‘Tis the season for ugly sweaters. Why not a hideous survival?
Avoiding a monumental upset loss to the 1-win Houston Texans that would’ve dampened their Christmas spirit and damaged their NFC East title hopes, the Dallas Cowboys got a crucial goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, Ezekiel Elliott’s touchdown run in the final minute and Israel Mukuamu‘s interception on the final play to survive, 27-23.
Already the league’s worst team, the Texans played without their top two receivers, with an injured No. 1 running back and with a two-quarterback system.
But a win is a win is a win?
10. Better Late Than Never – Dak Prescott was dreadful. Until it really mattered. An afternoon littered with tipped passes, inaccuracy and two interceptions was wiped sweet clean when the Cowboys’ quarterback was essentially perfect on the team’s 11-play, 98-yard, game-winning drive. Prescott was 6 of 7 (the only incompletion coming when Michael Gallup was jarred loose of the ball in the end zone) with two key first-down scrambles on the drive that finally allowed Dallas a sigh of relief on Elliott’s 2-yard scoring run with 41 seconds remaining.
9. Dak-tastic! – Even though the quarterback was way “off” with his accuracy, since Prescott returned from his broken thumb the Cowboys have been the best team in the NFL. Yes, even better than the Philadelphia Eagles. With Prescott in the lineup since Oct. 23, Dallas is 6-1 with the lone blemish coming at Lambeau Field when it blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead before losing in overtime. In the last four games the Cowboys are 4-0 by a combined 149-65.
8. Houston Horror – Things we didn’t expect to type: The Cowboys trailed the Texans. At halftime. Unbelievably, entering the fourth quarter. And, unfathomably, in the final minute. After waltzing to a touchdown on their opening possession for a 7-0 lead, the Cowboys fell asleep against a team they were favored to beat by 17.5 points. KaVontae Turpin muffed a punt. The defense allowed random quarterback Jeff Driskell to make plays. Dalton Schultz dropped a touchdown pass. Add it all up and it was pretty uninspiring first 59 minutes. Ka’imi Fairbarn’s 50-yard field goal on the final play of the half gave Houston a shocking 20-17 lead and his 54-yarder upped the margin to six after three quarters. The Texans hadn’t scored 20 points in an entire game since Oct. 23.
7. Goal-Line Grit – When backup offensive right tackle Josh Ball (subbing for injured starter Terence Steele) was badly beaten on consecutive plays – the second resulting in Prescott’s arm being hit for an interception – all looked lost. At the time Houston’s Tremon Smith picked off the pass and returned it to Dallas’ 4-yard line with a 23-20 lead and only 5:45 remaining, the Texans had an 85.8-percent chance of winning according to ESPN’s stats predictor. A touchdown would have been ball game. But Dallas’ defense refused to buckle. On 3rd-and-Goal from the 1, DeMarcus Lawrence beat a block and submarined Texans’ running back Rex Burkhead (in for Dameon Pierce) for a 2-yard loss. On 4th-and-Goal, Neville Gallimore and Anthony Barr sandwiched Driskell, who appeared to initially turn the wrong direction on a designed option run. Without the defensive stops, there would’ve been no Prescott heroics.
6. Reviewing Replay – New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick was right on Thanksgiving when he admitted the NFL – despite countless meetings and a thorough, high-tech replay system – still has no “consensus” on catches. No way Chris Moore’s 36-yard “catch” in the first quarter was a catch. As the Texans’ receiver fell to the ground, the ball clearly hit the turf and visibly jostled free. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was right to challenge, and was justified in being miffed at the call on the field being upheld. If Moore’s catch was a catch, then so was Hunter Henry’s controversial non-catch on Thanksgiving and – for that matter – Dez Bryant’s controversial non-catch in 2015.
5. Rare Rally – This was the Cowboys’ first victory when trailing entering the fourth quarter since the “watermelon” onside kick helped them beat Dan Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons in 2020. Before today they had lost 16 of their last 17 when behind after the third quarter.
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4. Cornerback Chaos – Lost in the Cowboys’ league-leading sacks on defense and versatile, potent offense has been the erosion of their secondary due to injuries. Already losing Jourdan Lewis (foot) and Anthony Brown (Achilles) for the season, they were briefly without Trevon Diggs after he went to the locker room with a left hand injury late in the first half. That left Dallas without its top three cornerbacks entering the season. It almost also lost safety Jayvon Kearse, who tweaked his knee during pre-game warmups but returned to play. Because of the injuries, the Cowboys’ Nickel defense on a couple of series included Kelvin Joseph, DaRon Bland and Nahshon Wright – none of whom were considered prime-time players back in Oxnard. Even against Houston’s hapless offense, that was a bit of an uncomfortable gulp.
3. 26-Year Drought – With the victory the Cowboys improved to 10-3. Coming off last year’s 12-5, it gives them consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1995-96. That’s also, of course, the last time they sniffed a Super Bowl.
2. Bad x 2 – What’s worse: The Texans on the field or Fox analyst Mark Sanchez on your TV? Given Houston’s effort and Sanchez’ stumbling, give me the Texans.
1. The 12 Days Of Christmas – With the Eagles routing the New York Giants Sunday and facing the the 3-10 Chicago Bears next week, they will likely come to Arlington on Christmas Eve with a record of 13-1. The Cowboys, who play at 5-8 Jacksonville next Sunday, should be 11-3. It may not be for the NFC East title, but a showdown between teams with a combined record of 24-4 should be a nice early Christmas gift. Twelve days and counting …
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