In a short week, after the Dallas Cowboys had given fans very little to inspire any confidence after a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Tuesday, the squad came out and dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in a 30-7 victory that gave Dallas their fourth win of 2020 and kept their season afloat for now.
You might hear the whispers saying, “it’s just the Bengals,” but if the Cowboys were going to keep their faint hope of the playoffs alive, they had to win this game. The opponent no longer matters, only stacking victories will get the job done in the NFC East now.
In the Andy Dalton revenge game, the veteran quarterback was efficient in his return to Cincinnati, throwing for 185 yards and two scores to guide the offense. Dalton, who started for the Bengals for all nine of his previous seasons before joining the Cowboys, picked up his second win as a starter for Dallas.
The Cowboys collected just 272 total yards, but it felt like they were in control for the entire game. Under Dalton’s guidance, the biggest number for the Cowboys was zero, as in zero turnovers. This was the first time since Week 1 where the Dallas offense didn’t give the ball away, which made for a more comfortable outcome.
The other number of the game was three, as in the number of takeaways created by the Dallas defense. It’s no secret by now just how bad the Cowboys have been this season at generating turnovers, but that wasn’t the case against the Bengals.
Dallas forced three fumbles on their first three defensive possessions and they cashed in with 17 points off those turnovers. In essence, the Cowboys were enjoying the kind of game that other teams have produced against them.
Creating turnovers is great, but turning them into points is equally important. The Cowboys took an early lead off the first fumble and defensive end Aldon Smith returned the second Bengals gaffe for a 78-yard touchdown to run the score to 10-0 with more than six minutes still left in the first quarter.
However, it was the third fumble by the Bengals that felt like a knockout blow had been delivered. Cincinnati was driving and about to convert on a 4th and 1 deep in Cowboys territory when receiver Alex Erickson was hit by safety Darian Thompson and lost the ball. Jaylon Smith recovered and the offense had an opportunity to put more points on the scoreboard.
The Cowboys responded with one of their best drives of the season. Dalton engineered a 15-play, 88-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yd scoring strike to Amari Cooper.
Cooper’s touchdown gave the Cowboys a 17-point lead, which marked the first time all season that the team had held a lead of at least 17 points with just three weeks left on the docket.
For a defense that has been maligned for much of the year, they needed an effort like this to provide the offense with a boost. After the putrid endeavor the unit put forth against the Ravens, the defense responded with a much better showing versus the Bengals.
The offense, in turn, took the opportunities and capitalized on the Bengals’ mistakes. It felt like a little bit of role reversal for the Cowboys and how things have gone for them this year. Dallas flipped the game script in this one; they were the team forcing the turnovers and they were the team getting out to the big lead and maximizing their chances.
Winning the turnover battle usually means winning games and the Cowboys didn’t waste their good fortune.
So that’s the good news. The Cowboys were able to rejoin the win column in their beatdown of an inferior team and it keeps them alive (barely) in the race for the NFC East crown. Sadly, however, the bad news is that they remain in last place in the division and the win could potentially cost them draft pick positioning.
The blowout win in Cincinnati may not mean much when the season ends, but for one day, in one game, the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed the kind of effort that had too often been done to them by other teams and it had to feel good to be on this side of things for once.
Are you happy with the level of effort you saw from the Cowboys on Sunday? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.