In another thrilling game, the Dallas Cowboys got a win over the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17 on a Greg Zuerlein 56-yard field goal as time ran out. It was a performance where the Dallas offense was red hot to begin, but struggled to move and score until that final drive. Their defense was at times shredded by LA, but came up with a couple of crucial interceptions that largely turned the tide of the game. It was gutty, flawed, and heart-stopping, and now fans can revel in the victory until a very key game next week. It was clearly an opportunity for the Cowboys as the Philadelphia Eagles had already blown their game against the San Francisco 49ers, and “blown” is the only way to describe that. Now they play for at least a share of the NFC East lead, as they are both tied with the Washington Football team at 1-1.
The biggest challenge for Dallas was the mass of players missing for a variety of reasons.
La’el Collins— Dylan✭Wilson (@Dylan88Wilson) September 18, 2021
The Cowboys will be without SEVEN starters vs the Chargers pic.twitter.com/t7UE7nLYRP
How well they would handle things with so many missing would be key to the game. As it turned out, Dallas managed just well enough. Now they have an easier looking stretch of games until their bye in Week 7 and hopefully will get healthier.
After the Chargers won the toss and deferred, the Cowboys opened the game with a 15-play, six-minute, 78-yard drive that was nothing but encouraging. Dak Prescott hit five different receivers, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both found some running room behind the line with Zack Martin back in place after missing game one, and they avoided the red zone woes that plagued them last week. The drive was capped by an end around run from Pollard. It was aided along the way by a DPI call on a gutsy fourth and one call inside their own territory, but the big thing was a quick seven-point lead on the road, before a crowd that had a lot of Cowboys fans in attendance.
One thing that was remarked on heavily from the opening game loss was how Dallas had not done anything with their ground game. That changed this game as Elliott, Pollard, and in a surprise play, CeeDee Lamb, accumulated 76 yards and two touchdowns - in the first quarter. That meshed nicely with 98 yards passing from Prescott and a total of 13 first downs to stake them to a 14-3 lead going into the second quarter. Clearly Kellen Moore had an entirely different game plan when not faced with the formidable run defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it was clicking early. In a bit of a plot twist, while Elliott had a decent day, it was Pollard who would eclipse the 100-yard mark with an outstanding effort.
However, the defense had a much rougher start. They were gashed for two consecutive big pays on Los Angeles’ first possession. They were saved by a great interception by Trevon Diggs. Unfortunately, Prescott would make a bad looking throw and give the ball right back on the next possession. The defense stiffened enough to hold the Bolts to a field goal, but Justin Herbert was off to a red hot start despite the one pick. Besides the interception, he did not throw an incompletion until there were just eleven seconds left in the first half, completing 16 in a row. He repeatedly overcame third and long situations and four different penalties on their first touchdown drive. The Cowboys needed a stop to get to halftime with a lead, and got one when Leighton Vander Esch finally got to Herbert for the team’s first sack of the season. It led to the first punt attempt by either team in the game coming out of the two minute warning.
But another special teams mistake gave the Chargers another chance as Dallas roughed the punter. Herbert got them into field goal range with seconds left in the half, but the kick doinked off the left upright. It would have been called back regardless as the Chargers were flagged for a really flagrant facemask. With those fifteen yards tacked onto things, Moore was not content to just let the time run off and dialed up a hook and lateral play that came within two yards of a touchdown after CeeDee Lamb flipped the ball back to Elliott. But in the end, at halftime it was 14-11 in favor of Dallas, the first time in NFL history that was the score at the break due to the Chargers going successfully for two on their first half touchdown.
While Herbert tore things up until the very end of the first half, Prescott was no slouch, going 13 for 16, and getting more yards than his opponent 177 to 154. A lot of that came on the final play, though. Dallas also had the edge in rushing, 96 to 45. One place where Los Angeles really did poorly was in penalties. They were flagged nine times over the first 30 minutes of play for 79 yards. The Cowboys weren’t exactly great in this department, with 43 yards on four penalties. Still, in a game as close as this one was, any edge was needed.
With only one punt even attempted in the first half, and that one wiped off by a penalty, it looked increasingly like the game might turn on which defense could find a way to stop the other team. Dallas was not able to do so after the Chargers received the second half kickoff, despite getting them into a third and fifteen. Diggs would make a puzzling hesitation to allow a 42-yard reception to allow them to get into field goal range. But a rare bad pass led to a third down incompletion and held the damage to just three points and keeping the game tied.
After a promising start, the Cowboys stalled on the next drive as they surrendered their first sack, one where Prescott probably hung onto the ball too long looking to make a play. It led to the first actual punt of the game with 5:11 left in the third quarter. It left Los Angeles with 91 yards to go to the end zone, but there was still no reason to have any confidence Dan Quinn and his defense could stop them. Diggs didn’t help things with an obvious hold. Herbert continued to be almost automatic on third downs and continued to overcome all the penalties that kept being called on his team, and set the Chargers up at the Dallas 13 yard line.
Then Damontae Kazee came up with the biggest pay of his brief tenure with the Cowboys, picking off Herbert in the end zone. It was a stop Dallas badly needed. Pollard got them almost to midfield with the longest run of the game so far just before the third quarter ended. But the red zone woes would re-emerge as Dak was sacked and lost the ball deep, setting up a 34-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal and a three point lead.
It looked like that would not last long at all as Herbert once again marched his team down the field for an apparent touchdown. But thanks to an illegal shift and a “sack” that looked rather shaky in replay, they too had to settle for a field goal attempt. It led to a tie game with just 3:54 to play and Dallas getting the ball.
It was a place where a scoring drive that left no time on the clock would win this game. Moore and Prescott worked the ball methodically down the field, but Cooper would be shaken up, although apparently not seriously injured, and cost them one of their two remaining timeouts. Then there was highly questionable clock management that forced Zuerlein to attempt a 56-yard field goal. And the villain of last week delivered with a walk off win for the Cowboys.
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