There was no offensive explosion in the Dallas Cowboys’ 20-19 win over the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys were able to beat a good team, albeit at home, and now have some positive momentum to build on as they head to the playoffs. They also kept alive hopes that the Philadelphia Eagles would lose a game and open the door to the NFC East title.
Before we get into how the nail-biting game unfolded, though, we have to think about the righting of a decades-old wrong. Jimmy Johnson was finally inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. A bevy of Dallas greats were on the field to greet him and Jerry Jones, the man who finally decided it was past time to elevate the architect of the glory years of the 1990s. It was an emotional ceremony, and ABC did us the favor of covering it in its entirety. If you are a fan of grown men choking up, this was a moment you should long remember. Congratulations, Coach.
But there was a game to play.
The Lions opened with the ball after the Cowboys won the toss and deferred, perhaps remembering how taking the ball first went for them last week. David Montgomery almost put the ball on the ground on the first snap, but it did not prevent them from converting on third and ten with a Jared Goff pass to Kalif Raymond, and that was followed immediately by a 23-yard completion to Amon-Ra St Brown to move Detroit into Dallas territory. The ground game came through on the ensuing third down as Montgomery got eleven. Jayron Kearse would knock down a pass that was intended for Jake Laporta to set up third and ten, and the defense would get a stop, plus a block in the back flag that was declined. It forced the Lions to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Michael Badgley.
This was better than giving up seven, but it also looked too much like the way things had gone against the Miami Dolphins, who prevailed over Dallas last week largely on the five field goals they scored. Now it was time to see what Dak Prescott and company could do.
Tyron Smith was back on the field, a very good sign for the offensive line after the constant pressure yielded by Chuma Edoga in the preceding game. Jake Ferguson hauled in the first Cowboys pass of the game, but Tony Pollard would lose a yard on his initial touch. Then CeeDee Lamb would make his first catch in pursuit of Michael Irvin’s single season franchise record, and spin out of a broken tackle to get all the way to the Detroit 38. But under pressure, a scrambling Prescott would make a huge mistake, late getting the ball off to Lamb and Ifeatu Melifonwu would pick off the ball and return it to the Lions’ 43.
The Lions would quickly get back in Dallas territory. Jourdan Lewis would keep an end around from getting more than six, and Micah Parsons would come blasting up the middle to throw Jahmyr Gibbs for a loss, and Dorance Armstrong would lead the charge to sack Goff and push Detroit out of field goal range.
Pollard would start things off poorly, losing three as the Lions defense blew through the Cowboys’ offensive line. Prescott and Ferguson would just miss on a long completion thanks to a great defensive play. Then Prescott would somehow evade a safety, scramble out of the end zone, and find a streaking, wide open Lamb for a 92-yard touchdown. Lamb tied Irvin’s record with the reception and more importantly staked his team to a 7-3 lead. Oh, and it was the second longest pass in franchise history, second only to Bob Hayes.
A false start would change second and five to second and ten for Detoit. That would lead to Dante Fowler bursting through to throw Montgomery for a two-yard loss on third down, forcing the first three and out of the game for either team.
The ensuing 70-yard punt would sail over Kavontae Turpin’s head for a touchback. Ferguson would false start to push them back to the 15, and Pollard would be dropped for no gain on a reception. Prescott would again be unable to hook up with Ferguson on a deep throw, and another failed run by Pollard would make Dallas punt it right back to the Lions.
The difference in the first quarter was the record-tying pass to Lamb. With Detroit getting the ball at their own 42, the Cowboys defense needed to remain stingy, but St. Brown would get 20 yards right off the bat. Then Lewis would make a huge play with his first interception of the season to go with five tackles in the first quarter, giving the ball back to his offense at their own 46. Osa Odighizuwa deserves an assist for the pressure he put on Goff.
The offense would get off to a fast start with a 21-yard completion to Brandin Cooks, then after Pollard finally got positive yards on a run, Cooks would haul in another ball for a first down at the Detroit 20. The Deuce Vaughn would get a couple on his first touch of the game to get them into the red zone. An offsides would make it second and three. Pollard would have his best carry of the night to set up first and goal from the five. Then Lamb would break the record for receptions in a season, but it was a disastrous play for the team as he would have the ball knocked loose and it would bounce into and out of the end zone to give the Lions the ball on the 20.
The defense would hold, partly on a drop by LaPorta. But Dan Campbell would dial up a fake punt and they would convert all the way out to the Dallas 41. They would get two quick first downs to get into the red zone for the first time. Then a 17-yard run by Gibbs would set up first and goal from the two.
