The Dallas Cowboys needed a strong performance to get things back on track after last week. They got it against the New England Patriots with another dominant win, 38-3. The defense led the way with three turnovers, two run in for touchdowns, but the offense was also effective much of the game, and several unused weapons got to shine at times, or at least get some work in. Injuries cropped up, unfortunately, but this was a badly needed win.
Dallas needed to come up with a lot of answers for the issues of last week, but the first drive of the game looked all too familiar. After driving easily down to the New England two-yard line, Dak Prescott and Tony Pollard had a breakdown on an attempted run, colliding and forcing the play to fail. The Cowboys would once again have to settle for three from the leg of Brandon Aubrey, wasting good receptions by Michael Gallup, Jake Ferguson, and Jalen Tolbert.
Things didn’t go any better for the defense, as Mac Jones found Demario Douglas for 42 yards on a third and six play. They also had to settle for three, but the first two series hardly looked any different for Dallas than what happened last week. However, there was one interesting sign in Tolbert getting that completion after he went without a single target the previous week. But it did not appear to show any lack of faith in Brandin Cooks, who would catch a nice eleven-yard pass to move the sticks on the next possession.
Again, Dallas marched efficiently down the field, although it was clearly on Prescott’s arm and not the running game. But this time, they avoided the red zone woes when Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for a 20-yard touchdown, which technically came outside the red zone. The important thing was they got seven instead of three out of the drive.
It was offensively an impressive first quarter for the Cowboys, as they already had 145 yards, including 122 passing by Prescott. But the most emotional moment of the quarter was probably when Ezekiel Elliott entered the game for the Patriots with 1:30 before the change of direction for the teams. He got nine yards on his first run against his original team, and a first down on the next play.
That, and a Jones completion, gave New England a couple more first downs before the end of the quarter. The defense managed to get the situation to a fourth and one at the Dallas 41, and unlike the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pats could not get the needed yard and turned it over on downs, giving the Cowboys excellent field position. Unfortunately, they did nothing with it, a sack ending the series and forcing a punt back to the visitors.
Then things got really interesting. First, there was an outstanding play by Tolbert, this time on special teams with a crushing tackle to pin New England back at their own ten. A false start would push them back to their own five, and a couple of plays later Jones would be unaware that Dante Fowler was bearing down on him from behind as he scrambled. Fowler would jar the ball loose, Leighton Vander Esch would scoop and score, and then to add insult to injury, they would fake the extra point with Bryan Anger throwing the ball to Chauncey Golston for two.
Suddenly, the game looked a lot more like the first two of the season for Dallas, with a big early lead and a chance for the defense to tee off. But Micah Parsons left the field hobbling badly during the next Patriots series, after having already been seen by the team doctors in the game. It did not hurt things for the defense as they quickly forced a three and out, with DaRon Bland almost picking a pass off that might have been six more.
Another issue that the Cowboys had in the loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a lack of deep throws. Prescott came out on the next possession looking like he was ready to put that to rest with a 21-yard strike to Ferguson. A twelve-yard Lamb catch followed, then the running game took over, with both Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle getting nice gains before Ferguson gave them another chance in the red zone. A fierce pass rush, however, left them with a fourth and four, and McCarthy went conservative again. Still, the second Aubrey field goal of the game had them leading 21-3. It was good to have such a big points advantage, but it also took a lot of urgency out of the game for Dallas’ offense. But one other issue was much better, as the Cowboys got to the last seconds of the first half with no penalties, while the Patriots were hurting themselves with four flags. And Parsons was back out on the field despite reports he had tweaked his knee earlier.
Then the defense struck again after the two-minute warning when Bland got his pick six as Jones made the error of throwing all the way back across the field. That staked the Cowboys to a 28-3 lead, with half the points coming from Dan Quinn’s fired up defense. The broadcast put up a graphic that showed the Cowboys leading the league in takeaways and defensive scores since Quinn came to Dallas. That seems good. And they almost got another takeaway before half as Jones hit Jayron Kearse right in the chest on third down, but it was such a short range throw Kearse didn’t manage to react in time to collect the interception.
And Mike McCarthy didn’t call the plays conservatively with just sixteen seconds in the half, having Prescott throw the ball to try and get Aubrey into range for another attempt. And possibly to get away from that cursed 28-3 lead. They were able to get to the New England 48, and gave Aubrey a chance at a 66-yarder. But a false start, the first Dallas penalty of the game, ruined that chance and the Cowboys knelt on the ball.
With two defensive scores and Prescott already having 196 yards passing, the Cowboys just needed to keep things going in the second half to secure an important win. It didn’t start so well, as Jones found Hunter Henry for 21 yards on third down, plus the defense was flagged twice on the same play, but both were declined. But Donovan Wilson delivered a solid hit to stop Jones from getting to the sticks on the ensuing third down. Trailing by 25, New England went for it, and once again the defense seemed confused, forcing McCarthy to call a timeout. That turned out to be a big help, as Bland would get his second pick of the game, setting Prescott and company up with a short field at the Dallas 48. It was his eighth pick since coming into the league, the most of any player as noted during the broadcast.
Penalties continued to rear their ugly heads as the Cowboys got caught for an illegal formation, but it was declined to set up second and ten. Cooks would get seven on a catch, and Pollard got a new set of downs. Gallup got them into the red zone for the third time of the game, And as we have come to expect, a sack forced them to call on Aubrey again. The continued red zone futility was the only thing that was really going wrong to this point, but it is something that could easily come back to haunt them, possibly as soon as next week against the San Francisco 49ers.
After Dallas forced another three and out, plus a penalty in their favor, the offense had a short field once again, this time from their own 47. But they were without Rico Dowdle, ruled out with a hip injury, which explained why rookie Deuce Vaughn was getting on the field a lot. He was out again as Dallas went for it on fourth and three, and the pass protection broke down with another sack given the ball back to the Patriots.
Bailey Zappe came in to replace Mac Jones, who had three turnovers already. It seemed like an admission the game was out of reach for New England and it was time to try and figure things out for them going forward.
The Cowboys’ next possession would start at their own 14, and a holding call backed them up to the seven. They also seemed to be looking at some things as Vaughn was in as the lone back and Tolbert would get targeted as well. Vaughn did not have much success, but did gain some useful reps. But bad news set in as Zack Martin left the game with a leg issue.
Another player who was noticeably absent last week was KaVontae Turpin, and he got his chance and made the most of it on a jet sweep that went for 46 yards. He fumbled at the end but was saved by Sean McKeon, called up to fill in for Peyton Hendershot, hustling downfield to recover the ball. But it was another trip to the dreaded red zone. They would get first and goal at the five after a Turpin catch right at the sticks. Hunter Luepke would get a carry for a small gain, Vaughn would get another yard, and then Luepke would get his first NFL touchdown and the red zone curse was, at least for the moment, broken. It was something that the staff should remember, since Luepke’s size and skills should make him a viable weapon when they are in close like that.
Even Cooper Rush got some reps during the final four minutes of play, usually a very good sign that things are well in hand.
There was a great deal of improvement this week, but not all things are great. Now they face the red hot 49ers, who cruised to a win over the Cardinals. We will see if they can continue the good things and clean up the problems still remaining.