Sometimes you look at the stats and numbers from a game to understand why a team lost, how it needs to improve, or what factored into a win. But in the stunning 40-39 Dallas Cowboys win over the Atlanta Falcons, there is a tendency to look at these bits of data and just ask yourself, “Is this for real?”
Here are some of the outlandish things that stood out, along with many more normal stats of interest.
Time the Cowboys actually led the game: Zero seconds
That’s right. Time expired as the game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein was in the air. Dallas never actually held a lead, or even tied the game after the initial touchdown by the Falcons just 4:02 into the first quarter. It is not unprecedented, but it is still incredibly difficult to manage - and absolutely nerve wracking.
Meanwhile, Atlanta enjoyed leads of 20 points at the end of the first quarter, 19 at halftime, pushed it back to 12 points at the 14:23 mark of the fourth quarter, and finally had it at 15 points with just over eight minutes left in the game. Those are the kinds of margins that normally break a team’s will.
The Cowboys just kept coming and pulled it off in the end. That kind of determination and refusal to quit could just be something to build on.
RJ Ochoa has a short post up on this, but these numbers are repeated here because they are so significant. Also, they may inspire almost uncontrollable hilarity. First, Dak Prescott’s amazing stats:
34/47 passing for 450 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, plus 18 yards on five carries with three touchdowns. No player in NFL history has ever combined that much passing with so many rushing TDs. Prescott also had a lost fumble, but suffered only one sack, which seems a bit hard to fathom from how badly he seemed to be pressured in the first quarter.
What is not explicit in the numbers is the way this man grabbed the reins of the offense and willed this team to a win. It was one of the most impressive quarterback performances you will ever see. And while he may not have been under as much duress as it felt like, especially after the first quarter as Terence Steele and Brandon Knight seemed to settle into the offensive tackle spots, he still had to leave the field to undergo a concussion examination following a roughing the passer penalty against Deion Jones. He was cleared to return to the field and promptly scored one of his touchdowns on a QB sneak from the one.
The quality of his performance was incredible, but also foreshadowed by the man himself.
Oh, and that wasn’t the only record Prescott set, at it turns out.
Through 66 career games, no QB in Cowboys history has more passing yards (16,494) or TDs (99) than Dak Prescott— Patrick (@PatSportsGuy) September 21, 2020
It’s almost like this was a franchise quarterback you would want to pay to have on a long-term deal.
Oh, and that funny detail? The Falcons were the first team in NFL history to score 39 or more points while not turning the ball over themselves - and lose. History indicates that is actually rather difficult to do.
The Falcons had 39 points with zero turnovers in their loss against the Cowboys.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 20, 2020
Entering today, teams were 440-0 when scoring 39 points with 0 turnovers since 1933, when team turnovers were first tracked, according to Elias. pic.twitter.com/LZdqzwQZyD
Of course, the Falcons are no strangers to losing games that every bit of logic and history says they should win. After all, they made the third quarter score of 28-3 infamous.
The Cowboys had three lost fumbles and two failed fourth-down attempts. All in their own end of the field. Four of them in the first quarter. That is horrible, and the odds of coming back to win a game, especially when you have exactly, um, carry the seven, take the square root, um, exactly zero takeaways or turnovers on downs of your own. It is just one more bit of proof that Prescott did an amazing job. But if you think I’m neglecting the rest of the offense, let’s correct that right now.
Zeke is eating
In both games of this young season, Ezekiel Elliott has been the leading rusher and gained the most yards from scrimmage for Dallas. The season-opener saw him gain 96 yards and a TD on the ground while adding 31 yards and a second TD receiving. Against Atlanta, he added 89 on the ground plus a TD, with 33 yards receiving.
He is still central to the offensive game plan, but he is not the only thing they have. Had the game not been so one-sided for so long, he would probably have had his first 100 yard game rushing. But, even though forced into it, Kellen Moore did not force-feed him. That is a blueprint for more success - if they can just stick to it.
