The Dallas Cowboys won a football game. Some of us were beginning to think they didn’t have it in them since they hadn’t gotten into the win column over their last four games. But lo and behold, they were able to pull off a 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings, who were riding a three-game winning streak. The Cowboys actually got good play from both sides of the ball, as they were scoring touchdowns and forcing turnovers. For this game at least, we can feel good about what we saw. Here are ten thoughts on the Cowboys win on Sunday.
1. A solid outing by the Red Rifle
We weren’t sure what to expect when veteran quarterback Andy Dalton stepped back onto the field. His first two starts didn’t go so well as he had more interceptions than touchdown passes in each of those games. And after a solid showing against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago, some thought (raises hand) that Garrett Gilbert would get the nod.
The coaching staff’s faith in Dalton translated onto the field as he put together a decent game. It wasn’t perfect. He was off with some of his throws and did have one pick when he threw behind tight end Dalton Schultz, but he also came through with some nice tosses. Dalton finished the game 22/32 passing for 203 yards, including three touchdowns.
2. Meet the team’s new right tackle (for the rest of 2020)
Is there anything Zack Martin can’t do? He’s an All-Pro guard, but if the team needs him to slide out to the edge, by golly, that’s what he’ll do.
The Cowboys offensive line continues to keep trying different arrangements as the health of their unit ever-changes. While Martin held up well in emergency duty earlier in the season, the concern was more about whether it’s worth the tradeoff of having Connor McGovern at right guard vs. Terrence Steele at right tackle with Martin at guard.
The decision was a smart one as Dalton had plenty of time to operate. After being sacked seven times in his previous two games, he was only sacked once on Sunday. It was a great performance by the entire OL gang.
3. What a catch
Coming out of Oklahoma, CeeDee Lamb was known for his exceptional ball skills. His ability to track the ball and position his body served him well throughout his college career. On Sunday, he put his catching ability on display with what was arguably the best play of the season for the Cowboys.
Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb: I made the most of my opportunities. Saw the ball was in the air and Andy gave me a shot. Definitely didn’t want it to hit the ground.pic.twitter.com/1yYnTf67r2— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 23, 2020
Lamb finished the game with four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. He also had two rushes for 12 yards and scored on a two-point conversion on a well-designed option pitch play from Ezekiel Elliott. This is Lamb’s second straight game with a touchdown catch.
4. That Wilson fella has some pop
The Cowboys defense has struggled to create takeaways for what seems like forever, but if they’re interested in bucking that trend, then it might be a good idea to keep giving Donovan Wilson as many snaps as they can. The second-year safety was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 5, and he continues to make plays. He had a nice sack/strip/fumble recovery of Carson Wentz a few weeks ago, and he was at it again this week. Blitzing off the end, Wilson was able to collide with Kirk Cousins and jar the bar loose enough to take it from him before Cousins hit the ground.
And if that wasn’t enough, Wilson smacked Dalvin Cook so hard the ball popped loose. Wilson was all over the place as he finished the game with nine tackles, and making every one of them count.
5. Heads up play
It was great to get the takeaway on the Wilson hit, but it was also a very heads up play to get extra yards out of it. DeMarcus Lawrence made sure to recover the ball first and foremost, but then Jaylon Smith was insistent on Tank giving him the ball. While Vikings players dogpiled on Lawrence, Smith was able to run away. Smith did a great job securing the ball with two hands as he kept preparing to be tackled, yet kept those legs churning for additional yards. With less than a minute left, those extra 20+ yards came in handy as it helped the Cowboys set up a score before the half.
6. Should’ve ran one more play before the half
The Cowboys kicked a field goal at the end of the second quarter to give them a 16-7 halftime lead, but it felt very unsatisfying. After Dalton found Amari Cooper for a 32-yard completion down to the one-yard line, the offense still had eight seconds on the clock. There was enough time for the Cowboys to get off two plays before having to try a field goal. The first play, an incomplete pass on a fade to Lamb, only took three seconds. For Dallas to not at least try to run a quick play was just way too cautious. What happened to that Mike McCarthy chutzpah we were told about?
7. Running game
Zeke had his first 100-yard game of the season as he ground out 103 yards on 21 carries. His 4.9 yards per carry was actually higher than Dalvin Cook’s 4.3 output. Elliott powered through the holes, and did a nifty job maneuvering through space. His physical presence combined with the burst of Tony Pollard (five rushes for 60 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown), helped the Cowboys rush for a total of 180 yards, outgaining the Vikings rushing attack by 55 yards.
8. Dalton leads them to victory
The last time these two teams met, the Cowboys had a shot to win the game in the end, but just couldn’t close the deal. A drive stalled at the Vikings 14-yard line as they turned the ball over on downs with 44 seconds left in the game.
On Sunday, the Cowboys found themselves in an all familiar place, but this time the results were different.
Deja vu all over again. Last year, Vikings had a 28-24 lead, Cowboys took the ball over with 4:36 remaining and couldn’t get it done. This year, down 28-24 and took the ball over with 4:00 left and go 61 yards in 11 plays. Great drive for the 31-28 win.— Babe Laufenberg (@BabeLaufenberg) November 23, 2020
The Cowboys did a good job mixing in some draw plays on their final drive to retain some balance. Dalton connected on five of seven passes, including a perfectly thrown ball to Cooper on a crucial fourth-down play. He capped it off with a two-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz to give the Cowboys a three-point lead.
9. Defense came through when it counted
Of course, the offense wouldn’t have had a chance to complete the comeback had it not been for the defense showing up late. After the Vikings offense scored a touchdown on their first three drives of the second half, it looked like the Cowboys were in trouble. This put Minnesota up 28-24 with under ten minutes left in the game. And when the offense went just eight yards on their ensuing drive before punting it back to the Vikings, things were looking dim.
Instead of withering away, the Cowboys defense forced the Vikings to punt after just four plays that set up their game-winning drive. Then, when Minnesota had 1:37 left to either tie or win the game, the Cowboys defense again showed up. The Dallas defense forced three straight incompletions that caused the Vikings to turn the ball over on downs. Just like that, the defense came through.
10. The weird NFC East
This might come as a surprise to you, but the NFC East isn’t very good. The Cowboys started the week in the basement, thanks to one single victory, are right in the thick of things.
The NFC East is sooooooooooooo weeeiiirrdddddd pic.twitter.com/CligZTY4k5— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 23, 2020
In fact, should the Cowboys beat Washington on Thanksgiving, this Dallas team will move into first place in the division with a 4-7 record.
We don’t know how that’s supposed to make us feel as there is no glory in taking down the division. However, there is a home playoff game, and any time the Cowboys are playing well enough to win football games, that should be a positive. Things may not have gone according to plan, but the Cowboys season still has relevance and these last six weeks might get interesting.