I don’t think anyone expected Team 40 Burger to put in a strange appearance for the Dallas Cowboys, but that is just what happened as they outlasted the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 41-33. It was a game with odd twists and turns, but gave Dallas its first winning streak of 2020 and kept the tiniest spark of a shot at the playoffs flickering. Sorry, Team Tank.
Ezekiel Elliott was not available for the game due to his calf injury, the first time he has missed a start due to health. They went with Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle, and even Sewo Olonilua would be active for the first time this game. It turned out to be more than enough. While the Cowboys were not having much success for most of the game running, the final dagger would be thrust into the visiting 49ers when Pollard broke free on a 40 yard run to create a ten point margin with just 2:27 left in the game. Given how Dallas has repeatedly found ways to lose games, it was still a concern at that point, even though C.J. Beathard had to come in after Nick Mullens hurt his arm. But CeeDee Lamb would put the final nail in the coffin when he grabbed an onside kick attempt and blew right up the field 47 yards for a touchdown.
This game should have not been a close one at all. For the second week in a row, the Cowboys got early gifts that led to points. It started after each team went three and out. Hunter Niswander had dropped a perfect deep punt that was downed at the one yard line, but an illegal formation penalty forced a second kick, and it went all bad for the 49ers as Richie James fumbled the ball on his return. It gave Dallas possession at the San Francisco 22 yard line. They ran five plays, every one either a handoff or pass to Tony Pollard, to take a quick 7-0 lead.
Then on the next series, DeMarcus Lawrence got through to Nick Mullens, knocking the ball out of his hand for a fumble that Aldon Smith recovered. It was a close play that could have been ruled an incomplete pass, but the call went Dallas’ way and they now had the ball on the 24. This led to another five play drive, featuring a creative third and short play where Andy Dalton was lined up in a shotgun, but Blake Bell jumped under center and took the ball himself directly forward to convert the down. On the next play, Dalton found Michael Gallup for a three yard touchdown pass. Just like that, the Cowboys had a 14-0 lead with 6:39 left in the first quarter.
It is very hard for any team to win when they are minus two in turnovers. It is supposed to be nearly impossible when they are minus three, and the Niners would get to that deficit in the fourth quarter when Donovan Wilson picked off Mullens. But the offense would stall and settle for a field goal, breaking a 24-24 tie. It would go down to within three minutes to play with the outcome still very much in doubt, before Anthony Brown make it minus four with his own pick to put the Cowboys on the San Francisco 46.
It was that close because, as we had feared, the Dallas defense just had no answers at times, especially in the running game. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. combined for 84 yards on the ground in the first half. When they weren’t moving the chains, it seemed like Mullens was running around or just standing in the pocket and throwing the ball for 15 or 20 yards. After the Cowboys got their early two score advantage, San Francisco would put together back to back 13 play, 75 yard touchdown drives, sandwiched around a Greg Zeurlein field goal.
It should have gotten a lot easier to deal with the 49ers offense after both Mostert and Wilson went out with injuries, but it was still very hard for the Cowboys’ defense to get off the field until the Dallas secondary suddenly roared to life. It was certainly something of a mixed bag for defense as a whole, with San Francisco just steamrolling them at times, but the defense getting those three takeaways to go with the one from the special teams. Dallas got 24 points off those turnovers. It was a solid win, but it really should have been a rout.
It was also partly because the offense was uneven. They did put together one 73 yard touchdown drive, but it was mostly about a 45 yard completion to CeeDee Lamb to set up a 12 yard Dalton Schultz TD catch.
Michael Gallup was banged up during the game, and the focus of the passing game seeming to run through Noah Brown. Not in the sense of him catching a lot of balls, but in getting 6 targets, second among wide receivers only to CeeDee Lamb. Brown only had one catch, so the repeated attempts to get him the ball were somewhat mystifying. The offense may be said to actually have run through Pollard, as he added 63 yards on six catches to his 69 yards rushing. The team frankly didn’t seem to miss Elliott at all.
And despite often looking porous, the defense had a huge hand in winning this game. They may not have been great at getting off the field. They even gave up a long Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game for a true garbage time score. But it was still those unfamiliar takeaways that were the big difference. I don’t know if it will have any effect at all on Mike Nolan’s furture, but it has to at least make the players feel a lot better.
This win also keeps the Cowboys’ playoff chances on life support, as the Washington Football Team lost. It is still a long shot as Dallas still needs to win the next two while the Team loses out, but somewhat amazing nonetheless.