The Cowboys just keep on winning. A 41-33 shootout with San Francisco was the latest entry in their slew of winning performances against opposing foes, which much to the disappointment of Team Tank, has them squarely in contention for a playoff spot as 2020 gives way to ‘21.
Now, granted – it’s just their second consecutive marginal defeat, but it may be the biggest surprise showcase they’ve put together since the year’s inception. And what comes as an even bigger surprise is this – it was largely predicated on the output of their defense, which forced an astounding four total turnovers (one was on a kick return) en route to one of their best collective influential imprints yet.
As the old football mantra goes: win the turnover battle, win the game. And the Cowboys did just that in every aspect.
“We always knew we were capable,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis commented on their display. “We just found the ingredients these last few games.”
Stars aligned and flashed their brilliance on both sides of the football, and they've left us with a surplus of names to choose from to compile this three star’s list. But, alas, only the three brightest can make the cut. So without further ado, here they are.
3. Donovan Wilson
There are very few questions surrounding Donovan Wilson’s tackling prowess. He’s a scary sight for offensive ball-carriers when he hones in on a would-be target, and has made more than due with the starting role that was apportioned to him after his magnitudinous showing vs. the Browns, one that resulted in a team-high 10 tackle sum.
But while tackling is his undisputed bread and butter, his coverage has been the subject of certain speculation after a few mishaps left him exposed in deep matchups with wide receivers. And film footage has outlined some discrepancies between the two aspects of his game.
While his tracking skills remain undeterred, his ball-hawking fortitude has undergone several ups and downs as the season has wore on. He’s shown immense potential in his lock-up efforts, but still finds himself a step behind some of the league’s more potent route-runners as their patterns unfold. Sunday though, marked one of his best outputs as a cover-man.
His superior lone play was obvious: an uber-athletic diving interception that stripped San Fran of the momentous energy they had scoured up as they embarked on a comeback.
Donovan Wilson is the textbook definition of a ballhawk pic.twitter.com/R0c0wTLxJc— ld Army Fight (@OldArmyFight) December 20, 2020
The play was a game-breaker for Dallas, who quickly flipped it into a Greg Zuerlein three-ball to break the tie.
But Wilson didn’t stop there.
A savvy predatory break on the 49ers’ ensuing pass possession almost turned another Nick Mullens’ pass attempt into a takeaway, but despite Wilson’s inability to corral the errant throw, it was weighty enough to force an incompletion on the next snap, and redeposit the pigskin into Dallas’ clutches.
Wilson closed the foray with eight combined tackles, two pass deflections and his first career interception. He’s had more haughty statistical productions, but in terms of consequential effect, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better standalone Wilson game.
2. Andy Dalton
The Red Rifle’s killshots were on sight and on target as he diced and delved through the 49ers secondary Sunday. His presence under center has undergone an upticking trend since regaining his starting position after succumbing to a concussion in Week 7 against Washington.
He’s tossed multiple touchdowns in three straight weeks, and this past Sunday he complemented his scoring assists with a few rare rushing bursts, while keeping his prized jewel (the football) in close quarters – relinquishing zero turnovers to the opposition.
His two TD dimes were effervescent of his increased comfortability and acumen in Dallas’ system.
The first: an easy strike to a wide-open Michael Gallup, who sleuthed behind a bevy of red and brown jerseys after a cunning pitch fake to freeze the defense and net him six points. Gallup was uncovered indeed, but it was Dalton’s deke that allowed him to sneak into the back of the end zone for pay-dirt.
Andy Dalton hits Michael Gallup for a 3 yard TD to extend the Cowboys (+4) lead to 14-0— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) December 20, 2020
Gallup anytime scorer +270 ✅
The second was another painless read from my standpoint, but all the more telling of Dalton’s resolute effortlessness in finding the right target. The Dalton-Dalton connection reared strong here, and #14 found #86 (Dalton Schultz) in the flat before Schultz powered his way home with a few enemies strapped to his back.
Dalton’s arm motions looked smooth and deliberate, and he even bounced outside of the pocket for a few dicey connections with receivers breaking off of their designed routes.
The Andy Dalton big-time play to CeeDee Lambpic.twitter.com/v4cLe2M8Zg— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 20, 2020
This marks his second straight appearance in our stars compilation, and if he keeps playing like this, it’ll be far from his last.
1. Tony Pollard
Tony Pollard is slowly but surely making his case to take more and more carries away from the near-$100 million man that is Ezekiel Elliott. He netted his highest carries total of the 2020 campaign with 12, and more than made use of them by parlaying them into the steepest YPA (yards per attempt) average of his career, with 5.75.
Pollard is emblematic of the consistent backfield force the Cowboys so desperately desired in Elliott after Dak Prescott’s injury, and with Elliott sidelined with calf soreness, the singular spotlight was on #20 to prove his worth.
He didn’t disappoint.
He was a lightning spark from the opening kickoff, energetically hitting each hole with a burst and brutish potency that’s simply evaded Zeke in recent games.
The 49ers defense, which has suffered greatly due to a number of big injury hits, still carries a tenacious reputation. In fact, they’re fifth in the league in opposing yards allowed (314.3), despite missing stalwarts like Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Ezekiel Ansah.
Still, though, Pollard managed to produce, recording 69 yards on the ground and finding TD real estate not once, but twice in the foray.
He was also deadly as a pass-catching option, and his six receptions (team high) for 63 yards solidified his versatile value even further.
Oh – and let’s not forget about his 20 kick return yards either.
The guy is a jack of all trades in every sense of the phrase.
And this next phrase is not likely to illicit any argument.
Tony Pollard was the premier performer for the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers.