Who said the Cowboys were boring? After getting flexed out of Sunday Night Football this week, the Cowboys and 49ers put on a show on Sunday afternoon, certainly a more entertaining product than the game that replaced them. It was a back-and-forth fight all day, but the Cowboys came out on top with a 41-33 victory that included an onside kick returned for a touchdown and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown as time expired.
It ended up being a game few would want to miss, even if the implications from it may end up being meaningless. A big part of why the game was so competitive, though, was the Cowboys’ rookies putting on a big show, and not just the guy everyone has gotten used to being wowed by.
CeeDee Lamb, WR
Last week, CeeDee Lamb saw just five total touches against Cincinnati, an unusually quiet day for him. But he didn’t make a habit of that as the rookie receiver led the team in receiving yards with 85 on five receptions. He also had an overlooked punt return that went for 16 yards in which he showed off his agility and speed in the open field.
The two most memorable moments for Lamb, though, were chunk plays. The first was an incredible sideline catch that helped extend the Cowboys’ drive on third and long. Andy Dalton got flushed out of the pocket, but Lamb’s ability to adjust to his quarterback and cut up field led to this big 45-yard reception that led to go-ahead touchdown.
But the rookie wasn’t done stealing the spotlight. With 40 seconds left in the game, the 49ers tried an onside kick after cutting the deficit to one touchdown. It did not go well for them, as Lamb easily caught the ball on the bounce and then saw a wide open crease.
It was a meaningless touchdown as the Cowboys would have just taken a knee to run out the clock had Lamb simply fallen on it, but it was fun to see Lamb show off just how dynamic he is for this team. Plus, this score marked a return for #Team40Burger. Remember that?
Trevon Diggs, CB
After missing the previous four games while on the injured reserve with a broken foot, Trevon Diggs returned to the field on Sunday. Being that it was a broken foot he was dealing with, the Cowboys didn’t throw him right into the fire. Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie got the start on the outside, and Diggs only played on 43 defensive snaps.
That didn’t stop him from making his presence felt. Diggs finished the game with five tackles, one of them for a loss, and played more snaps as the game went on. He also batted down one pass thrown his way. That’s a good stat line for a guy who barely played half of the defensive snaps. It’s obvious the coaching staff didn’t want to put too much on his plate, but Diggs’ performance may convince them to give the rookie a bigger workload next week against Philadelphia, the team he recorded two interceptions against last time around.
Neville Gallimore, DT
If there’s any rookie for Dallas that has seen a consistent and gradual improvement each week, it’s Neville Gallimore. He went from being a healthy scratch in Weeks 3 and 4 to leading all defensive tackles in snaps played last week. While he didn’t repeat that same feat against San Francisco - Dallas rotated in the bigger Justin Hamilton and Eli Ankou a lot against the 49ers’ run-heavy offense - Gallimore still put up his best performance all season.
Coming out of Oklahoma, Gallimore was billed as a quick penetration guy who had the size to grow into a good run stopper as well. He’s gradually done so with more playing time, but we haven’t seen the pass rush traits manifest much. That changed on Sunday, as Gallimore pushed the pocket fairly well, including this play where he recorded a pressure, a hit on the quarterback, and a pass defensed all in one.
The fact that he was being double-teamed on this play makes it all the more impressive. But Gallimore was even more impressive in the run game, frequently making stops at or near the line of scrimmage. Most notably, he had this tackle for loss where the rookie absolutely rocked Raheem Mostert on first and goal.
It’s been a long journey for Gallimore this season, and injuries have forced him into a much bigger role than he otherwise would have had, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Gallimore has improved each week, and with two games left in the season he’s starting to play his best football.
Reggie Robinson III, DB
Reggie Robinson is officially on a streak. For the third week in a row, the rookie out of Tulsa was on the active roster. Of course, he was still relegated to special teams play, but he saw an increased workload there. After playing a total of four special teams snaps the last two weeks, he played 22 special teams snaps against the 49ers. While the return of Donovan Wilson this week likely eliminated any chance of Robinson seeing the field on defense, it’s nice that he’s at least getting some consistent special teams work now.
Tyler Biadasz, C
Tyler Biadasz returned from the injured reserve last week and only saw action on special teams, with the assumption being that he didn’t have enough practice time to start yet. But Biadasz once again remained on the bench against San Francisco, only taking the field when Greg Zuerlein attempted a field goal or extra point.
It’s a curious decision, since Biadasz was playing so well before his injury; he led all centers in run block win rate, for example. Perhaps Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin just don’t want to mess with the continuity of their offensive line right now, since Joe Looney has played solid football in Biadasz’s absence.
Bradlee Anae, EDGE
You guessed it: inactive.
Ben DiNucci, QB
Another obvious one here, as The Nooch was inactive for this game.
Terence Steele, OT
At one point it looked like Terence Steele was far and away the worst starting offensive tackle in the NFL. Now, that’s not the case. Steele has been playing some solid football since being put back into the starting lineup when Zack Martin got hurt. While Steele has still had some issues on occasion in pass protection, his skill as a run blocker has started to shine through. He got some attention for getting downfield with Tony Pollard on the running back’s big touchdown run late in the game.
Of course, none of this has made Cowboys fans stop yearning for the day that La’el Collins can play again, but seeing Steele show clear signs of improvement after such a rough start to his career is very promising for the team’s overall depth going forward.
Francis Bernard, LB
Francis Bernard continued to serve in his role as a core special teamer for Dallas, once again sitting near the top in special teams snaps. He also had one tackle on a kickoff that showcased why he’s become so valuable to John Fassel this year.
Sean McKeon, TE
Sean McKeon’s role in this offense is very clearly defined as an extra blocker in goal line packages. But on Sunday, he served that role in a bit of a unique way. In addition to his seven offensive snaps, McKeon had one especially impactful play on Pollard’s first touchdown of the day. He lined up in the backfield as a fullback and managed to deliver a crucial block that allowed Pollard to break the plane.
McKeon even got a shout out from the broadcast crew for his block, which has to be a nice moment for him after doing so much of the dirty work throughout this season.
Rico Dowdle, RB
It was really a banner day for these Cowboys rookies, and Rico Dowdle managed to get in on the action as well. With Ezekiel Elliott out for this game, that meant Dowdle was moved up to the backup running back spot. In addition to his usual role on special teams, Dowdle got to return three kickoffs of his own. He took them for 88 total yards, including a 33-yard return that he nearly fumbled on before the call was overturned.
Dowdle also took four carries for 11 yards, functioning as a nice reliever for Pollard. Given that he usually operates as a blocker on kick returns and nothing else, it was nice for Dowdle to have a chance at contributing more in a win for the Cowboys.
Ron’Dell Carter, DL
While Ron’Dell Carter was active and played last week against the pass-happy Bengals, the situational pass rusher was inactive against the run-heavy 49ers.
Sewo Olonilua, FB
When Zeke was added to the inactive list prior to kickoff, that meant Sewo Olonilua was activated in his place. While the former running back and now fullback didn’t see the field on offense, he did factor in on special teams with 25 snaps. He effectively took over the role Dowdle normally fills.