DeMarcus Lawrence would get a tackle for a loss, however, and that would help force the Lions to try to score from just inside the five on fourth down. Campbell’s aggressiveness would not pay off as the pass would go incomplete after Parsons got pressure on Goff, and the Cowboys had the ball back on their own five.
A Ferguson reception and another good Pollard run would get them out just over the 20. But after another first down, Aiden Hutchinson would beat Smith to sack Prescott and set up third and 17. A delay of game would make it third and 22 at the two minute warning. Mike McCarthy would go conservative with a pass underneath to Ferguson and punt the ball back.
A good punt return by Raymond would set Detroit up at their own 40. But on third down, Lawrence would get another tackle for a loss on third down to stop Gibbs. Dallas would use a timeout to see if they could strike quickly with 37 seconds left after Turpin’s fair catch, but it was at the nine-yard line. Prescott would get sacked on second down, and the first half would end with the score still 7-3.
The Cowboys got the ball to start the second half. Naturally, a false start would put them behind schedule with a second and twelve. But Lamb would continue his record setting night to get the first down a couple of plays later. The running game continued to sputter, and Pollard would also drop a pass that would have led to a big gain. That would force a punt.
The Lions run game would strike with a 22-yard gain by Montgomery. Facing a fourth and two, they would go for it again, with Goff finding Laporta for four. Gibbs and Montgomery would get them to a third and two at the three, and Montgomery would punch it in from there to give the Lions a three-point lead. There was less than 20 minutes remaining in the game after the time-consuming scoring drive, and Dallas was struggling to get in rhythm on offense.
With another negative run, the Cowboys had only 19 net yards rushing after a couple of plays. But Pollard would finally break one on third and one, getting 18 yards. That got Dallas across midfield. A deep shot to Cooks fell harmlessly, and they were facing third and eleven. Worse, Tyler Smith remained down on the field after the play. That brought Bass in to fill the hole. Prescott would then find Lamb again to move the sticks and get into field goal range. Lamb would also be one yard short of Irvin’s single-season yardage record. But he would be unable to bring in two consecutive passes, bringing Aubrey on for a 51-yard attempt. He continued his streak of made field goals, to 34, tying the game at 10 apiece.
A holding call would brought back what could have been a devastating Gibbs run. That would be the final snap of the third quarter.
Two plays into the fourth, though, Goff stood in under pressure from Parsons and delivered a 63-yard strike to Jameson Williams, who beat DaRon Bland on the play. The defense would force another fourth down, and Campbell would line up to apparently go for it again. But the Lions would get flagged for delay of game as the Dallas defense refused to jump, and Detroit would settle for a field goal to take a three point lead again with 12:18 left to play in regulation.
The Lions had out-gained the Cowboys 325 to 272 to this point, and the difference was that the visitors had an effective running game and the home team did not. It looked like any chance at pulling out a win would rely on the pass, and they got started with Lamb officially breaking Irvin’s season yardage record. The run continued to be completely ineffective, forcing a third and five. This time, Prescott would go to Cooks to convert, getting all the way out to the Detroit 38. Jalen Tolbert would get his first catch of the night to get them well into Aubrey’s range, but they needed a touchdown to get a lead. Then Pollard would have a solid ten-yard carry to push them into the red zone. He would follow up with a six-yard gain to put the ball on the eight-yard line. The next play would see Prescott find Cooks in the corner of the end zone for the go ahead touchdown.
There was still almost half the fourth quarter left. The Cowboys’ defense needed to come up with answers for the Lions’ running game while also not letting Goff go off. They would do so, forcing a three and out with some good tackling and pressure from Lawrence.
A fair catch gave Prescott and company the ball back at their own 27, and 5:52 left in the game. A long drive resulting in points was badly needed. An illegal contact against Michael Gallup would aid things. Then Lamb would go over 200 yards for the game to convert a third and ten. Then he would get the ball on a sweep for five yards just for good measure. But a third down sack would push them out of even Aubrey’s range, and they had to punt it to Detroit, who would start at their own eleven with 2:33 to try and win the game.
As the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning, Donovan Wilson broke on the ball to get the second interception of the game. Brandon Aubrey would kick his second field goal of the game to give them a seven-point lead.
The Lions then easily drove down the field and got a touchdown with just 23 second left in the game, The Lions then gambled. It came down to the defense needing to stop a two-point conversion to preserve a one-point lead. It looked like they failed, but the Lions made a massive mistake by not having the offensive lineman who caught the conversion not reporting as eligible. That backed them up to the seven-yard line to try and win it, The drama wasn’t over, as Micah Parson got caught jumping early. This made the try from the three and a half yard line. This time the pass fell incomplete, and Dallas escaped by the skin of their teeth after a failed onside kick attempt.