It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t their best effort, but the Cowboys beat the Chargers and notched their first win of the season. Playing in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium for the first time since Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys tenure began with a 20-17 loss to the Rams, Dallas came out of the game with a 20-17 victory. How’s that for a twist?
This was definitely a strange game. Dak Prescott and the offense was cooking early, with 14 points in the first quarter but then saw just four offensive possessions for the rest of the game (unless you count that one play right before halftime as a possession). The Chargers, meanwhile, were routinely picking apart the Dallas defense but managed just one touchdown all game, with several drives getting derailed by turnovers and penalties. It was one of those games where just a few key plays made the difference, and these five loomed large.
Asanta Samuel Jr.’s first career interception robs the Cowboys of a golden opportunity
Receiving the ball at the start of the game, the Cowboys easily strung together a 15-play drive that ate up nearly seven minutes and ended with a touchdown. Three plays later, they got the ball back thanks to a Trevon Diggs interception. They had an opportunity to take a commanding 14-0 lead early.
Their first two plays went big, with Dak Prescott hitting a 17-yard shot to CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliott gaining eight yards on a run. But on second and short, Prescott went deep down the field and the ball landed right in the hands of rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who returned it 26 yards.
It’s unclear if Prescott was trying to hit Lamb and just overthrew him or if he was going for Amari Cooper, but Prescott was seen on the sidelines patting his own chest and taking the blame. A golden opportunity to put the Chargers in a hole was blown, and while Los Angeles only got a field goal out of it, a 7-3 game is very different from a 14-0 game.
Phantom PI call negates Jayron Kearse’s interception
Let’s take a moment to appreciate Jayron Kearse. After leading the Cowboys in tackles last week, Kearse took on a more prominent role with Donovan Wilson out and he was everywhere on the field. He made plays in coverage, against the run, and even as a blitzer.
Kearse also came oh-so-close to a game-changing play. After the Cowboys’ second touchdown put them up 14-3, Justin Herbert and the Chargers were moving the ball in an attempt to make things close again. On first and ten from their own 40-yard line, Herbert went deep for tight end Jared Cook. Kearse, in coverage, tipped the ball up and into his own arms.
But the referees called a pass interference penalty on Kearse, negating the interception. On replay, the contact from Kearse looked to be minimal, and Tony Romo even questioned whether it was a good call or not. Had the interception stood, Dallas would have gotten the ball back right around midfield with a chance to go up 21-3 before the end of the first quarter. Instead, the Chargers scored a touchdown and made it a 14-11 game with a successful two-point conversion.
Jared Cook’s holding call takes away touchdown bomb from Justin Herbert
As mentioned before, much of this game was consumed by the Chargers and their long offensive drives. One such drive began about halfway through the third quarter. With the game tied at 14 a piece, things were starting to get tight as the Chargers drove down the field after starting at their own nine-yard line.
After moving all the way down to the Cowboys 36-yard line, Herbert rolled out to his right and fired a bullet across the field to tight end Donald Parham, who was wide open for a go-ahead touchdown. In keeping with the theme of this game, though, flags were thrown. Jared Cook got called for a hold as Herbert had been rolling out of the pocket.
The Chargers got backed up ten yards and lost the touchdown, which was huge. They were still in field goal range and had been moving the ball with ease thus far, but taking six off the board took away a huge splash play. And as we’ll cover in a bit, it loomed even larger in the end.
Damontae Kazee’s endzone interception is a killer for the Chargers
The holding call on Cook didn’t completely kill the Chargers’ drive. In fact, it hardly seemed to faze them. They picked up a first down on the very next play, and used two more plays to position themselves at the Dallas nine-yard line facing third and six.
That’s when it happened. Herbert wanted his touchdown back, so he threw a strike over the middle to Keenan Allen. However, Damontae Kazee jumped in front of it and picked off the pass in the endzone.
Obviously the interception itself was huge, as it took away any chance of scoring to take the lead and gave Dallas the ball back. But it had to be a little demoralizing for the Chargers, who had mounted a five-minute, 82-yard drive and had a touchdown taken off the board. To do all of that and come up with zero points is crushing, and especially in a tie game.
Micah Parsons’ first career sack (with some bizarre help) forces Chargers to settle
After Kazee’s interception, Dallas drove the ball down the field themselves and ultimately had to settle for a field goal that put them up 17-14. The Chargers responded well, marching down the field before Herbert hit Cook for a touchdown from just two yards out. Of course, a penalty called that one back. One incomplete pass later, and the Chargers were looking at second and goal from the Dallas seven.
Herbert wasn’t able to find anyone open, which led to him scrambling around as the pass rush - led by Micah Parsons - started approaching. Parsons got to him way in the backfield, but Herbert chucked up a prayer that fell short of the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys defenders were calling for an intentional grounding penalty, but the referees then ruled that Herbert had been down by contact, which seemed dubious at best.
Micah Parsons' first career sack: vs. Justin Herbert, for 18-yard loss— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) September 19, 2021
Chargers settle for FG. Tie game at 17 with 3:58 to play.pic.twitter.com/A93eJMzwnw
But that’s how it was called, and it gave Parsons his first career sack in a game where he was counted on to provide the lion’s share of the pass rush. The sack resulted in a loss of 18 yards, and the Chargers’ third down attempt was stopped short of the goal line, resulting in a field goal to tie the game up. Dallas went on to kick a winning field goal later, but the Parsons sack was instrumental in setting that up given how close the Chargers were to scoring a touchdown prior to that point. Congratulations, rookie.
We put together all of the highlights from the Cowboys win in a compilation on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. We do this after every game so make sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos!