Remember last year when the Cowboys were without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant? Dallas never won a game with those two missing. On Sunday, the Cowboys would once again be without two of their biggest playmakers. And not only that, Tyron Smith would be inactive for the second straight week with a back injury.
These are terrible things that would make 2015 fans go crawl in a hole somewhere. But this isn’t 2015. This is the new Cowboys and there are other players on this team that can carry the team to victory these days.
Here are five observations from the Cowboys win over the 49ers.
The game would initially start out great when the Cowboys did what they always did to open a game - drive the ball down into scoring position. But then the unthinkable happened. The ultra-accurate Dan Bailey was not so accurate, missing his second field goal of the season.
That’s okay, the Cowboys defense came into the game not allowing the opposing team to score in the first quarter.
But that is no more as the 49ers marched 63 yards on nine plays and found Jeremy Kerley for a 33-yard touchdown. Wham bam, thank you San Fran! Cowboys down 7-0.
The Cowboys offense would not respond as their next drive only consisted of four plays before punting the ball away. San Francisco would strike again, going 80 yards on 12 plays. The defense looked terrible. On one play, the Cowboys would completely forget to cover Garrett Celek as Blaine Gabbert would hit him for a big 27 yard gain, setting up a Carlos Hyde touchdown.
And just like that, the Cowboys were down 14-0. It looked like it was going to be a long day.
Dak Didn’t Flinch
Everyone has been waiting for the Cowboys rookie quarterback to show signs that he’s a rookie. In the first half, there were glimpses. On two different occasions, Prescott would have a wide receiver wide open on the sideline and misfired. He was throwing on the run, but the ball just got away from him and sailed over the receiver’s head.
But even after the Cowboys found themselves down 14-0, the kid just kept his cool and kept playing football. Prescott would go 23 for 32 with 245 yards and is now over 1,000 yards on the season. This is his third straight game that he’s completed over 70% of his passes. But even more impressive, this is his fourth straight game that he hasn’t thrown an interception. If you’re curious, Tony Romo has had two stretches of four games where he hasn’t thrown an interception. But he has never gone five games without a pick. Prescott will have a chance to do just that next week when he faces the Cincinnati Bengals.
Keep Feeding Zeke
And just as it was with Prescott, the Cowboys other rookie had another nice game. It’s not always pretty, but Ezekiel Elliott would grind out 138 yards on 23 carries, for a 6.0 per carry average. He’s now averaging 104 rushing yards a game, which would put him on pace for 1,664 yards for the season. That’s pretty good.
The 49ers suffered a big blow when NaVorro Bowman left the game with an injury. The Cowboys didn’t waste any time capitalizing as Zeke broke off a 26-yard run on the very next play. The Cowboys would go to Zeke seven times during their 10-play, 78-yard drive to take the lead for the first time in the game. It was fun to watch and just made me want to dance.
But Zeke didn’t just do his damage on the ground. One of his biggest impact plays was when the Cowboys were backed up 1st and 20 after a holding penalty. Elliott would get most of those yards back on a screen pass. The way Zeke kept his legs going and smuggled out those last few yards after the defender tried to throw him to the ground was a testament to his how well this kid finishes plays. Just like that the Cowboys were in a manageable down and distance situation.
Fun Fact: DeMarco Murray averaged 24 carries a game in 2014. So far this season, Elliott is averaging 24 carries a game.
And don’t look now, but Elliott is now leading the NFL in rushing with 416 yards.
He’s Not A Bust No Mo
What a great game for the reborn cornerback from LSU. It’s real easy to be skeptical of the Cowboys defensive back after he has struggled to put together a good season since being selected sixth overall in 2012. But people might just start believing in him now. Claiborne made several key plays to help the defense come through.
The biggest play might be one that is easy to forget about. On the very first play of the second half, 49ers running back Carlos Hyde exploded through the middle for a 43-yard gain. It was a big play, but it could have been even bigger had it not been for a touchdown saving tackle by Claiborne.
Of course, the play everyone remembers is interception in the fourth quarter when Blaine Gabbert under threw Torrey Smith.
And Claiborne would come up big again when on fourth down, he tackled Smith three yards short of the first. The Cowboys needed a big stop by their defense and they got one. Claiborne may never play up to the level of his draft cost, but he remains a strong starter for this defense.
Both these teams came into the game as one of the fewest penalized teams in the league, but they didn’t look like it on Sunday. San Francisco would have six penalties for 45 yards and Dallas would have five penalties for 32 yards. And it wasn’t just the quantity, but also the nature of the penalties. Both teams really struggled with false starts, especially Dallas. And that is just the ones they caught. Chaz Green was seen getting off the snap earlier on several plays. Even Joe Buck and Troy Aikman couldn’t stop talking about it.
Each team would also make a bonehead penalty. The Cowboys got bailed out when safety Jaquiski Tartt would get called for an unnecessary roughness after the 49ers had sacked Prescott. It may have looked like a clean play, but it was late (after the whistle) and wasn’t necessary. Rather than punting the ball, this gave the Cowboys a new set of downs, which they would take advantage by scoring their first touchdown of the game.
The Cowboys tried to return the favor after Brice Butler would get a penalty for taunting after making a nice grab on first down. The Cowboys went from 2nd and 1 to 2nd and 16, which resulted in the offense punting the ball away.
The Cowboys showed a lot of resiliency fighting back. Despite being injured coming into the game, the Cowboys appeared to come away unscathed, although it looks like Zack Martin might have experienced some leg spasms late in the game. Stay tuned for updates.
Those were my observations from the game. What was it that stood out to you the most?