The Dallas Cowboys evaded what would have been a devastating loss to the Houston Texans in a true nail-biter. They got in trouble largely due to three lost turnovers while only taking the ball away once before the somewhat meaningless interception on the last-ditch Hail Mary pass that effectively ended the game. Most of the credit for getting the win has gone to the impressive 98-yard touchdown drive engineered by Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott, and the rest of the offense. But that overshadows what may have been more important. With the Texans getting a first and goal from the four-yard line due to the last of those giveaways, the Cowboys’ defense stopped them and got the ball back on downs to give the offense the opportunity to score the winning touchdown.
Overall, Houston did not have a lot of success running the ball in the game, but they repeatedly found some room when they brought Jeff Driskel in to replace Davis Mills. Driskel primarily ran a read-option offense, and he would average 5.1 yards a carry the seven times he kept the ball. Their running backs also had some of their best results when he was in the game. And his presence did not mean that the defense could ignore the pass, as he completed four of six attempts for 38 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown.
Had the Texans scored a touchdown at that point, they would have taken a ten-point lead with about five minutes left and the game would likely have been over. It all came down to making the stop.
On first down, Houston sent Rex Burkhead up the middle. But he was met in the backfield by Leighton Vander Esch and Sam Williams for a loss of one yard. Vander Esch had one of the best games of his career against the Texans, amassing 14 tackles on the day. This one was perhaps the most important, because that loss of a yard would be crucial.
On second down from the five, Houston went to the pass, hoping to catch Dallas selling out to stop the run. It came perilously close to working as he found Chris Moore, who led all receivers in the game with 124 yards and caught 10 of the 11 balls that came his way. But Carlos Watkins managed to drag him down just short of the goal line. Moore had evaded Vander Esch and Malik Hooker and looked like he was going to put the nail in the coffin for Dallas, but Watkins was there to save the play and probably the entire game.
The Texans now needed just a yard to seal the game. Burkhead got the call again, but DeMarcus Lawrence, one of the best defensive ends against the run, got to him before he could get to the line of scrimmage. This time it was a loss of two yards.
Now with a fourth and goal, Houston had no real option but to go for the touchdown, since a field goal would have just given them a six-point lead and left the door open for a Dallas touchdown to win the game. This time, Driskel kept the ball, but Neville Gallimore and Anthony Barr tracked him down two yards short of the end zone. The ball went over on downs to set up Prescott’s eighteenth game-winning drive of his career.
The QB deserves all the credit for engineering that masterpiece, but it would never have happened if the defense had not made that stand. Here it is as captured by our own DannyPhantom:
This game should've been over right here, but DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys' defensive front said, not just yet. pic.twitter.com/uXo1D6tyKm— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 12, 2022
This was a game that had so many warts for the Cowboys, but they came up with just enough to win. That certainly includes those four consecutive stops in the shadow of their own goalposts. When you look at how improbable that last minute win was, don’t forget the defenders who stood up when the team needed it.