anybody feeling better to have this team in the hands of a third-year quarterback in the NFL and have him under center in a game situation like that. You couldn’t feel any better if you’re in my shoes, and I wouldn’t trade it for anybody.”
Here are five thoughts from the game:
Dak Prescott did what was asked of him. It wasn’t pretty. He didn’t throw any touchdown passes. But he also didn’t have any turnovers. He rushed for a four-yard touchdown.
But most importantly he led the Cowboys into field goal range, setting up a 42-yard field goal by Brett Maher to give the team a 22-19 victory.
He completed 22 of 32 passes for 208 yards in the game but none were bigger than the four clutch completions he had on the final drive.
“Obviously, it was a really good drive,’ coach Jason Garrett said. “They did a really good job on their drive coming down on that two-minute situation coming down from the fringe area and we had to respond with just under two minutes to go we had three timeouts and the score was tied. We worked those situations more than any situation there is in football. I think we did a really good job handling it. Made some big third-down conversion, Dak [Prescott] made some big plays, the guys around him made some big plays, we got ourselves down to the field goal range, got a little bit closer and Brett [Maher] did a great job coming down and drilling the kick.”
It was the seventh fourth-quarter comeback of his career and 12th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of his career.
“I want the ball in my hand,” Prescott said. “Always have and always will. Anytime I get the opportunity to get that chance, that’s the way I like it. To just go down there and everyone execute the way they did. Offensive line protecting, receivers getting open, as I said it’s just a bi-product of what we do each and every week. I mean, it was a great drive.”
Cooper limited, Beasley comes up big late
Receiver Amari Cooper has been a huge factor for the Cowboys offense ever since coming over in a bye week trade from the Oakland Raiders.
Cooper did not catch a pass in the first half. But he had three catches for 36 yards in the third quarter, including a 17-yard catch in a 75-yard touchdown drive that allowed the Cowboys to take the lead 12-9.
He finished the game with those three catches. Receiver Cole Beasley had five catches for 51 yards. But he will regret a dropped touchdown pass in the first quarter.
But it was Beasley who came up big late. He had a 19-yard reception on the final drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
“I can’t even describe it,” Beasley said of the drop. “It’s like you can’t be mad. I mean you’re mad, but it’s like it never happened. I just said, ‘Wow.’ It’s part of it. I’m just glad I fought through it and made the plays I needed to that came to me after that.”
Running back Ezekiel Elliott led the Cowboys with seven catches for 79 yards.
It was the focus on Cooper that opened things up for Elliott on the ground and through the air.
“They did well in their coverage,” Prescott said. “They played off a little bit. They changed it up for the most part. When we needed to make plays, we made plays and that was the most important thing. The way teams are playing us and the way they’re playing Amari [Cooper] and adjusting their coverages has given us favorable boxes. The offensive line is doing a great job of taking advantage of that. [Ezekiel Elliott] Zeke’s finding holes and making people miss.”
Zeke breaks 100 again
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said before the game that the team would need Ezekiel Elliott to control the ball and the clock if they hoped to beat the Falcons.
He was counting on riding an angry Elliott, who motivated to make amends for missing last year’s game against the Falcons which coincided with the start of his six-game suspension and began a three-game losing streak that killed the Cowboys season.
Elliott rushed 23 times for 122 yards and had a career-high tying seven catches for 79 yards, giving him 201 yards from scrimmage, to lead the Cowboys to victory. Elliott had a 23-yard touchdown run to put the Cowboys up 19-9 early in the fourth quarter.
It was Elliott’s second straight 100-yard game. He had 151 yards in a 27-20 victory against the Eagles last week. It is the fourth time Elliott has accumulated at least 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving in a single game in his career. He is now tied with Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker (all with four) for the most such games in Cowboys history. It was Elliott’s fourth career game with 200 scrimmage yards to tie Emmitt Smith and DeMarco Murray for the most by a Dallas Cowboy.
The Cowboys improved to 19-6 in games in which Elliott rushes for 20-or-more carries. Dallas is now 14-3 when Elliott tops 100 yards on the ground.
“We know he’s a difference,” Jerry Jones said. “He’s a difference maker for the opponent. He’s a difference maker for us. He took it on his shoulders. We put it on his shoulders. He basically did everything that you could ask for to win that game. I’m sure they’d tell you the same thing. He was the difference.”
Missed opportunities then Vander Esch comes through
The first half featured a series of missed opportunities for the Cowboys. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins dropped a gift interception from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the opening drive of the game that would have put them in scoring position for a field goal at least.
Then receiver Cole Beasley dropped a wide-open touchdown pass, forcing the Cowboys to settle for a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter.
“[Cole] Beasley is tough on himself,” Prescott said. “Obviously, right there, he was just telling me how mad he was. I just told him, ‘Don’t worry. It’s over with. We’re going to need you again,’ and obviously, he made a huge play right there on the two-minute drive to set us up for the game-winning field goal. Just his resiliency right there. Dropping that pass to start the game off for a touchdown and making a huge play at the end of the game just showed a lot tonight on a lot of different players.”
Safety Jeff Heath also dropped an interception from Ryan in the second quarter.
The fortunes seemed to turn in the third quarter when running back Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on third and 1 but tackle La’el Collins jumped on it, allowing the Cowboys to continue what would a 75-yard touchdown drive.
And then linebacker Leighton Vander Esch picked off a tipped pass to receiver Calvin Ridley. He returned it 28-yards to set up a 23-yard touchdown run from Ezekiel Elliott.
“That was big,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Taking the ball away is big, particularly in a game like this when there are so few opportunities. We had the ball, they had the ball it wasn’t like it was going back and forth. We possessed it. So each of those possessions are going to be big in the game. To be able to get one, take it away from them and cash it in was huge early on in the ball game. Not only to get points on the board but from a momentum aspect as well.”
Maher the hero
Brett Maher is no longer in the dog house. After missing an extra point earlier in the game, allowing the Falcons to tie the game 19-19 in the final minutes. Maher made a 42-yard goal as time expired.
It was his second game-winning field goal of the season. He also beat the Lions with a late kick.
It was typical of his season. Maher missed his first attempt in the season opener. But then nailed 16 in a row.
Maher missed three of his last five field goal attempts going into the Falcons game.
And after making a 21-yarder and a 50-yarder, he missed an extra point.
No one felt better about coming through at the end and getting mobbed by his teammates than Maher, who said his foot got stuck in the turf on the extra point.
“I don’t hear a lot of (what his teammates said to him at the bottom of the pile),” Maher said. “It’s just a bunch of loud noises. I try to keep my chin strap buckled up so I don’t get hurt.”
“That is a great feeling especially knowing what those guys go throughout the week and during the game to put me in position. It is really satisfying for me.”
Said Jerry Jones: “I think that probably had a lot to say about the team as a whole. The fact that he had hurdles, especially that extra point. The team itself had its ups and downs during games this season. I think the kicker story today, and frankly the last few weeks is the story to some degree. For him to have success and win the game in a comeback, that’s just a big step to build on. I think it’s inspirational for him to make that game-winning kick.”