The Dallas Cowboys ended the 2018 regular season in exciting fashion with a 36-35 victory over the New York Giants. The Cowboys finish with a 10-6 record and will host the Seattle Seahawks next weekend. The team had looked a little sluggish in recent games and it was important to end the regular season on a positive note. Well, they pulled it off and fans have to feel better entering the playoffs than they did before. Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys victory over the Giants.
1. No rest for the starters
Jason Garrett wasn’t kidding when he said he was planning to play his starters. Of course, Ezekiel Elliott was the exception to the rule as Zeke has now rode the pine both times in Week 17 games where the Cowboys had nothing to play for. Elliott has touched the ball a career-high 381 times so it was smart to give the team’s workhorse running back some rest. Offensive linemen Zack Martin (knee) and Tyron Smith (neck) were also inactive as they were dealing with injuries.
But as for most everyone else - they were playing. It was important for them to regain some momentum as the team had not played well over the last couple weeks. So, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that fans saw a lot of Dak Prescott on Sunday. Bob Sturm explained his reasoning for the risk/reward of playing Prescott:
There have been 31,132 plays this season in the NFL (as of 3pm) with 1 ACL injury to a QB in 2018.
That’s a risk the Cowboys needed to take because getting Prescott another game’s worth of reps is still very valuable. And from what we saw on Sunday, we have to be pretty pleased with the results.
2. Dak delivers
Fans weren’t sure what to think when they saw Prescott on the field as the game progressed, but there he was. And what a game he had! Prescott finished the game 27 for 44 with 387 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. It was also his second-highest yardage total of his career next to the 455 yards he threw against Philadelphia in Week 14.
The Cowboys offense got no help from the running game as they had their season-low output of just 51 yards. Both Rod Smith and Darius Jackson averaged less than three yards per carry. With no Elliott to lean on, it was all on Prescott. Dak spread it around, completing passes to nine different receivers.
And just when you thought the Cowboys were dead in the water, Prescott led a nine-play, game-winning drive. Even when it looked like he missed his opportunity after he couldn’t connect with a wide open Amari Cooper, Dak did what he’s done all year. He put it behind him and went out and made the next play. There’s a reason we should all love Prescott as the Cowboys quarterback and he showed it on Sunday.
Today was Dak Prescott's 14th career game-winning drive. That's the most in NFL history in a player's first three seasons.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) December 30, 2018
3. The Beas’ Knees
It’s always great to get the win, but what an exciting way to finish the game. On a crucial fourth-down play, Prescott hit Cole Beasley for the game winner. At first, it was ruled incomplete as Beasley was believed to be out of bounds, but after further review, the play was changed to a touchdown. It sorta had a deja vu feel to it, only this one had a much more positive outcome.
Cole Beasley did what Dez Bryant couldn't do against the Giants to pull off the game-winner. He stayed in bounds. pic.twitter.com/7tkn7I78Tq— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 30, 2018
4. Dak’s new BFF
Would you believe it if we told you that Jason Witten never had three touchdown catches in a game throughout his entire career? Well, that’s the truth, but the same cannot be said about the Cowboys new pass-catching tight end, Blake Jarwin. The 24-year-old had the best game of his young career, catching seven passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
Jarwin was just an afterthought for most of the season. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, he never had more than two catches or more than 25 yards in a game, but he’s come on strong over the last month. In the last four games, he’s caught 20 passes for 228 yards. That’s not bad for an undrafted free agent promoted from the practice squad.
Blake Jarwin now has the same number of touchdowns on the year as Rob Gronkowski: 3— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) December 30, 2018
With no Geoff Swaim, the Cowboys needed one of their tight ends to step up and fill the void. Jarwin did that in a big way against the Giants. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
5. Offense reloaded
The Cowboys offense entered the game 24th in the league in points scored (20.2). The team has struggled putting together long-play touchdowns drives this season. Even when they moved the ball, they struggled finishing as Dallas is one of the worst red zone teams in the league. And when the Cowboys put together a nice eight-play drive to get down to the Giants 15-yard line, only to come away empty after Brett Maher missed a 34-yard field goal, it was the same old song and dance we’ve been watching all year.
