It wasn’t pretty, but you don’t get style points in the NFL. Winning is all that matters, and the Cowboys got back in the win column Monday night with a hard fought 20-17 win over the Chargers. They now head into their bye having washed out the bad taste of that loss to the 49ers.
It was a sloppy game for both teams - 20 total penalties between the two, and countless more that weren’t enforced - and the Cowboys had several crucial errors in all three phases of the game, but they came out as winners. These five plays were pivotal in getting this one done.
Illegal hit puts Cowboys in comfortable field goal position
After failing on the tush push play on their previous drive, the Cowboys got the ball at their own 29 with 58 seconds left in the first half. Tied up at seven apiece, the Cowboys had a chance to stake out a lead before halftime.
Dak Prescott had several big throws to get them near midfield, but a hold from Tyler Smith complicated things. On the very next play, Prescott got flushed out of the pocket before hitting Jake Ferguson on a quick pass. Ferguson turned upfield for 15 yards before getting drilled in the head. Flags flew shortly thereafter.
All in all, this play netted Dallas 30 yards and moved it from midfield to inside the 20. Ferguson’s catch, without the penalty, put them in range for a nearly 50-yard field goal, but the penalty made it a much safer option. Questionable clock management from Mike McCarthy resulted in Brandon Aubrey nailing a 32-yarder, but that catch and ensuing penalty put them in a great spot to take any sort of halftime lead.
DeMarcus Lawrence bats down potentially huge pass
The Chargers got the ball out of the halftime break, and Kellen Moore’s offense came out with a fury. They moved the ball quickly and efficiently, even overcoming a pair of penalties, before finding themselves in the red zone.
Their first play in the red zone on that drive saw Justin Herbert drop back and survey the field before throwing to Austin Ekeler, who was out in the flat. DeMarcus Lawrence got his hands up and batted the ball down, and it was a good thing he did. As the replay showed, Ekeler had a ton of room to roam after the catch, and very well could’ve scored.
As it turned out, the Chargers failed to move the chains on their next two plays and ultimately failed on a fourth down attempt on the Dallas seven. If it weren’t for Lawrence’s swat, the Chargers probably aren’t even thinking about needing a fourth-down conversion. That play was crucial in preventing a score on that drive.
Dak Prescott finds Tony Pollard for huge gain
A Chargers field goal tied things back up again at 10 all, and with the fourth quarter nearing the Cowboys needed to get something going on offense. The run game wasn’t working at all, and Prescott was under duress on nearly every play.
Two straight runs to start the drive netted a loss of one yard, bringing up a third and 11 at the Cowboys’ own 24. That’s when Prescott made a huge play.
The physicality to shrug off a defender and escape the pocket is impressive enough. But Prescott kept his eyes downfield and found Pollard, who then broke a tackle and took off. That play - totaling 60 yards - was the team’s biggest offensive play of the year and it came at a crucial moment. Six plays later, Prescott found Brandin Cooks for the Cowboys’ second red zone touchdown of the night.
Illegal contact gives Cowboys a first down on third and a mile
The Chargers once again tied the game with a touchdown from Herbert, giving the Cowboys the ball back with just over seven minutes left in the game. That drive started off poorly, with a false start from Tyler Smith and, two plays later, a sack of Prescott.
Suddenly, it was third and 18 at the Cowboys’ own 17-yard line. Prescott was once again flushed out of the pocket, and with nothing open he took off downfield. Prescott was escorted out of bounds after picking up nine yards, but there was a flag in the secondary.
Slot corner Ja’Sir Taylor was called for illegal contact, which is only worth five yards but brings with it an automatic first down. That gave the offense life, and they proceeded to fly down the field and burn nearly three and a half minutes off the clock before kicking what proved to be the game-winning field goal.
Micah Parsons’ first sack comes at the perfect time
Micah Parsons had been held without a sack all night long, though he had still made quite the impact. But with the Chargers getting the ball down three and just north of the two minute warning, Parsons and this defense needed to step up.
They did just that. On second and three from the Los Angeles 33, Parsons burst through a double team and leveled Herbert.
The sack turned what should’ve been an easy conversion into a third and long, needing 10 to move the chains. That allowed Dan Quinn to unleash his pass rushers, who pressured Herbert into throwing the game-sealing interception to Stephon Gilmore. It was a great play from Gilmore, but Parsons’ sack was the equivalent of hitting the game winner in basketball. Ball game, Cowboys.