Well, that was a satisfying 28-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
After the fiasco at the end of the first half that allowed Kansas City to score a touchdown from it’s own 44-yard line with only two seconds remaining, and then take the lead on the opening drive of the second half, the game, and the season for Dallas, could have turned very bad. Very bad indeed. But Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and the Dallas offense wouldn’t allow it, scoring touchdowns on drives of 12 and 13 plays for 75 and then 87 yards to retake command of the game. With Seattle’s loss to Washington, Dallas is now in the second wild-card spot pending the Monday night game between Detroit and Green Bay. With Philadelphia at 8-1, this was a critical game Dallas needed to win.
The game should have been largely won at the end of the first half, when Dallas was faced with a third and 15 from the Dallas 13-yard line. Tony Romo, who was in the booth calling the game, thought that Jason Garrett would typically lay up here and punt. Instead, Dak hit Dez Bryant for 21 yards to the Dallas 34. Then, on a Dak scramble play, he hit a wide open Terrance Williams down the right sideline for 56 yards, setting up Dallas on the KC 10. After two incompletions, Dak barely escaped the pocket to his right and ran it in for a 14-3 lead with 21 seconds to go. It was reminiscent of the end-of-half drive they scored on in their victory in Green Bay last year.
Dak made the big plays, but Zeke was a workhorse, grinding out 93 tough yards on 27 carries. Alfred Morris had a single carry for 11 yards, but don’t fool yourself into thinking the backup runners would have had the same success today, as Zeke often made 3-5 yards out of nothing, and almost never had a big hole to exploit.
Let’s look at the numbers.
This was Dak’s third best game of the season in passer rating and ANY/A (Dak had one streak last season with 9 of 10 games above 8 ANY/A; this was only his third of eight games above that level in 2017) but his second best game according to ESPN’s QBR stat, where Dak rolled up a very nice 95.7 score. With Deshaun Watson out for the season, Dak is likely to run away with this stat on the year. The key was likely his strategic running, where he scored a touchdown on a third and ten scamper, and rushed for first downs on his other two runs of the evening.
Dak rediscovered his chemistry with Terrance Williams, who caught a ridiculous nine balls on nine targets for 141 yards. Where has that been all year? Williams caught a season high six balls on seven targets in the first game of the year for 68 yards, but he hadn’t cracked five catches or 50 yards in any game since. Not only was it a high for Williams in catches and yards, it was a high in yardage for any Cowboys’ receiver this year. Indeed, no other receiver or tight end had cracked 100 yards in any game this season.
Cole Beasley was also useful again, with his second two-TD game of the year. He matched his season high with four catches, which he’d done twice earlier.
Dez Bryant was the only other receiver to make a mark, with six catches for 73 yards. He hauled in a couple of crucial first downs on third down that kept drives alive. But he twisted his ankle and ended up sitting the rest of the game.
Brice Butler caught his first ball in three weeks. He has only 15 targets on the year. This game should end all suggestions that Butler supplant Williams for snaps.
The Cowboys were seven for 12 on third down, and scored TDs on all four red zone trips. This efficiency is a tribute to Dak and Zeke.
Dak also outplayed Alex Smith, who had the highest passer rating in the NFL coming into the game. Dak scored 106.8 to Smith’s 102.9.
This wasn’t Zeke’s biggest game of the season, but he was critical to the Cowboys’ win. Kansas City was not going to get gashed on the ground, but Dallas still pounded them for 131 yards on 31 carries, most of the tough yards from Zeke. Zeke’s longest run was 11 yards, and he got dropped for a total of 10 yards of losses on three of his carries.
In the red zone especially, the pounding of Zeke, or the threat of him running, makes a huge difference. Cole Beasley’s first TD was off play-action. Elliott scored the third Dallas TD. And he ran twice inside the red zone to set up a first and goal at the seven, when Cole Beasley caught his second TD on the next play.
Zeke also outgained the leading rusher in the NFL, Kareem Hunt, who came into the game with 763 rushing yards (in eight games) to Zeke’s 690 (in seven games). Zeke outrushed him 93 to 37 yards, to close the gap to 17 yards with a game to go. Of course, there’s another court hearing for Zeke this week to see if he’s going to keep playing, or have to sit for the next six weeks.
My grades this week.
- Dak. A. Though he started fairly slow, Dak had a very solid statistical game by the end, leading the Cowboys on three touchdown drives in a row from the end of the first half until run-out-the-clock time with 5:05 to go in the fourth quarter. He was lights-out with Terrance Williams from the beginning, and Kansas City never adjusted.
- Zeke. B+. No breakaway runs. No receptions or targets. Just solid run after solid run into stacked fronts to the move the chains and eat the clock. If Zeke has to sit, there is no one on the Cowboys roster who can make hay with those types of carries, or force defenses to overload so much to compensate.
Atlanta is next in another must-win for Dallas if they want to keep alive hopes of catching Philly, and to strengthen their shot at a wild card spot.