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Cowboys start slow again, but big night for the defense leads them to 54-19 win over the Colts

The Cowboys pulled away from a scrappy Colts team in the second half.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys
Malik Hooker was the defensive star of the game.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Immediately before the game, one of the topics of conversation was that the Dallas Cowboys would face the Indianapolis Colts wearing the red, white, and blue helmet stripes. Those were not viewed favorably by the fan base, seen as something of a jinx after the embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos last year while wearing them. Well, jinxes don’t really exist in the NFL, and while Dallas struggled early, they would wind up cruising to a 54-19 win over Indianapolis, greatly aided by five takeaways from the defense and another very strong night from CeeDee Lamb, plus a couple of touchdown receptions from Michael Gallup. They even cut way down on penalties, a thing not to overlook.

The Cowboys have a habit of both starting slow and playing down to the level of their competition, and they certainly did both in this game. After taking the opening kickoff, they went three and out. A running into the returner penalty on Kelvin Joseph gave the Colts good field position at their own 47, and they were able to get a 52-yard field goal to take the early lead.

On their second possession, Dallas looked like they got away with one as it looked like Dalton Schultz fumbled on an 11-yard reception. A quick snap didn’t give Indianapolis head coach Jeff Saturday time to challenge. The Cowboys would capitalize on that, with a fourth-down conversion by Ezekiel Elliott before Dak Prescott found CeeDee Lamb on third and ten. Lamb was short of the line to gain, but he rolled over the would-be tackler and no part of his body touched the turf. He bounced up and scampered into the end zone to give the home team their first lead of the game.

There would be offsetting penalties on the ensuing kickoff. That may seem a minor thing, but the team was being called by Carl Jeffers and his crew. They led the league crews in flags coming into the game. But that was the last flag against Dallas in the first half, a major improvement over last weeks infraction fest.

However, the Colts would quickly drive for a score. It featured another long pass where Anthony Brown was beaten, and then Trevon Diggs bit badly on a shoulder fake by Matt Ryan to give up the touchdown.

Trailing by three, the Cowboys would go three and out again. But they would force the same on Indy thanks to a big sack by Donovan Wilson where he came untouched up the middle. With good field position at his own 43, Prescott engineered another touchdown drive, featuring a big catch and run from Lamb and capped by Tony Pollard going into the end zone from the two-yard line.

The Cowboys would stop the Colts again thanks to a sack from a blitz, this one the first of Anthony Barr’s time with Dallas.

Then Prescott would almost get picked on a throw to Michael Gallup, only to actually get intercepted a few plays later. A couple of incomplete passes would lead to a short field goal attempt that Dorance Armstrong got a hand on, but the ball still managed to get over the crossbar for three.

There was 1:47 left in the half, but it looked like Dallas could do nothing with it as Prescott was sacked to force a punt. Indianapolis was playing with intensity as they were staying with the Cowboys and they had a chance to retake the lead. Malik Hooker put an end to that threat with an interception of a tipped ball that he returned to the Colts’ 26 yard line. With all three of their timeouts, the Cowboys worked the clock down before Prescott rolled out of pressure and found Gallup near the five, and Gallup did the rest to stake Dallas to an eight point lead, 21-13, at halftime.

The teams would each go three and out after the half, with the Cowboys hindered by their second penalty of the night, but then the Colts got a drive going. They would march 90 yards down the field in eight minutes, capped off by the second touchdown reception of the game for Michael Pittman Jr. Colts coach Jeff Saturday elected to go for two, and Daron Bland broke it up to leave Dallas leading by two. But Anthony Brown would be carted off the field and Kelvin Joseph pressed into duty.

Tony Pollard would get things started for the offense with a 22-yard run on second down after the kickoff. Prescott almost got picked again on a night where he had several bad throws. But after the ball was ruled incomplete as it bounced before the defender could corral it, and a personal foul on Indianapolis moved it all the way to the 20. Prescott would find Lamb on third and ten to get the ball to the two, and Gallup would get a two-yard TD on the next play, his second of the game. That gave Dallas a two score lead, 28-19, with 13:52 left in the game.

The danger at that point was the time left and that the Colts were playing so hard and effectively. They knew they had hung close so far and were not feeling at all intimidated. But they got their back broken on their first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff return when rising star Damone Clark punched the ball free from Mo Alie-Cox and defensive star of the game Hooker scooped it up for a 38-yard touchdown return. The Cowboys would go for two and fail, but it left them up 34-19 and in charge of things. Moreover, with 13:34 remaining in regulation, it meant Indianapolis had to lean more on the passing game. That is just what Dan Quinn loves to see. On a night when Dallas was running out of cornerbacks, DaRon Bland would step up with another pick of Ryan to get the ball back at the Cowboys’ 47-yard line. That would lead to a 30-yard touchdown run from Pollard and give Dallas yet another 40-point game despite the extra point being blocked.

Ryan would try to pick on Bland again, and got a pass interference call. But when he tried to go back to that well again, Bland wrestled the ball away for his second pick of the game. A somewhat shaky DPI call set up an Ezekiel Elliott 22-yard run. He would punch it in two plays later, and throw in another Salvation Army Kettle celebration with Prescott that will result in a fine they won’t mind paying a bit.

At that point, Dallas had 26 points in the fourth quarter. That would grow even more as the defense wasn’t done, leading to the second highest fourth quarter scoring in league history. Osa Odighizuwa pulled the ball loose from Ryan on another sack and Sam Williams would recover. Malik Davis, in to give both Elliott and Pollard a rest, would romp 23 yards for a touchdown against a demoralized defense. It was a case of a game, but out-manned, Colts team finally being overwhelmed. The big win, more than covering the big spread coming in, was a welcome, if flawed, victory they were widely expected to get. And if there is one true positive to take, it was that the Cowboys only drew three flags all game. That is one thing we absolutely want to see continue.

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