The Dallas Cowboys have had a hard time getting back to a winning record, and have been criticized for getting their wins over weak competition. But in downing the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs 28-17, they finally got a truly quality win.
In a game that boasted two of the top runners in the NFL, only one team was able to move the ball effectively on the ground. The Cowboys got 93 rushing yards and a touchdown from Ezekiel Elliott, with Dak Prescott adding 27 yards and a TD of his own. Meanwhile, the Cowboys limited the Chiefs to only 68 yards rushing before they had to go strictly to the passing game to try and mount a comeback. That was one of the key elements in this win. And save for the drives just before and after halftime, the Cowboys’ defense largely carried the day. Although they only had two sacks in the game, the Kansas City offensive tackles drew multiple false start flags, usually right in front of Demarcus Lawrence. Though he did not get a sack, he was part of constant pressure on Alex Smith that forced multiple punts and stymied the Chiefs’ potent attack.
And in the fourth quarter, it was two very unexpected heroes that came through on consecutive plays to seal the win. Taco Charlton got his first ever NFL sack on third down, and then Jeff Heath picked off Smith for the first time all season. The Cowboys would burn out the clock from there to improve to 5-3 and not lose any more ground to the surging Philadelphia Eagles.
The wide receivers had one of their best days all season, with Terrance Williams catching nine passes for 141 yards. Dez Bryant added six for 73, and Cole Beasley got two touchdowns in his four receptions. But both Bryant and Williams left the game with injury, which will have to be watched. Tyron Smith also reportedly was hurt, although the nature is not known. On the other side of the ball, David Irving also added another sack to his total.
It was expected to be an offensive shootout between two of the hottest offensive teams in the league, but at first it was much more a defensive struggle. Both teams had a lot of difficulty moving the ball early on, with only one first down by either team (Dallas) in the first four drives combined. The Cowboys’ defense was almost perfect for the entire first half. However, that ended with only two seconds left before the intermission, and it led to a sequence that could have been disastrous in the long run for the home team. At that point, Dallas had a 14-3 lead following a great drive by Dak Prescott when he overcame a third and fifteen with long completions to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, and then ran it in himself on third and goal from the 10. But Mike Nugent left the kickoff short, and a penalty on Byron Jones set the Chiefs up at their own 37. The Chiefs got the ball to their 43 with those two ticks left on the clock, and then ran a play that was both well designed and poorly handled by Dallas. Alex Smith threw the ball to Tyreek Hill, and the other receivers essentially set a screen between him and the Cowboys’ defenders who were playing far too soft. Hill used his blockers and evaded the tacklers, helped by a couple of bad angles, to dance into the end zone and pull KC within four points as time ran out on the half, and to make things even worse for Dallas, there was another penalty called on on Byron Jones to be enforced to start the next half.
The Chiefs received the second half kickoff, with a little help from that penalty, and promptly drove 62 yards to take their first lead of the game at 17-14.
But the Cowboys answered with a crucial drive to retake the lead at 21-14, and then their defense reasserted itself. They got stops while adding another touchdown, and Charlton and Heath would become the totally unexpected heroes of the game. Williams also had a very important play, going down inbounds to keep the clock running late in the game and forcing Andy Reid to use his last timeout, making the 11 point Dallas lead just too much to overcome. It was a solid win over a very good opponent, and kept the Cowboys very alive in the playoff hunt. The resilience they showed in overcoming that brief period of bad play around halftime was a key indicator of just what this team is, and that it may be very good indeed.