Not many people outside of the Cowboys organization gave this team much of a chance heading into a showdown with the on-fire Rams, but that didn’t stop Dallas from putting together their most complete game of the whole year and winning 44-21. Just like the last two games, this one was effectively over at halftime, but the difference is that the Cowboys were winning this time around. Here are five non-scoring plays that were most important to the win.
Dak finds Coop for a crucial first down
After punting on their opening drive, the Cowboys still found themselves in a position to score the game’s first points and were orchestrating a long, methodical drive that began at their own 10-yard line. But after offsetting penalties negated an interception, Dak Prescott and the offense had to convert third-and-nine from their own 34.
After pressure got to Prescott, he rolled out and started directing traffic before firing a shot to Amari Cooper on the run. Cooper, who’s seen his production dwindle the last few weeks as he plays through nagging injuries, made a tough contested catch to move the chains. Seven plays later, Dak hit Old Man Witt for a touchdown.
Defense makes a tackle for loss
The story of this defense all year has been its inability to stop the run, and in recent weeks they’ve opened up the floodgates when things go bad. After the Rams tied the game with a touchdown of their own, Dallas responded with a touchdown; if recent history told us anything, it was that the Cowboys defense was about to get rolled over again.
But on second-and-10 at the Rams 25, Jared Goff handed it to Todd Gurley and he was immediately brought down by a mob of defenders, with the tackle being credited to DeMarcus Lawrence and Antwaun Woods. The tackle went for a loss of two yards and led to a third and 12, which LA failed to convert, but it also sent a message that this defense was done being bullied around in the trenches. That helped set the tone for the dominant defensive performance in this game.
Jason Garrett goes for it on fourth down inside the ten
Jason Garrett has been criticized for plenty of things this year, and perhaps none more so than his conservative decision making. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday when the Cowboys, already up 14-7, drew a fourth-and-one at the Los Angeles seven-yard line.
The Garrett of years past would have sent out Kai Forbath for his first ever field goal attempt as a Cowboy and been content to make it a ten-point lead. But with Garrett under more pressure than ever before in his career, he decided to go for it with zero hesitation. A successful QB sneak got the first down, and two plays later Dallas went up 21-7. Props to Garrett for being willing to step on the Rams’ throats in that situation.
Sean Lee gets a huge interception
Right after the Cowboys went up 21-7, the Rams got the ball with just under two minutes to go in the first half. With everyone at the time expecting that the Rams would get the ball after halftime, it seemed like the perfect time for Sean McVay to run a two-minute drill, score, and then score on the opening drive of the third quarter to tie things up. That’s the sort of thing Cowboys fans have come to expect this year.
Wish there would’ve been a sideline cam during this Sean Lee interception. Haven’t seen the Cowboys that fired up in a while pic.twitter.com/kg8JxRh99s— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 15, 2019
But Sean Lee, who hadn’t practiced all week, had other things in mind. As Goff threw across the middle of the field, Lee undercut the throw and snatched the ball out of the air, looking like his younger self before showing off some moves on a 25-yard return that gave Dallas the ball inside the Rams 10.
Hands to the face penalty sets up Dallas for one more touchdown before halftime
For what feels like the first time all year, the Cowboys offense took the field in the opponent’s territory. But after the Rams snuffed out the first two plays, Clay Matthews broke through to put pressure on Dak on third-and-goal and forced a throw away. The good field position was squandered and they’d have to settle for three.
But a penalty was called on Michael Brockers for hands to the face. Instead of fourth down and kicking a field goal, Dallas now had first-and-goal at the three. Predictably, Zeke ran it in for a touchdown to punctuate a dominant first half for the Cowboys. With 16 seconds left in the half, the only glimmer of hope left for the Rams was that they’d be getting the ball to start the third quarter, and even that didn’t last much longer.