DALLAS — Sunday’s game wasn’t pretty, and it rarely is these days with the Dallas Cowboys. But pretty was ultimately unimportant as they got what they needed, a win.
A last second 56-yard field goal off the foot of Greg Zuerlein helped the Cowboys beat the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17. The kick capped one of the stranger wins in recent memory for the Cowboys in Week 2.
For much of the first quarter, it didn’t seem like the game would be a struggle. Things started out beautifully for the Cowboys, who scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time in 20 games. The scoring drive took place over 15 plays for 78 yards and took 6:51 off the clock.
The offense converted on three third or fourth down tries in their first march down the field to keep the chains moving and keep the Chargers’ defense on the field. The opening drive was capped off by a Tony Pollard jet sweep for the short score.
Dallas followed up by scoring another touchdown in the first quarter, this time on a five-yard run from Ezekiel Elliott to give the Cowboys a 14-3 lead. Dallas’ running back duo ran for 180 yards and two scores, while averaging 6.2 yards a carry. The Cowboys knew they could run on the Chargers, and they executed that part of the game plan perfectly.
Pollard in particular was extremely effective all game long, outpacing Elliott on the ground (109 yards to 71) on fewer carries.
In one of the game’s oddities, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown in the final three quarters. Despite having 419 yards of offense and punting just one time, Dallas managed just 20 points.
Likewise, the defense for the Cowboys had a tough time stopping the Chargers, allowing 408 yards, but by the time the clock read 0:00, they had only given up 17 points. The Chargers went 5-for-12 on third down but converted on three long third downs. Allowing three first downs when the Chargers needed 10+ yards is hardly a recipe for success, but the defense came up with timely plays at other junctures.
Damontae Kazee had a huge interception in the end zone near the end of the third quarter to keep points off the board and Micah Parsons ended an impressive first start at DE with a sack of Chargers sophomore QB Justin Herbert on second and goal to help save four points in Los Angeles’ final drive.
The Cowboys were fortunate that the Chargers shot themselves in the foot for most of the game to keep them from scoring more points.
After a relatively clean first quarter, the teams seemed to settle in and mirror the other’s worst traits for the rest of the game. There were bad penalties, questionable decisions, and undisciplined play throughout. Both offenses seemed to march up and down the field but made mistakes that kept the game from being a higher scoring affair.
The Chargers committed 12 penalties, including two that took touchdowns off the board. Los Angeles also coughed up the ball twice in Cowboys territory. The Cowboys had eight penalties and forced just one punt on the game. That punt was a disaster as another special teams blunder resulted in a roughing penalty that kept a drive alive for the Chargers.
The flow of the game felt disjointed as the officiating called for questionable penalties that left both teams out of sorts. Ultimately, it felt evident that whichever team had the ball last was going to win the game. It just happened to be the Cowboys.
Dak Prescott and the offense took over with 3:54 remaining and, after Pollard’s ridiculous decision to return the kickoff, which resulted in a penalty, the drive began at Dallas’ own 13-yard line. The Cowboys milked the clock as they methodically moved the ball into Chargers territory with 36 seconds left and had a timeout to burn.
Inexplicably, however, the team ran just one more play and let the play clock drain before calling a timeout and settling for a long field goal attempt. Mike McCarthy would explain later that there were issues with the clock in the stadium, but it’s difficult to understand why the Cowboys didn’t call their last timeout to reset.
Instead, the Cowboys seemed resolved to try the 56-yard field goal or head to overtime if Zuerlein missed. It was a perplexing series of events that will only leave question marks about the time management and decision making of the team going forward.
In the end, the mystifying decisions didn’t matter for the outcome of this one as Zuerlein made the field goal and the Cowboys won the game. The Cowboys likely won’t win many contests like this, but walking away with the win was the most important takeaway.
As the saying goes, they don’t ask how, they just ask how many. The how many for the Dallas Cowboys now stands at one. As Dallas can now attest, ugly wins beat pretty losses every time.
Do you think the Cowboys showed enough in Sunday’s close win to inspire confidence for the 2021 season? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.