The Dallas Cowboys are smokin’. Red-hot. En fuego. We could go on. Dallas is now at 8-1 on the season, and holds the best record in the NFL after winning an instant classic against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s see how they did it.
No conversation about this game is possible without mentioning the game turned in by Ezekiel Elliott. 114 yard rushing with two TDs, 95 yards receiving with one TD. Over 1,000 yards rushing on the season already. Here’s how own our own Tom Ryle termed it.
He was the difference maker, scoring go-ahead touchdowns twice in the final two minutes of the game. You can’t do much better than that.
If you are on Twitter, just go search for “Elliott MVP”. The support is building, and it isn’t just from Dallas fans.
He wasn’t kidding. Besides guys like Jimmy Johnson and Adam Schefter saying Zeke is in the running for MVP, there is this from Dan Graziano.
With 1,005 rushing yards through nine games, with three touchdowns (including the game winner) in Sunday's comeback-over-and-over victory in Pittsburgh, Elliott is dominating the league. Running behind the NFL's most dominant offensive line and taking handoffs from the only man besides him who has half a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Elliott is currently the most potent offensive force in the game.
At this point, even with Tony Romo healthy enough to play, Dak Prescott deserves to be the Cowboys quarterback. But Ezekiel Elliott deserves to be the league's MVP.
There are just not enough superlatives to describe his play so far. And have you seen his pass protection against the blitz? Phenomenal!
In the meantime, as we noted last night, Dak Prescott will hold the starting QB job and Tony Romo will be his healthy backup. Jerry Jones informed everyone after the game.
"It's just going with the obvious," Jones said. "You are going with how the team is doing right now. It must not be obvious because I get asked about it every time I open my mouth. It's not hard. It's not hard at all. Tony would make the same decision. That's what you do."
"There's no fragileness because Tony is on board to ride this thing out as well," Jones said. "Absolutely. Absolutely. Let me be real clear on that. There is no equivocation. He is totally committed to doing the very best thing to win the game."
Some reasons why Dak has secured the starting job.
Prescott looked like he put the Cowboys in position to win on the previous drive. Taking over with 7:51 remaining at the Dallas 25, Prescott sent his offense on a 10-play drive that ended with Elliott waltzing into the end zone from 14 yards out with 1:55 to play.
On the drive, Prescott hit four different receivers: Lucky Whitehead, Cole Beasley, Elliott and Witten. On third-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 28, he threaded a throw to Witten for 14 yards. On the drive, he was 6-of-6 for 48 yards.
On the final two drives, he completed nine of 10 passes for 76 yards. He finished with 319 yards on 22-of-32 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Twice with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Prescott answered. Just like he did late in the fourth quarter at Washington in Week 2. Just like he did when the Cowboys were down 14 points in the first quarter at San Francisco. Just like he did late in the first half of what turned into a convincing win at Green Bay. Just like he did in overtime facing the No. 2 pick in the draft, Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, by completing all five of his overtime passes before hitting Witten for a game winner.
Dez Bryant had a huge game. Six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. After his touchdown, he knelt on the ground as some teammates surrounded him. At the time, I feared he might have hurt himself, pulled a hamstring or something. It turns out he was very emotional in that moment; his father had died the day before. They weren’t extremely close and had issues in their relationship. Still, the moment was felt by Dez. He had been struggling with it all day, but his teammates picked him up.
One of those players was Prescott, who said he talked to Bryant earlier in the day about what he's been through since his mother's death.
"Your father, he is watching you," Prescott told Bryant. "He's got the best seat in the house. I told him to go out there and honor him today. And Dez did exactly that."
The team honored Bryant in the postgame locker room by giving him the game ball. Tears flowed again.
"It was emotional," Beasley said. "There were a lot of guys with tears in here. We definitely feel for him. And all the stuff he's been through in his life, he's still persevering every day.”
The Cowboys offense kept rolling against the Steelers, but the defense struggled some. They had their worst statistical day of the season.
Anytime you play Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, you'd better know the odds are stacked against you. He kept plays alive and found receivers open and shredded blitzes all day for over 400 yards passing. After a stretch of seven drives in which the Cowboys held them out of the end zone, the Steelers came alive late to put Dallas back on the ropes. The defense had just one sack and no takeaways but battled their tails off and kept Le'Veon Bell from having too big a day. It wasn't great defense, but it was pretty good in a back-and-forth struggle.
One defensive player did have a big game, and hopefully it’s just the start. The Cowboys need DeMarcus Lawrence to come up big on a consistent basis.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence finally had a breakout game with a sack and another tackle for loss, safety Byron Jones flashed with several pivotal plays on the day, and linebacker Sean Lee shined in his hometown return with two tackles for loss.
“I thought our guys did a good job of hanging in there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought we battled. We competed. It wasn’t perfect by any means in any phase, but the spirit of the team was right. It’s a real tribute to our guys.”
Lawrence got into the backfield quickly on the opening play of the second quarter, blowing up a run play for Le’Veon Bell and forcing a fumble. Jones had the ball bounce to him for what could have been a scoop-and-score, but it slipped through his hands and went out of bounds.
For some reason, the Steelers decided that two-point tries after touchdowns were an absolute necessity. Thank goodness they did, because they basically gifted the Cowboys four points that could have been important towards the end.
Steelers attempt, fail first 2-point try – Not sure why the Steelers had to go up 8-0 instead of 7-0, but that’s what they did in the first quarter and ended up playing catch-up all game. By missing a two-point conversion early on a great play by safety Byron Jones, the Steelers ended up trying and failing to convert two-point tries all game. When they scored again, they tried to get the two points back to get up to 14, but missed. They tried again in the fourth quarter to go up three, but failed. Even at the end, had they just kicked extra points, they would’ve had four more points. That might have changed the way the Cowboys played the final two possessions because they wouldn’t have been able to settle for a field goal.
The Cowboys decided to kick their extra points until the end, when they needed to go for two. And Dan Bailey just keeps on kicking FGs.
Other kickers in the NFL continue to struggle. But the Cowboys are lucky to have Dan Bailey. He hit field goals of 37, 53 and 46 yards on Sunday with the Pittsburgh defense limiting the offense's effectiveness. The security of being able to go to Bailey is priceless. The 53-yarder is the longest in the history of Heinz Field.
We’ll give the last word to a writer from a Pittsburgh paper, because he summed it up as well as anybody could have.
The right team won at Heinz Field Sunday night. The Dallas Cowboys were deserving winners against the Steelers for the following reasons: Better coaching. Better running back. Better wide receivers. Better tight end. Better offensive line. Better defense. Better kicker.
It would have been a crime if the Cowboys hadn’t won, 35-30.