It was looking a little disheartening there for a moment when the Dallas Cowboys decided to spot the San Francisco 49ers a 14 point lead right from the start. The Cowboys usually score on their opening drive, but on Sunday – they didn’t.
Their defense usually doesn’t allow points in the first quarter, but on Sunday – they did. It just was bad from the get go, but fortunately there was still plenty of football to be played. And that is what the Cowboys did. They played football and they played it well.
Here's a look at the week’s winners and losers after the Cowboys defeated the San Francisco 49ers 24-17 on Sunday.
When the Cowboys re-signed Claiborne to a one-year, $3 million deal this offseason, many fans were not happy. After playing out his rookie contract with disappointing results, people were ready to cut ties with him. As it turns out, the Cowboys might have got themselves a bargain as he’s easily the best cornerback on the team.
Claiborne has been making plays all season, but he had some doozies on Sunday. First, he made a touchdown saving tackle on Carlos Hyde on the first play of the second half. The 49ers would have to settle for a field goal on that possession. Then, he picked off Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter. And finally, when the defense needed a stop, Claiborne made a great tackle on fourth down that resulted in a turnover on downs, crushing any hope of San Francisco mounting a comeback.
The Cowboys are getting great production out of their young corner. He’s not the player they were hoping for when they drafted him sixth overall in 2012, but he’s one of the stronger players on this defense. He won’t be so cheap next season.
If you thought that the Cowboys quarterback was finally going to play like a rookie, then boy, didn’t he make you look silly. Prescott would get off to a rough start, throwing high on a couple passes that resulted in stalled drives.
But then he would settle down.
Just like the games before this one, Prescott would remain poised and make some great throws. He led the two minute offense at the end of the first half like a seasoned pro. The Cowboys would go 58 yards on 11 plays, with 10 of them being Prescott passes. He worked the sideline incredibly well and the Cowboys were able to go into the half with the game tied, 14-14.
And if you were caught off guard by that 47-yard bubble screen pass to Cole Beasley at the end of the game, join the club. It was risky business to throw a pass in that situation when you just want to keep the clock moving, but the coaches had confidence in their young QB. Why even force the defense to make one final stop when you have an offense that can get a first down? Well done.
With each new snap you can just see the rookie running back getting better. His timing through the holes was an issue early on, but he is getting it dialed in now. Several times, Elliott would wait for his block to develop and then burst through the running lane. He pulled off several nice runs on Sunday.
While his bursts are fun to watch, what really is impressive about Elliott is how he is finishing runs. He keeps those legs churning and powers out extra yardage.
Elliott is now leading the league in rushing with 412 yards.
With Dez Bryant out with a knee injury, the fourth-year receiver, Brice Butler would finally get his chance to show off his skills. Technically, he got his chance last year, but the guys throwing the ball were dreadful so we’re not going to count that. On Sunday, Butler made some nice plays, including a four yard TD catch from Prescott with 12 seconds left in the first half.
So why is he on the losers list? After making a nine yard catch that would have set up the Cowboys 2nd and short, Butler flipped the ball, taunting 49ers defensive back, Rashard Robinson. That resulted in a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty and put the Cowboys behind the chains. They would punt two plays later.
And it wasn’t just the penalty. Butler failed to come down with some contested passes that could have helped the offense. With under five minutes left in the game, Prescott had him open in the end zone, but Butler was unable to hold on to the ball. A touchdown would have made it a two score game, but the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.
The last time the Cowboys visited San Francisco, Dan Bailey was a rookie. So it was easy to forgive him when he missed a chip shot field goal. And as we soon learned, he wouldn’t miss too many more.
But suddenly, he’s having problems. If a kicker misses field goals in two consecutive games, nobody thinks much of it. But if that kicker is Dan Bailey, then something has got to be wrong. And it is. He’s having issues with his back. This is a tough break for Bailey and Cowboys fans alike as it was real easy to take his three point offerings for granted.
The Cowboys are expected to try out some other kickers this week, but it’s hard to replace the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
And it wasn’t just Bailey that had problems. Chris Jones shanked a punt, but it went mostly unnoticed because he got a real favorable bounce. And, on the one punt he did kick well, Lance Dunbar decided to fall on the ground as he downed the ball, but ended up touching the goal line with this foot. The Cowboys missed a great opportunity to pin the 49ers back deep in their own territory.
People Wanting To Cut J.J. Wilcox
Okay, so maybe I did or did not fall into this group, but that’s not important. This isn’t about pointing the finger. But for the last few years, that’s exactly what fans have been doing to Wilcox. He’s been terrible. With Byron Jones moving to the free safety spot, it was conceivable that Wilcox may perform better with a more limited role in this defense. But then preseason happened and he was still terrible. It was surprising to some (okay, me) that he even made the Cowboys 53-man roster.
But that surprise has turned out to be a pleasant one as Wilcox is playing well off the bench. Last week he did what he does best – hit people. This week, he did something we’d least expect – he defended a key pass on third down.
Players Who Kept Leaving Early
The Cowboys came into this game as one of the fewest penalized team in the league, but they didn’t look like it on Sunday. In particular, the offense constantly struggled with false start penalties. Everyone was taking turns jumping early. Geoff Swaim enjoyed it so much, he had to do it twice. And this is not even taking into account all the times that Chaz Green was moving just a split second early that was never called.
The Cowboys have to be more disciplined. On one instance, fullback Keith Smith fell forward right before the snap, resulting in a false start. Had he not moved early, Elliott would have flown up the middle and taken it to the house.
Who were your winners and losers? Share them with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.