Just how improbable was that win? Some numbers.
According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, teams were 1,875-6 when leading by 15 or more points in the final five minutes of regulation over the past 20 seasons. The last team to overcome such a deficit was the New Orleans Saints against Washington in 2017.
Make that 1,875-7.
“We dug ourselves such a big hole in the first quarter and I just think the way the guys rallied and just kept going,” McCarthy said. “Especially since it’s a young season, we’re early in the process of our football team finding out about each other each and every day. So, it’s a big chunk of confidence that we’ll carry forward. I’m very proud of the team. I’m very proud of everybody. I can’t say enough about the way our players kept playing.”
It tied for the second-biggest comeback in team history. Three times the Cowboys have overcome 21-point holes with the last coming in 2014.
For McCarthy, it was also the second-biggest comeback of his coaching career. In 2013, his Packers trailed the Cowboys by 23 at AT&T Stadium and won 37-36. Twice they overcame 20-point holes. In Week 13 in 2015, they beat the Detroit Lions and in the 2018 season opener they came back against the Chicago Bears.
A couple of plays that had a big impact.
Julio’s drop, followed by penalty – With the Cowboys trailing 29-17, Atlanta had moved the ball inside Dallas territory. On third-and-short, the Falcons tried a trick play by using receiver Russell Gage in the wildcat formation where he threw it deep to Julio Jones. Although he beat Diggs on the play, Jones dropped the pass to set up fourth down. The Falcons kept the offense on the field to go for it, but a penalty for 12 players in the huddle forced them to instead punt the ball back to Dallas.
Dak finds Bell on the sideline – The Cowboys brought in tight end Blake Bell to be more of a blocker, but he snuck out into a route late in the game and Dak Prescott found him for a 24-yard gain in front of the Cowboys’ bench. It was third-and-4 from the Dallas 31-yard line and the Cowboys were trailing by 15. Not only did the completion move the sticks, but it was the longest pass play of the drive, which ended with the Cowboys scoring to cut the lead to 39-30.
The Cowboys won, but the start of the game was one of the worst of all time,
Again, the Cowboys couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start as they fumbled five times in the first quarter. On two of those the team retained possession – the first the runner having been ruled down already – but the other three quickly led to Falcons points. Throw in a poorly executed fake punt by Dallas and the game appeared lost before it ever got going for the home side.
Atlanta took full advantage of the Cowboys mistakes. The scoring began when Prescott, under pressure, appeared to be attempting a quick shuffle pass to Schultz. Instead the ball was knocked loose, recovered by the Falcons’ Dante Fowler.
Set up at the Cowboys’ 22-yard line, on the very next snap, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan hit Calvin Ridley on the left sideline, the receiver tiptoeing to the pylon for the score.
That was followed by running back Ezekiel Elliott having the ball punched out at midfield, the Falcons recovering at their own 48-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan found tight end Hayden Hurts wide open for a 42-yard touchdown.
Field goals by the Falcons’ YoungHoe Koo for 42 and 27 yards upped the visitors’ advantage to 20-0 after 15 minutes of play. The first field goal was tacked on after Dallas was unable to convert on an attempted fake punt. The play call worked, gunner C.J. Goodwin was open. But punter Chris Jones underthrew his target, the pass incomplete. Yet another fumble, this one by Schultz, led to the second three-pointer.
5 takeaways from the Cowboys’ dramatic win over the Falcons: What does it all mean? - Calvin Watkins, DMN
Even with the win, coach Mike McCarthy made some curious decisions.
Decisions, decisions and decisions
You can always question the decisions from an NFL head coach, but Mike McCarthy is leaving himself open to questioning too often in his early tenure. You can question the decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 last week in Los Angeles, and Sunday afternoon he gave the OK for a fake punt on the fourth possession of the game. Punter Chris Jones was short on a pass to C.J. Goodwin on a fourth-and-four from the Cowboys 29. Early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy approved another fake punt on a fourth-and-5 from the 40. Safety Darian Thompson took the direct snap and gained just 3 yards. McCarthy also went for two after Dak Prescott competed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz. Trailing 39-30 with 5:02 left, does the play chart say go for 2? The Cowboys failed to convert the two-point play, and eventually it wouldn’t matter, but it shows the Cowboys’ new head coach likes to gamble.
Also, the offense line is definitely an issue, although it improved as the game went on.
The offensive line
Tyron Smith (neck) missed Sunday’s game and was inactive. Starting right tackle La’el Collins is out for at least another week.
So, the Cowboys started undrafted rookie Terence Steele and second-year player Brandon Knight at the tackle positions. They were met with uneven results in the first half. In the second half, the players switched sides of the line of scrimmage. Moving forward, the Cowboys have to make some decisions regarding the line.
Grading the Cowboys: Dak Prescott and the pass offense impressed. The coaching staff did not. - Jean-Jacques Taylor, DMN
Some grades, a few that were not very good.
Calvin Ridley torched the Cowboys all day. They never figured out how to defend him, and he finished with seven catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Ryan passed for 273 yards and four touchdowns and didn’t get sacked until Everson Griffen dropped him with less than four minutes left. That sack set up the touchdown drive that pulled Dallas within two points. The Cowboys dropped two interceptions, unacceptable for a team yearning for turnovers.
Mike McCarthy’s team clearly wasn’t ready to play. Three fumbles in a 10-play span in the first quarter proves that. He’s 0-for-3 on fourth down this season, and the last one he called in the fourth quarter was just dumb. The offense showed no imagination and the defense is clueless on third downs. The two-point attempt in the fourth quarter down by nine was mind-numbing, but the onside kick recovery keeps his staff from getting an F.
As you can imagine, Falcons fans were not at all happy with the result of the game.
If you wanted a signal from the gods themselves, the sort of glowing and screeching cosmic talisman that would tell you that it was time to end the current era of Falcons football and start another, it could not have arrived with the fire and sound that this 40-39 loss to the Cowboys did. It landed like a meteor, but its destruction was far more complete.
I doubt Arthur Blank will clean house two weeks into the season, but it’s inevitable now. There is no way this team, as currently constructed from top to bottom, will come out of the hole they’ve just dug for themselves. There is no way a team that lost the way this team just did against Dallas will be able to recover from an 0-2 start that something like 10% of teams ever come out of to prove to be the feel good story of the year. It is simply not going to happen.
This Falcons team was up 20-0. This Falcons team was up by double digits most of the game. They were leading by 15 with just about 4 minutes to go, and Mike McCarthy kept trying to bail them out with coaching mistakes. They were given a multitude of gifts, like three football wisemen hauled ass across the desert to bring them to them, and yet it came down to an onside kick the Falcons watched for an agonizingly long, impossibly irresponsible time until Dallas recovered it. They lost by one point as time expired, 40-39, a score that beggars belief.
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