Wide receivers had them a day
The stat lines:
- CeeDee Lamb - 6 catches/9 targets/106 yards, 1 carry/9 yards
- Amari Cooper - 6 catches/9 targets/100 yards
- Michael Gallup - 2 catches/5 targets/58 yards
- Noah Brown - 2 catches/2 targets/28 yards
Is Lamb already the best receiver on the team? That may be a bit premature without looking deeper into who was drawing double coverage and also considering the fact that Cooper was playing through a foot injury. But together, they were a force. Gallup only had the two catches, but his long of 39 to set up the final Dallas TD was absolutely huge, and a great case of body control to get one hip down just inbounds. While Brown had the fewest snaps and the lowest yardage, he also had an important catch to set up the next to last Cowboys TD. He also had a huge 47-yard reception nullified by an illegal block call on CeeDee Lamb that was by the letter of the rulebook, but still felt like one the refs could have kept the flag in their pocket.
Our tight end doom and gloom may have been a teensy bit premature
Yes, it certainly hurt to lose starting TE Blake Jarwin. But after a rough day against the Los Angeles Rams, his backups came back with a vengeance.
- Dalton Schultz - 9 catches/10 targets/88 yards/1 TD
- Blake Bell - 2 catches/3 targets/34 yards
Schultz had a strong day, with not too many big catches, but keeping a lot of drives alive. And that TD was of course crucial. Bell was a pleasant surprise. Well done, gentlemen.
The pass rush couldn’t get it done - until they absolutely, positively had to
It was frustrating to see the pass rush fail to get to Matt Ryan, with only four quarterback hits and not nearly enough pressure. But on the last Falcons possession, when the Cowboys had to get the ball back quickly to have even the slimmest chance of winning, Everson Griffen came through with a six-yard sack on 2nd-and-12 from the Atlanta 33. Ryan’s last pass of the game only netted 10, and the Falcons had to punt it away. The Cowboys had only 2:57 left to work with, but they marched 76 yards in only 1:08 to get to a two-point deficit, setting up a finish that was first bizarre and then thrilling.
A tale of two kicks
It came down to the foot of Greg Zuerlein, and he made the decision to keep him over Kai Forbath look brilliant. His first kick was the onside attempt that the Falcons knew was coming, and he dribbled the ball about 10 yards and one inch before C.J. Goodwin pounced and set the Cowboys up at their own 46. He was helped as three Falcons watched the ball get just far enough downfield when they could have fallen on it at any time, but it seems they were coached to not go after it before it crossed the 10 yard point, perhaps to avoid knocking it to a Cowboy. Remember, the current rules concerning onside kicks are supposed to make them almost impossible.
After an absolutely clutch throw to Lamb for 24 yards, the Cowboys used a couple of Elliott runs and a spike to set up a 46-yard field goal attempt with just six seconds left. Zuerlein put it through the uprights, and Jerry Jones just about fell over celebrating one of the most memorable wins of his decades of ownership.
That patchwork offensive line deserves some credit as well
Elliott averaged 4.0 yards a carry, which speaks to the run blocking. While it seemed Prescott was under a lot of pressure, the line only allowed one sack and four QB hits - identical to the stats for the Dallas pass rush.
Steele and Knight, both coming to the Cowboys as UDFAs, had a formidable challenge. On balance, they handled it far better than could have been expected with the top three OTs for the team out with injuries.
This is always a key stat, and the Cowboys converted 7 of 13, a healthy 54%. The Dallas defense managed to keep the Falcons at a slightly lower 47%, which was just good enough.
Chances of winning
For almost the entire game, the Falcons had a high chance of winning the game, at or above 90% for most of it. It peaked at a seemingly insurmountable 99.9% with just 2:52 left to play when Dak missed on a pass to Lamb on 2nd-and-7 from the Cowboys 35. But the two connected to convert the ensuing 3rd-and-7, and the rest is now football history.
Collectively, these are some of the most amazing stats we have ever seen for Dallas. It was an epic comeback, and frankly, they should never have pulled it off. But they did, and it is ineffably sweet.