But then things suddenly changed. The Cowboys started putting together long, touchdown-scoring drives. They had five of those drives, which is more than this offense has had over the last four games combined. And one of the reasons for those touchdown drives was how well the team played in the red zone. Dallas converted on three of four red zone opportunities.
6. Vander Esch scare
It’s always a dice roll when a team plays their starters as you can’t sit everyone. The Cowboys were fortunate in this one as they suffered no casualties although we all did get a little bit of a scare when the team’s young, star linebacker had to come out of the game.
Leighton Vander Esch was on the ground holding his leg, but was able to walk off the field on his own. He was seen moving around on the sideline which was a great sign. It doesn’t appear to be anything serious.
Jerry Jones says Leighton Vander Esch got kicked in the shin. His understanding is that he’ll be ok #cowboyswire— David Helman (@HelmanDC) December 30, 2018
That’s a sigh of relief because Vander Esch is a valuable piece of this defense. Despite coming out of the game, he still led the team with nine tackles. LVE has become a huge playmaker for the team. Even though Sean Lee was back in action on Sunday, he still just doesn’t look like the Lee we remember. Not having Vander Esch would be a huge loss, but it appears disaster was averted.
7. Defense struggled
Nobody expected a shootout in this game for a couple reasons - the Cowboys offense and the Cowboys defense. While it was shocking to see the Cowboys score five touchdowns, it was just as surprising to see the Giants put up 35 points. It was the first time all season the Cowboys defense has allowed over 30 points.
The Giants put up 441 yards on the Cowboys defense, which was the second-highest total of the season (allowed 462 to Houston). This is a little concerning because the Cowboys defense isn’t getting off the field like they were earlier in the season. Of their six-highest yardage totals on the season, three of them have come during their last three games. That’s not how you want to enter the playoffs.
8. Defense came through when it counted
While the Cowboys defense allowed the Giants offense to rack up some frequent flyer mileage, they still ended up making some big plays. On each of the Giants first two possessions, they got into Cowboys territory, but came up empty when the defense took the ball away. First, Chidobe Awuzie picked off Eli Manning in the end zone on the game’s opening drive. It was Awuzie’s second career interception and both have came in “meaningless” Week 17 games on the road.
On the Giants next possession, DeMarcus Lawrence got around the edge and knocked the ball out of Manning’s hand and into the welcoming arms of Antwaun Woods.
And while the Giants offense got it in gear scored on six straight possessions, they couldn’t make it seven. With just over a minute left in the game and two timeouts, the Giants had the ball on their own 48-yard line after Cody Latimore returned a kickoff 34 yards. The Giants didn’t need to go very far as Aldrick Rosas has a big leg, but unfortunately for New York, they never got another yard. On four straight plays the Cowboys defense stopped the Giants, capped off by a nice fourth-down pass break-up by Anthony Brown.
9. Cowboys run the East
For the second straight season, the Cowboys have gone 5-1 against their NFC East rivals. That’s a good formula for ensuring you are hosting a playoff game come January. The Cowboys swept the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles as well as the Giants, who they’ve now won four straight against. They might’ve made it a clean 6-0 sweep had it not been for a snap infraction that cause a Brett Maher field goal to be moved back five yards. And it was a costly five yards as his attempt hit the upright and bounced out.
10. Moody Maher
Speaking of Maher, it looks like fans are going to have to sweat it out every time he comes on the field as he’s back to his erratic ways. Midway through the season, he went through a four-game stretch where he missed either a field goal or an extra point. But then, he appeared to regroup and was knocking down kicks again.
He’s back to his old ways again as he’s missed a field goal in three of the last four games. And we’re not talking about long ones. He wasn’t even close on a 34-yarder on Sunday. And he barely knocked down an extra point.
Maher has a big leg, but his accuracy leaves something to be desired. He’s actually kicking 50+ field goals at a better rate (6/7) than he is from 30-39 yards (7/11). This is his first season as the Cowboys kicker and he already has the two longest kicks in franchise history (59 and 62 yards), but it looks like we’re going to be on pins and needles going forward.