It would take an interception inside the two-minute warning by Stephon Gilmore, but the Dallas Cowboys fought their way to a 20-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, getting to 4-2 and putting them right back in the mix for a playoff spot. L.A. had used all their timeouts, and the Landry shift would end the game.
This was a very close game, with a lot of mistakes by both teams. Flags were falling all over the field, over 20 between the two teams, and there were a lot of missed plays. But Dallas fought through adversity and got to the win. It showed a lot of resiliency.
The first two series of the game may have caused a lot of PTSD for Dallas fans as the Cowboys went backwards on their first possession, and the Chargers then drove quickly down the field to score easily. With the team down by seven right at the beginning of the game, we found ourselves facing the question of whether Dallas could play from behind.
Well, turned out they could. The answered the Los Angeles drive with a quick and efficient touchdown drive of their own, Dak Prescott started finding CeeDee Lamb, with a 23-yard reception on the second play of the series a highlight. They worked their way to the Chargers 18, but were facing a fourth and one after Tony Pollard’s third-down reception was ruled to have been just short of the line to gain. Prescott read the play beautifully, pulling the ball back and running untouched into the end zone. Yes, Virginia, that was a red zone score.
That knotted things at 7-7 in the first quarter, but neither team was able to do much before the very end of the first half. Dan Quinn’s defense started putting the clamps on Justin Herbert, and the return of Austin Ekeler was no real help. They even overcame multiple penalties to force punts. The Cowboys were much better moving the ball, gaining 207 yards in the first thirty minutes to just 132 for their opponent. But they ran into that red zone monster again, as Dak would get stuffed on a failed attempted to replicate the Philadelphia Eagles tush push at the 13.
But the defense would hold again, and the Cowboys would get the ball back at their own 29 with 59 seconds before halftime. They would move well again, making another trip to the red zone, but in an odd bit of clock management, Mike McCarthy elected not to take a last shot into the end zone with eight seconds left, instead letting the clock run down to :03 to trot out Brandon Aubrey for another of his automatic field goals and a 10-7 halftime lead. Lamb was the offensive star of the first half with 83 yards receiving, and Markquese Bell was a bit of a standout on defense.
However, the Chargers would get the ball after the half, and after Justin Herbert had been harassed into a lot of incompletions in the first half, they finally got him some protection and they made their own trip into the red zone. They would face their own fourth and one at the seven-yard line, but rather than go for it, Brandon Staley elected to try a pass, and DaRon Bland broke it up in the end zone to get the ball back for his team.
It didn’t do much good, as the offense could do nothing and Bryan Anger had to punt from his own end zone, Los Angeles winding up with the ball at the Dallas 49 after the return. They would drive right back down the field before stalling at the six, and this time they would take a Cameron Dicker field goal to tie things up at 10-10 with 16:10 left to play in regulation.
The outcome of the game would have to rely on the passing game, as neither team was able to run effectively. Yet McCarthy kept calling runs and leaving Prescott facing third and long. That is asking a lot, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, Prescott looked like a certain Tony Romo in escaping what looked like a certain sack and found Pollard with the ball. Pollard did not just get the first down, he himself did a little Houdini action to break out of a tackle and wound up going 60 yards to set his team up at the LA 16-yard line. Lamb would get flagged for a hold, but make up for it with a catch that would give them first and goal from the three. Two plays later, Prescott would drop a dime to Brandin Cooks for his first touchdown as a Cowboys. It staked Dallas to a 17-10 lead with 11:19 left in the game, and just as important it was their second successful trip into the red zone in the game.
One thing that looked evident on the next Chargers possession was that this could have been a much tougher game for the Cowboys but for two factors: Herbert was often just off target with wide open receivers, and they were shooting themselves in the foot with multiple offensive holding penalties.
However, disaster struck on the ensuing Los Angeles punt, as the ball would appear to hit KaVontae Turpin, as his blocker was ridden back into him, but it didn’t. Jalen Tolbert thought it had, and wound up touching the ball first before the Chargers recovered it. Then a pass interference call on Stephon Gilmore set them up with first and goal at the five. They would have to go for it on fourth down, but Herbert would find Gerald Everett for the touchdown and the game would be tied again at 17 all, with 7:11 left to play.
This game was marred by multiple penalties by both teams, but double defensive holding calls on one play would keep the Cowboys drive from dying right away. Lamb would continue his outstanding game to keep things going on third down, Then Cooks would convert a third and nine in what was his best game of the season. They would be unable to get a touchdown, having to call on Aubrey again to take a 20-17 lead with 2:19 left in the game. LA had used all their timeouts, and it all came down to the Dallas defense not letting them go down to tie or win the game outright. That’s when Micah Parsons got a sack, then Stephon Gilmore got an interception. Game over.