Tabbed a huge favorite entering Sunday’s matchup versus the Houston Texans, a presumed cakewalk was anything but. Costly turnovers and an inability to capitalize in the red zone were nearly the undoing for the Dallas Cowboys, but they narrowly escaped with a win.
Disappointment turned into disbelief as the Cowboys made it as uncomfortable as it could possibly be against a lowly Texans team. Nevertheless, they were able to get it done, and here are your five stars that were pivotal in avoiding a disaster.
What Brown can do for you
Lost in all the talk of wide receiver additions to the Dallas Cowboys, is Noah Brown. Brown sometimes gets lost among fans struggling to differentiate his appearance from CeeDee Lamb on the broadcast, much less lost in the numerous weapons in the Dallas offense. Brown saw a lot more opportunities in the passing game when Cooper Rush was under center. However, he shined bright when Dak Prescott threw the ball his way in this game.
Facing a 3rd and 13 and needing to answer a Houston field goal, Prescott moved to his right and uncorked a bomb in Brown’s direction. Brown was able to make the catch while falling to the ground and being interfered with by Steven Nelson for the 51-yard gain.
Big catch in a big moment by Noah Brown— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
: #HOUvsDAL on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/VIs6xlIHaH pic.twitter.com/GPnMzMhxVS
However, arguably Brown’s best play of the day came on the team’s game-winning drive. Having crossed midfield, Dallas is at the Houston 40-yard line. Brown runs a corner route and dives toward the sideline with both hands extended for the ball. The play on the ball is exceptional but the toughness to keep possession after being hit by an oncoming defender is equally impressive.
Money in the Tank
In a game where his edge counterpart Micah Parsons was less disruptive than normal, the Dallas pass rush didn’t look as effective as we come to expect. That said, the defense made the plays when they needed to at the most critical times. DeMarcus Lawrence had that distinction and made a huge play.
Lawrence’s crucial stop on Rex Burkhead on a 2-yard loss late in the fourth quarter was a game-saver. At the time, the Cowboys are trailing 23-20 with about four minutes left in regulation. If Lawrence doesn’t make this play on Burkhead, the Cowboys are down by two scores and likely lose.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Lawrence makes the stop on Burkhead, and the defense is able to force a turnover on downs the following play that leads to the Cowboys’ game-winning drive.
Zeke does the dirty work
This wasn’t an explosive performance by Ezekiel Elliott or one for the history books, but it was an ode to pounding the football. Likely motivated by being a 17-point underdog, the Houston Texans played with something to prove. After losing Terence Steele to a knee injury, it became tough sledding up front for Elliott. However, he powered through.
Perhaps easily forgotten since the Cowboys struggled to play consistently on offense, but Elliott’s 25-yard in the first quarter was fantastic. Elliott takes the inside handoff, cuts back to the left, and then carries two Texans, as he falls backward to set the Cowboys up in the red zone.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Dallas handed the ball to Elliott four consecutive times starting from Houston’s eight-yard line. After being turned away on fourth down from the 1-yard line, Dallas could have lost confidence in Elliott. Thankfully, they didn’t, and Elliott rewarded their continued confidence.
Down to the wire. Down to the goal line. 2️⃣1️⃣ puts it in!!!#ProBowlVote + @EzekielElliott— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 11, 2022
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Dallas managed to get back inside the Houston five-yard line in the closing minute. Instead of overthinking the situation, having forced Houston to use their final timeouts, the Cowboys hand the ball to Elliott as he plunges into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Schultz’s clutch catches
For the most part, things didn’t come easy for the Cowboys’ offense on Sunday and when they did, the team struggled to maintain a firm grasp on things. The same could be said for Dalton Schultz, who dropped a pass late in the first half that would have been a touchdown. However, Schultz, much like the team, responded when things weren’t going his way initially.
On the final drive of the day, Schultz came alive and delivered a few huge plays. First, the Cowboys are at their own two-yard line and need to get out of the shadow of their goalpost. Dak Prescott drops back and finds Schultz over the middle in between the linebackers and safeties for a gain of 21.
Then once again Prescott looks his way over another completion. This time it was for an 18-yard connection, in which Schultz makes a leaping catch in front of the Texans safeties and down to the Houston four-yard line. Schultz led the team in receptions and yards with six receptions and 87 yards. A resilient game after having a rough start.
Turnovers made by Dak Prescott against the Houston Texans were ill-timed and gave life to a Texans team that was limited offensively. However, Prescott battled and delivered at the end of the game when the team needed him most. After the defense managed to force a turnover on downs, Prescott and the offense had a tall task. Go the length of the field against a defense that had their number most of the afternoon.
Prescott was cool under the pressure in the two-minute drill and operated the offense with poise. The aforementioned throw to Dalton Schultz got the drive going and Prescott took off from there. Prescott went six for seven on the final drive with his only incompletion being a ball that was dislodged from Gallup in the end zone.
By no means was Prescott perfect nor did he play to his lofty standards, but he took control over the situation and even more importantly, he took responsibility for his mistakes. Prescott made no excuses for his errors and spoke candidly when asked about his miscues. “I’ve got to find a way to take better care of the ball. I’m not going to not be aggressive, but damn sure have to be smarter. It’s something I promise I’ll clean up.”
It wasn’t exactly pretty, but whenever you get pulled into a slugfest as Prescott did against Houston, it’s alright to get battered so long as you’re able to win the fight. This is fitting because if the Cowboys have any hope of overtaking the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title, Prescott and his team need to be prepared for a brawl for the rest of the season.