In the Hall of Fame of ugly wins throughout NFL history, this one probably doesn’t even sniff the Top 10, but the context of the moment certainly qualifies this as an ugly win for the Cowboys. Favored by 17 points, the Cowboys trailed for nearly the entire second half before scoring a very late go-ahead touchdown to win 27-23.
But, hey, a win is a win and the Cowboys are now at 10 wins on the year. With a game that had as many twists and turns as this one, though, it would be pretty hard to pick just five plays that shaped the final score. In that spirit, here are a whopping ten plays that were huge in the way this game unfolded, one play for every win the Cowboys have this season.
KaVontae Turpin muffs first punt return of the game
Things got off to a hot start in the game, as the Cowboys offense pretty much walked down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive. Then the defense yielded just three yards on three plays to force a punt.
That’s when everything went wrong, as KaVontae Turpin called for a fair catch but muffed the punt. Houston recovered, setting their offense up at the Dallas 24-yard line. The Texans scored a touchdown six plays later, but the points were gifted to them by the first of what became a litany of mistakes for the Cowboys.
Kelvin Joseph gives up big catch down the sideline despite questionable ruling
This game marked the first start of the season for Kelvin Joseph, who replaced the injured Anthony Brown, and it didn’t get off to a great start for him. On the Texans’ second drive of the day, Davis Mills launched a bomb against Joseph that was caught on the sideline for a gain of 36 yards.
Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling, and it seemed obvious that the play should’ve been reversed (even Dean Blandino agreed!), but the officiating crew upheld the play. The Dallas defense stopped the Texans three plays later, but this one big play that should’ve never happened set Houston up for a field goal.
Dak Prescott’s pass gets tipped, turns into an interception
It seems like Dak Prescott never just throws a normal interception; it’s always some sort of miscommunication with his receivers or a ball getting tipped up in the air. That streak continued on Sunday in frustrating fashion.
Prescott targeted Noah Brown on a routine slant route, but a Texans defender managed to get his fingertips in there and deflect the pass up and behind Brown. That allowed the cornerback trailing Brown to snag the ball, setting the Texans up just 27 yards out from the endzone. They’d score a touchdown to retake the lead two plays later, and make it 17 points spotted to the Texans by critical mistakes in high leverage situations.
Dalton Schultz drops touchdown before halftime
After that interception-turned-touchdown, the Cowboys offense was roaring back on what became an 11-play drive. After hitting Dalton Schultz for a big 22-yard pickup, Prescott went right back to his tight end after Schultz came wide open in the endzone.
But Schultz dropped it as he heard footsteps, taking easy points off the board. To make maters worse, right tackle Terence Steele got rolled up on the very next play and left for the rest of the game. If Schultz holds onto that ball, the Cowboys take the lead and come off the field with a healthy Steele. Instead, they lost their right tackle and eventually settled for a field goal to tie the game. These are the kinds of mistakes that help good teams lose to teams like the Texans.
Josh Ball gets beat bad, leads to Dak Prescott’s second interception
With Steele out, the next man up was Josh Ball, who performed so poorly in the preseason that Dallas opted to bring in the 40-year-old Jason Peters. Ball did very little to ease anyone’s concerns either.
Late in the fourth quarter, Ball gave up a strip sack that the Cowboys recovered to back them up to their own three-yard line. On the very next play, Ball got beat again and the defender hit Prescott’s arm as he was throwing, which led to another interception. Ball didn’t see the field again, as Peters took over at right tackle.
DeMarcus Lawrence’s clutch tackle for loss keeps Cowboys in the game
When the Texans took over after the interception just four yards from the endzone with five and a half minutes left in the game, things felt over. But it was quickly third and goal at the one, and Houston tried to run it in. DeMarcus Lawrence knifed through for a huge tackle for a loss of two yards.
The Texans opted to go for it, and they seemingly got mixed up on what the play call was, which helped Dallas get a turnover on downs. But Lawrence’s clutch tackle was the first sign of life for the Cowboys after a brief downward spiral, and it turned out to be the spark that lit the comeback.
Dak Prescott, from his own endzone, hits Dalton Schultz for big gain
Even after the turnover on downs gave the Cowboys one last chance to pull things out, they were still starting in the shadow of their own goal post. So on first down at the Dallas three, Prescott dropped back to throw, this time with Peters protecting his right side.
Prescott hit Schultz right over the middle of the field, and the tight end used his legs to turn it into a 21-yard pickup. Suddenly, the Cowboys weren’t in terrible field position, and there was a small glimmer of optimism for the first time since the first quarter.
Dak Prescott moves the chains on third down on QB sneak
The Cowboys picked it up on this drive, and they were quickly crossing midfield. But a catch by CeeDee Lamb was stopped just in front of the sticks, bringing up a critical third and one. The Cowboys hurried to the line and Prescott executed a QB sneak.
He easily got the first down, and then powered forward to pick up a total of six yards. This was clearly four down territory, but picking up the first down on third helped Dallas avoid a do-or-die fourth down scenario.
Noah Brown’s diving catch gets Cowboys into scoring range
Obviously this final drive for the Cowboys was filled with big plays, but these next two were arguably the two biggest plays of the whole game. Right after Prescott’s successful sneak play, the Cowboys had 78 seconds remaining, Dallas needed to move the ball faster, so Prescott pushed it:
You can see in this video how Prescott unleashes the ball before Brown has even made his break, and then Brown makes a tremendous diving catch to haul it in for 18 yards. Just like that, the Cowboys were in a good spot to get a touchdown while now having a field goal try in their back pocket just in case.
Dalton Schultz’s high-point catch moves Cowboys close to the endzone
The Cowboys were in field goal range, but they wanted a touchdown. On the very next play after Brown’s clutch catch, Prescott went over the middle to Schultz. He had to put the ball up high to avoid defenders over the middle, and his tight end went up and got it.
This catch, also going for 18 yards, put Dallas in first and goal. Three plays later, Ezekiel Elliott pounded things in for a touchdown to give the Cowboys the win. But it was this catch from Schultz, and the three other preceding plays, that made this game-winning drive happen. The Cowboys played ugly on Sunday, but they showed up in the biggest moments and came through for the win.