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Cowboys vs. Falcons: 10 thoughts including Leighton Vander Esch strikes again, Dak Prescott shows up when it counts

Here are 10 thoughts from the Cowboys 22-19 win over the Falcons.

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, the Dallas Cowboys have themselves a winning streak. It only took 10 games into the season, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. At least that’s how Cole Beasley felt after the game.

Not only have the won two in a road, but they’ve been able to do so on the road. After dropping their first four road games of the season, Dallas now looks like the road warriors with two big wins against the Super Bowl teams representing the NFC over the last two years. The offense struggled quite bit as they didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, but the defense was outstanding. They kept the high-powered Falcons offense out of the end zone until the last two minutes of the game. Fortunately, the offense responded with a drive that gave them a shot to win the game.

Thanks to this victory, Thanksgiving just got a lot more interesting. There were many things to talk about in this game. Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys win against the Falcons.

1. A case of the dropsies

The Cowboys had a golden opportunity on the games first play from scrimmage when Matt Ryan was slightly off with a throw to tight end Austin Hooper. The ball went right into the hands of Maliek Collins, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to hang on.

You just felt like this could be one of those games where one miscue could be the difference maker and you hated seeing the Cowboys squander a great opportunity to make a big splash early.

Speaking of drops, the Cowboys took their opening possession 85 yards on 15 plays for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The only problem is it should have been 13 plays for 88 yards and resulted in a touchdown instead of a field goal. The normally sure-handed Cole Beasley had a perfect pass go right through his hands.

Points were hard to come by in this one so it was disappointing that the offense had to settle for three there.

2. Randy Gregory

Randy Gregory underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in late October causing him to miss a couple games, but he has played well since he returned. Gregory did a great job putting pressure on Matt Ryan, making a sack that put the Falcons out of field goal range in the first half. Gregory was showing up on tape quite a bit, even when he didn’t make the play. He was constantly getting pressure and forcing Ryan out of the pocket. It was another solid performance for the Cowboys young pass rusher.

Gregory now has had a sack in three of his last four games. Fun fact:

3. Wolf Hunter

This game featured two of the top rookies in the league - wide receiver Calvin Ridley from the Falcons and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch from the Cowboys. Both have a real shot at winning Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The Cowboys front office received a lot of criticism for passing on Ridley in the draft, but all that criticism is slowly disappearing because that Vander Esch kid was all over the field again.

Vander Esch finished the game with eight tackles and three pass break ups and was constantly making big plays, including this tackle while being engaged with a blocker. Impressive.

He should have gotten credit for two tackles on this play.

4. Bad clock management before the half

When there’s only 29 seconds left in the half, the opportunity to get points aren’t very good, but the Cowboys effort on that last possession was absolutely terrible. They had the right idea on the first play when they took a shot down the field, but then they went with two-straight plays to Zeke to end the half.

The Falcons secondary is suspect and the Cowboys needed to attack them. Prior to that drive, the Cowboys offense only had three possessions in the first half. That’s not a lot of chances to get points so they needed to get points whenever they can. That was a very weak attempt by Jason Garrett. At least try.

Garrett has been drug over the coals with is too-conservative approach at times and this isn’t going to do much to change that.

5. Heads up play by LC

Right tackle La’el Collins prevented disaster when he recovered a Zeke fumble near midfield. Not only did he save the Cowboys from having a costly turnover, but he had the instincts to fall forward. Just that little jump was enough to pick up the first down and keep the drive going.

Instead of nothing, the Cowboys offense continued to drive down the field and score their first touchdown of the game.

6. The Vander Pick

What’s bolder than calling a Leighton Vander Esch pick in last week’s game for his first career interception? How about doubling-down with another one this week. Well, that’s what RJ Ochoa did in his bold predictions and the Cowboys rookie linebacker didn’t let him down.

It should be noted that the ball bounced off of Calvin Ridley. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was such a huge play in the game as the Cowboys were only up by three points and had to fend off a Falcons offense looking to respond after being down for the first time in the game. The Cowboys offense capitalized as Ezekiel Elliott scored a touchdown two plays later.

7. Barely Brett

After the Cowboys put together their first touchdown-scoring drive of the game, they had a chance to take the biggest lead of the game up to that point (four points). But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as rookie kicker Brett Maher shanked the extra point, keeping it a three-point game. You just felt like that kick would come back to haunt them. And it almost did.

Just when he started struggling enough to make Cowboys fans worry, what did he do? He nailed a 42-yarder to win the game. He went from zero to hero.

While it was great to see him knock down the game winner, it doesn’t get lost that Maher has been struggling. He’s now missed a kick in each of his four games.

As automatic as he was early in the year, he’s now become an unstable element to the Cowboys kicking game.

8. Special teams not so special

Maher’s struggles in one thing to keep an eye on as this is his first year in the league. We don’t know how this is going to play out. While that brings about uncertainty, the leg of punter Chris Jones has been a strength of the Cowboys over the years. But for some reason, he’s been a little off on some of his kicks. My colleague Michael Strawn noticed the same thing.

And if that’s not bad enough, what in the world was Lance Lenoir doing on that sidelines play? Those kind of plays will not keep you on the roster.

9. Dak delivers down the stretch

The offense had it’s struggles. Even when they moved the ball, it seemed like all they could muster up was field goals. The Cowboys offense didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth-quarter. The defense had done everything in their power to contain one of the best offensive teams in the league, but it looked as if it was going to be for naught when the Falcons tied the game at 19 with just under two minutes left in the game.

Luckily, Dak Prescott and company were able to respond with a 10-play drive for 51 yards that set up Maher for the game winner. I don’t know how many Cowboys fans had faith they’d pull it off at that point, but that Prescott kid keeps showing up in these big moments.

Technically, Matthew Stafford got another one today, so he still leads by one.

10. Get by with a little help from our friends

To celebrate defensive tackle Christian Ringo being promoted from the practice squad, it’s been fun to make Beatles references this week. Yep, that’s what we do. But this one is certainly appropriate. Not only did the Cowboys do their job by beating Atlanta, but their AFC neighbors to the south did them a solid as well. The Houston Texans knocked off the Washington Redskins 23-21, dropping the Skins to a record of 6-4.

With Dallas just a game behind the Redskins, it sets up a very huge Thanksgiving battle on Thursday. It’s always been the feeling that if the Cowboys just string some wins together, the Redskins would eventually falter to where Dallas could catch them, but it looks like that is happening sooner versus later.

To make matters worse, Redskins quarterback Alex Smith appears to have suffered a serious leg injury as he was carted off the field with an air cast. That means the Cowboys will get another shot at Colt McCoy on Thursday.

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