There is no sugarcoating what happened Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys found a way to win a lousy game. At the end of the day, someone has to win, unless you’re the Texans, Colts, Giants, or Commanders, who like to tie. The Cowboys improved to 10-3 on the season, their first time having back-to-back ten-win seasons since 1995-1996, but it came at a cost.
Dallas lost Terence Steele for the season with a torn ACL, Johnathan Hankins will be out for an extended time with a “strained pec,” and Jake Ferguson was unable to finish the game after leaving with a concussion. Through all the adversity, the Cowboys veterans helped fend off what would have been the upset of the season.
Here are the top ten players from the Cowboys’ win over the Texans.
10. Jayron Kearse, S
The pregame injury to Jayron Kearse was a sign of things to come for the Cowboys. That injury was just the beginning.
However, as quickly as he left for the locker room, Kearse was back on the field to finish pregame warmups and work with Britt Brown to see if he was healthy enough to play. No. 27 finished the game with three tackles and one pass defense, but his ability to fight through injury and gut through the game spoke volumes on how he leads by example.
9. Dak Prescott, QB
Dak Prescott probably played his worst game of the season outside of his Week 1 performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 284 yards and a passer rating of 70.9, the second lowest to the Bucs game.
Outside the opening drive, Prescott seemed out of sync with his receivers again and was trying to fit throws into tight windows. But what will always separate him from half the NFL’s quarterbacks is his ability to win. He played at his best when the Cowboys needed to go 98 yards on their final drive and score a touchdown to win. There’s no excuse for Prescott’s 58 minutes of play, but he certainly gave his best two minutes of the season when he needed to.
8. Micah Parsons, DE/LB
My co-writer at Blogging The Boys, Tony Catalina, talks about how Micah Parsons is still an impactful player even when the stats don’t show it. Parsons totaled five tackles, which was less than cornerback DaRon Bland.
If you go back and watch the All-22 film, Parsons was impactful without the stats. What also doesn’t show up on the stat sheet are the two false start penalties he caused on the Texans’ final drive of the game. Pro Bowl tackle Laremy Tunsil wanted no part of Parsons on back-to-back plays that cost his team ten yards. It forced Davis Mills to throw a longer Hail Mary pass that ended in an interception.
7. Donovan Wilson, S
If the forced fumble from Donovan Wilson ended in points, his name would be higher on the list. The moment when it happened, it certainly changed the momentum in the Cowboys’ favor.
Cowboys S Donovan Wilson forced the fumble of Dameon Pierce. Trevon Diggs returned it 17 yards after definitely netting a whole lot more running in circlespic.twitter.com/2314TXkhQJ— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) December 11, 2022
Wilson continues to be a sure tackler when defending and making plays in big moments for Dallas. Going back to Week 1, his interception of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter opened the door for a potential comeback. Wilson’s “missile mentality” when tackling ball carriers helps steal a few extra possessions for the Cowboys’ offense.
6. Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Ezekiel Elliott is looking like his old self again. While there’s no debate that Tony Pollard is the more explosive back, Elliott stepped up to win the game for Dallas.
The four failed attempts from the one-yard line in the third quarter are not on Elliott. That’s stubborn play-calling from Moore saying that our guys are better than yours, and we’ll run this in for a touchdown. At that point, the Texans knew what the Cowboys were doing and decided to load the box. Elliott fought his way back and punched it in when it mattered most.
We discussed these rankings on the latest episode of The Writer’s Block on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
5. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
When the Dallas defense was backed up on their goal line, DeMarcus Lawrence tightened his bootstraps and went to work. If it wasn’t for him knifing through the Texans’ offensive line to tackle Rex Burkhead, there’s a good chance he scores and puts the final nail in the coffin.
Instead, Lawrence did what he’s been doing all season and stopped the run for a loss. His game-saving play showed why he is the right player the defense needs to lean on when things get tough in the playoffs.
4. Carlos Watkins, DT
Hankins is a massive loss for Dallas’ run defense, but Carlos Watkins is someone fans should feel happy about after seeing him against Houston. He got his best PFF score of the season and made an impressive play on that goal line stand.
Effort above everything pic.twitter.com/KURP5Q5Qkb— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) December 12, 2022
After running around Leighton Vander Esch and Bland, Texans receiver Chris Moore was on his way to the end zone. Watkins kept hustling from his defensive tackle position to make the tackle and get Moore a yard short. Parsons was highlighted for his effort in the Detroit Lions game, and this play is right up there with it.
3. Tony Pollard, RB
The beginning of the game seemed like it would be the Tony Pollard show again. He took an end around for an opening drive touchdown and shuffled his way into the end zone on a swing pass out of the backfield.
Tony Pollard forever.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) December 11, 2022
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/6NWF8wx08W
Kellen Moore decided to focus on passing the ball, which limited Pollard’s opportunities in the second half. However, Pollard scored 14 points that mattered in what ended up being a close game. If he doesn’t score twice, there’s no way the Cowboys win that game.
2. Leighton Vander Esch, LB
When opponents decided to run downhill on the Cowboys, that’s where players like Vander Esch are at their best. The Wolf Hunter collected 14 tackles, nine solo tackles, and two run stuffs, all of which were his best of the season.
It’s been mentioned in previous rankings that his elevated play has helped the struggling run defense. Holding an explosive back like Pierce to 3.5 yards per carry couldn’t have been done without Vander Esch.
1. Jason Peters, OT
For a player who hasn’t taken a single snap at right tackle since 2005, he certainly looked comfortable in the game’s biggest moment. When the Cowboys lost Steele for the game, Josh Ball was there to take his place. After two straight plays where Ball negatively impacted the game, Peters knew he had to step up.
It was reported that the 18-year vet went up to Joe Philbin and asked to be put in on the Cowboys’ final drive. Philbin beat him to it, already realizing a switch had to be made, but that’s the difference in veteran leadership. Knowing that when the game is on the line, you can help more on the field than on the sidelines. We’ll see how much of a rotation there is at right tackle for the Jacksonville game, but Peters’s experience alone should make him the favorite to be the Cowboys’ right tackle until the 2022 season ends.