The Cowboys hosted an undefeated Panthers team that entered the game leading the league in defensive DVOA and was at or near the top of every meaningful stat on that side of the ball. The result? Dallas dropped 36 points and 245 rushing yards, with Ezekiel Elliott recording his first 100-yard game of the year, in an utterly dominant victory.
Give the Panthers credit where it’s due. The defense limited Dak Prescott and the offense to just 13 points in the first half. But there’s only so much a defense can do against this bunch, and it became evident in the third quarter. And, sure, Carolina got a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter because the Cowboys let up, but don’t let that distract you from how the Cowboys throttled this team when they were still trying. These five plays were a big part of why that happened.
Dak Prescott recovers bad snap and gains 15 scrimmage yards on first down
Things didn’t get off to a good start for the Cowboys offense. They went three-and-out on their opening drive, and it appeared the Panthers pass rush was going to be a big problem. So after the Dallas defense forced its own three-and-out, Prescott needed to get something going.
After a highly questionable offensive pass interference call on Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys were backed up to 1st-and-20 on their own 39-yard line. Tyler Biadasz snapped the ball way too low and Prescott had to pick it up off the ground, creating chaos on the play.
But Prescott was cool under pressure, as he often is, and evaded a pass rusher before running for 20 yards down the sideline (it wasn’t a first down because technically his 20 yards started from where he recovered the fumble, five yards behind the line of scrimmage). It was a huge play not only because it set Dallas up in a 2nd-and-5, but it came on what very easily could have been a huge loss that all but killed the drive, or even worse a turnover. Instead, Dallas moved into Carolina territory and scored a touchdown seven plays later.
Forward progress saves Dalton Schultz from a fumble
After the Cowboys scored their first touchdown, the Dallas defense gave one up to the Panthers on the next possession, setting Prescott up for a chance to retake the lead. There was a close call with a Dalton Schultz fumble that got correctly overruled, keeping the Cowboys’ drive alive.
Just a few plays later, on second and 11 from their own 36-yard line, Dallas ran another quick pass to Schultz. The ball once again came loose, this time as Schultz was driven to the ground, and the Panthers recovered the ball. However, the officials had ruled that Schultz’s forward progress had been stopped before the ball came out.
The replay made it pretty apparent that there was no way such call could be correct, but since forward progress cannot be reviewed, Dallas held onto the ball. Simply put, the Cowboys got lucky on this one, and it should have been the Panthers’ ball deep in Cowboys territory. Instead, they held onto it and scored a touchdown five plays later.
Trevon Diggs double dips with two big interceptions
Sam Darnold’s Jets career was often plagued by an inability to hold onto the ball, so facing the league-leaders in team takeaways was sure to go poorly for him. And go poorly it did. Darnold played a clean first half, but after the Cowboys scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter, the Panthers quarterback was trying to respond.
But, much like Thanos, Trevon Diggs is inevitable.
Diggs’ interception set the Cowboys offense up just 37 yards away from the endzone, and it only took three plays for them to score courtesy of a beautiful spin move from Cedrick Wilson. Then, Diggs did his best DJ Khaled impression and got another one.
Once again starting in Panthers territory, the Cowboys ended up settling for a field goal that extended the lead to 36-14, a highly comfortable margin. The Cowboys had already put up 14 straight, but Diggs’ back-to-back picks helped add another easy 10 points and put the game out of reach.
Anthony Brown’s dropped pick lets Panthers get back in the game
After going up 36-14, the Cowboys pulled some of their starters on defense, most notably Diggs and Randy Gregory. It didn’t go well, as Carolina went down and scored a touchdown. After the Cowboys’ offense went three-and-out, the Panthers got the ball back again, still not facing Diggs or Gregory. (It was reported later Diggs had some back tightness and that was why the Cowboys held him out).
On the third play of the drive, looking at first and 10 from the Carolina 30-yard line, Darnold threw a strike down the sideline intended for Robby Anderson. Anthony Brown was right there to jump in front for an easy interception, but the ball went through his hands.
The pick there would have officially sealed the game, but Brown was unable to come down with it. Given another chance, Darnold didn’t hesitate, and he threw a touchdown six plays later to suddenly make it a one-score game (albeit with a two-point conversion necessary).
Zeke’s pitch to Tony Pollard ices the game
After the Panthers’ final touchdown, the Cowboys engineered a powerful drive that kept the ball on the ground and bled the clock out. Since the Panthers had zero timeouts, there was nothing they could do besides stop Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, something they were wholly unable to do all game.
After running things down to the two-minute warning, Dallas had a third and one from the Panthers 41-yard line. A first down would end the game, but a failure would bring up an interesting decision for Mike McCarthy. So what did Kellen Moore dial up to ensure a first down? Just this beauty:
Cowboys with the Zeke to Pollard Option play to ice the game. pic.twitter.com/4COediwrDb— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 3, 2021
The play design is perfect, and so is the execution. The result is a first down, and then Dak just has to kneel down twice to officially win. There’s no telling what might have happened had Dallas not converted, but it didn’t matter anyway because the Cowboys iced the game when they needed to. How does it feel to be 3-1?
We put together highlights from Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos!