It was a knuckle-biter, but a year after the Burning of Atlanta, the Dallas Cowboys came back with an uneven but gutsy performance to eke out a 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It was a much lower-scoring affair, especially on the part of Atlanta, than most expected. But Dak played as if the horrors of his last game in this venue never existed, Zeke had 122 yards rushing and was the leading pass receiver with 79 yards, and the patchwork defensive line was as good as anyone could have hoped. They had more sacks than the Falcons (albeit by a margin of one) and the defense got the only, and very crucial, turnover of the game.
It is the second road win in a row for the Cowboys, and the first winning streak of the season. And the hopes for a playoff spot remain alive.
It came down to a 19-19 tie with less than two minutes left in the game, and it really shouldn’t have. A dropped touchdown pass and a missed extra point by the Cowboys left just enough on the field for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to drive and even the score up, even though it was the first touchdown for the high-powered Atlanta offense. The Falcons were able to gouge the Cowboys for big plays all game, but the defense repeatedly would come up with a big stop at just the right time to limit the Falcons to four field goals until after the two minute warning at the end.
The Cowboys had 1:52 to work with, and drove down to give Brett Maher a shot at a 42 yard game winner, and despite missing an extra point earlier in the game, he snuck it inside the right upright to give Dallas the win.
The Cowboys almost completely exorcised the ghosts of last season’s fiasco in Atlanta on the first drive - almost. After the defense got off the field, Dallas set up shop at their own 12 yard line. Dak Prescott missed on his first pass, a deep shot to Michael Gallup, but then put together a nice drive, hitting Geoff Swaim for 12 yards and a screen to Ezekiel Elliott that netted 34. There was also a defensive holding call that kept the drive alive, and Elliott had a 12 yard run. But on first and goal from the Falcons 4, Prescott hit Cole Beasley right in the hands for what should have been an easy touchdown, but Beasley couldn’t find the handle. A run by Elliott and a missed pass to Amari Cooper (who appeared to be held on the replay) failed to convert, and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.
Then the offensive troubles started. Cooper would not get a completion in the first half, and the wide receivers only had two catches as a group (both to Beasley) for only eight yards. The Cowboys wouldn’t score again in the half, and the Falcons would get two field goals of their own to take a 6-3 lead into half.
While Dallas trailed, it could have been much worse, as Matt Ryan was getting some chunk yards, working pretty much exclusively on Chidobe Awuzie and staying away from Byron Jones. But the defense came up with some key stops, including another simply outstanding play from the Wolfbacker, Leighton Vander Esch.
Leighton Vander Esch pic.twitter.com/tD3D1aLiPc— COWBOYS ✭ (@AmericasTeam_21) November 18, 2018
That was not the biggest play of the game for LVE, although it was possibly the most impressive. He would later get an interception to set up a touchdown, and would deny the Falcons by breaking up a pass to Austin Hooper near the 1 yard line on third down, forcing them to settle for a short field goal.
And after getting destroyed by sacks a year ago, the Cowboys turned the tables to open the game. Prescott was sacked once in the first half, but the Dallas pass rush got to Ryan three times, including this superior effort by Demarcus Lawrence.
.@TankLawrence v run AND pass: #Cowboys DE about as relentlessly good as it gets pic.twitter.com/X3kXL8Vc3H— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) November 18, 2018
It was an impressive performance from the defense in light of David Irving, Taco Charlton, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross all being out for the game. They not only got sacks, but pressure on Ryan affected several passes.
However, while Prescott was not getting sacked as much, he was certainly seeing a lot of pressure, getting hit on many throws. The difference this season, compared to what happened in the same stadium a year ago, was that he was not flinching at all, standing in to deliver the ball. However, he was not making plays against the depleted Falcons secondary that he should have. Once again, the execution seemed to be off, and there were also some odd coaching decisions. On the third and goal play on Dallas first drive of the game, they pulled Zeke off the field, despite the ball being on the 3 yard line. It seems odd that they would want to tip their hand towards the pass, when having Elliott on the field could have opened up things more, or allowed a RPO type play. And at the end of the half, Jason Garrett elected to not use his last timeout with a few seconds left, rather than at least take a shot at a Hail Mary pass.
One problem that cropped up again for the Cowboys’ offense was third down conversions, although it wound up being only a temporary streak. After converting two on their first possession, they missed the next four, then converted three on their first touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, and would have a key conversion on the game winning drive. They wound up 7 for 13, which is a very good percentage. Another worry is that Brett Maher missed extra point (after making a 50 yard field goal). After looking so steady, he has definitely shown some inconsistency of late.
And in one of those moments that wind up looming large later in the game, La’el Collins alertly jumped on an Elliott fumble and also had the presence of mind to scramble forward before he was touched to get a first down.
It was closer than it had to be, but there are no style points in the standings. And with Washington losing to the Houston Texans, the annual Thanksgiving Day game for Dallas is now a showdown for a piece of the NFC East lead.