DALLAS — What the heck were the Atlanta Falcons thinking? By the time that the final moments of Sunday’s home opener came around, the only way that the Dallas Cowboys could win the game was by recovering an onside kick.
Recoveries such as those were rare in the NFL before, but had become virtually impossible in recent years due to rule changes.
The fact that the game even got to the point where it was “virtually impossible” was unlikely for Dallas. The Cowboys needed the improbable to get to the impossible to be granted the miracle after they spotted the Falcons a 20-point lead in the first quarter, trailed by 15 with under eight minutes to play and wound up winning 40-39.
With the world spending most of the afternoon wondering what the heck was wrong with the Cowboys, in the end, they were left to ponder a more apt question: Seriously, what were the Falcons doing?
While it is still difficult to ascertain an answer to that question hours after the fact, for the Cowboys to even have a chance at the stunning finish, they needed a Herculean effort from QB Dak Prescott. With so much going off the rails, Dallas needed their quarterback to do something no one in the history of the NFL had ever done.
And Prescott got it done.
This was one of those games where if you had any questions about how good Prescott is, how tough the signal caller for the Cowboys is, how much of a leader the field general in Dallas is, or if they should pay a king’s ransom to retain him, Prescott provided all the answers.
The star continued his ascension into the upper echelon of QBs in the league by throwing for 450 yards and bringing the Cowboys back from certain doom. He did it all without either starting tackle – nor the first replacement at the position – on the offensive line against the team that had been a bit of a boogeyman for what to expect when Dallas is without left tackle Tyron Smith.
Before all of the apparent divine intervention, the Cowboys appeared dead in the water. They had three fumbles lost and a failed fake punt in their first five possessions and allowed the Falcons to have open receivers all over the field in the first 24 minutes of the game.
With everyone anticipating a fast start in the first game of the season at AT&T Stadium, it was an embarrassing first foray by the team and was made worse by the Cowboys’ insistence on sticking to the running game even after Prescott was driving the team down the field with his arm.
Thankfully, in the second half, the Cowboys were down by so many points, and were in such a desperate position, that the game dictated that Dallas allow Prescott to take it over. When they talk about letting the QB “cook,” they should use Prescott as a prime example. The ingredients weren’t up to standard, but eventually Prescott made a meal of the Falcons.
After the Cowboys came out in the second half committed to the air attack, Prescott was unstoppable. The two-time Pro Bowl QB threw for 312 yards and a score, while running in three more in the game’s final 30 minutes. In the last three possessions for the Cowboys, when everything was on the line, Prescott was 13-20 for 182 yards. In the final two possessions before the winning field goal, Prescott threw for a touchdown and ran in another.
Yet, the Cowboys still needed an improbable onside try from new kicker Greg Zuerlein to complete Prescott’s masterpiece comeback.
If the narrative is that the Cowboys are prone to embarrassing mistakes, we saw peak Cowboys in the first half. If the narrative is that the Falcons are prone to embarrassing, unlikely losses, we saw peak Falcons in the final minutes.
Even with all of the late heroics, it still took the Falcons going full Falcon to allow Dallas the comeback victory. How they botched the onside kick so badly, we’ll never know. Their hands team surveyed a ball that went about 0.5 miles an hour as it lazily made it the prerequisite ten yards needed to be a live ball for Dallas, only to be recovered by C.J. Goodwin of the Cowboys despite being surrounded by Falcons.
The Falcons watched the football and the game roll through them like they were little leaguers watching a ground ball get through the infield while they were picking flowers in the outfield.
Prescott took the gift and converted on a big pass to rookie WR CeeDee Lamb to put the Cowboys in position to win it with a Zuerlein field goal. The three points at the end of regulation capped a comeback win that had never been seen before in the NFL.
Nothing should surprise you with the Dallas Cowboys anymore, they zig when you think they’ll zag. They win, when you think they’ll lose. The one constant with the team right now is that their quarterback will always give them a chance. Dak Prescott put the Cowboys on his back to get a desperately-needed victory.
Where does Sunday’s comeback victory rank among the wildest wins in Cowboys history? Share your favorites with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.