The Cowboys traveled to Cincinnati for an early game just five days after giving up nearly 300 rushing yards to the Ravens on Tuesday night, and managed to not only come away with a win, but they did so in convincing fashion. It was unquestionably the most complete game we’ve seen from this year’s Cowboys with efficient and productive results on offense, defense, and special teams.
It was highlighted, of course, by a two-touchdown performance from Andy Dalton in his first game against the team he spent nine seasons starting under center for, and he played well in the 30-7 victory on Sunday. These five plays in particular were a big part of that winning effort.
DeMarcus Lawrence strips the ball and Jourdan Lewis recovers it on the opening drive
This Dallas defense has earned plenty of criticism this year, but they’ve made incremental improvements throughout the season. A big area of improvement has been takeaways, as the Cowboys have recorded eight takeaways in their last five games. That trend continued Sunday with three big takeaways.
The first one occurred on just the second play of the game. Cincinnati ran the ball with Giovani Bernard, but DeMarcus Lawrence got quick penetration to meet him at the line of scrimmage. Lawrence did more than that, though, and expertly stripped the ball out.
Jourdan Lewis managed to recover it in the ensuing scrum, handing the ball off to the Cowboys offense just 32 yards away from the endzone. While Dallas ultimately settled for a field goal, this play set the tone early for the defense.
Jaylon Smith recovers the third fumble of the game to deny the Bengals points
Speaking of setting the tone, the Dallas defense’s next series ended with Aldon Smith bringing a butt fumble back 78 yards for a score. While the return was nice, it wasn’t really caused by any Cowboys defender, but the defense’s third series did involve a fumble caused by them.
The Bengals offense had finally put together a good drive, marching down to the Dallas 15 before coming up a yard short on third down. Deciding to go for it on fourth down, the Bengals ran receiver Alex Erickson on a jet sweep that easily picked up the first down until Darian Thompson knocked the ball out on the tackle.
The Bengals came so close to recovering the fumble, but the ball somehow squirted out of the pile, allowing a late-arriving Jaylon Smith to fall on it for the defense’s third fumble recovery of the game. For comparison’s sake, they had five total this season entering today’s game. After an offensive drive that came close to scoring and making it a one-score game, this turnover for Cincinnati was an early gut-punch.
Amari Cooper’s yards after catch convert third and long
After the third fumble recovery, the Cowboys offense started with the ball at their own 12-yard line. They managed to move the chains until a false start penalty by Amari Cooper made it a third and 14 at the Dallas 20.
For a moment, it looked like the Cowboys may squander the takeaway and have to punt, but Cooper atoned for his mistake. Running a sluggo route, Cooper easily gained a step (or two) on William Jackson III in man coverage. Dalton hit his receiver just as he was cutting up field, and Cooper turned the short completion into a 20-yard gain and a first down.
The play kept the drive alive, and it resulted in Coop making an impressive touchdown grab to run the score up to 17-0. It wouldn’t have been possible without the clutch conversion on third and long from Cooper, who has quietly had a really good year.
Tony Pollard’s big kick return to start the second half
Tony Pollard’s role as the kick returner didn’t start too well this year, with multiple fumbles and poor returns. But the second-year running back has hit his stride lately, and nearly had a touchdown against Cincinnati to start the second half.
After making some shifty moves to hit a hole in the coverage unit, Pollard was able to turn on the jets. He was one cut-back away from taking the kick all the way to the house, but still ended up with an electrifying 60-yard return.
The Cowboys took over already on the Bengals’ side of the field, and they quickly moved down to the goal line. They ultimately failed to get into the endzone, but still got three points out of it to extend the lead to 20-7.
Holding penalty erases Bengals’ big touchdown run
The Bengals offense had a very rough day, but they were not without a few promising drives. One such drive came about halfway through the fourth quarter, and saw Cincinnati drive down to the Dallas 13. On first and ten, they handed it off to Samaje Perine, who burst up the field for a big touchdown that would have made it a one-score game.
But flags were on the field back near the line of scrimmage, as one of the offensive linemen was called for holding. The touchdown was nullified and Cincinnati was backed up to the Dallas 20-yard line.
The Bengals ended up failing on third and long before failing again on their fourth-down attempt, sending them away with zero points on their 15-play, 70-yard drive. The holding call took away the opportunity to put the Bengals right back in the game, and the ensuing turnover on downs was the proverbial final nail in the coffin of this game; the Bengals offense wouldn’t reach Cowboys territory for the rest of the game, sealing the deal for Dallas.