Less than two weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys were in crisis. Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears had just beaten them and the cacophony of cries to fire Jason Garrett was the loudest it had been in nine years, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was fixated on something else.
”Let me just say this: I think all of us, including the fans, want to win a damn football game. OK?” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the loss. “I know we’ve got a lot of things to think about. Who’s coaching? Who’s playing? Who’s compared to another player someplace else? How about, let’s win some ball games, folks?”
The Cowboys won a ball game on Sunday. By a lot. Dallas dismantled the Los Angeles Rams in a 44-21 win. The feat was even sweeter considering the Rams knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs in the divisional round in January. The Cowboys are tied at the top of the NFC East at 7-7 but hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles for first place, which is like being tied for the title of fastest sloth. Dallas has been consumed by Jason Garrett’s seemingly inevitable firing, but this was one of the better wins of his Cowboys career, and his team could make a playoff run if it keeps playing this way.
The only part of this game the Cowboys did not decisively win was the coin toss. Dallas won the toss, but the Cowboys’ captains, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, said they wanted to kick. Referee Walt Anderson asked to confirm whether they wanted to kick, and Prescott said, “We defer to the second half, yes.” Anderson either did not hear him or decided the ink of history was already dry, because he told Prescott, “You’re going to kick.”
What Prescott meant was Dallas wanted to kick to start the first half and then get the ball in the second half. What Anderson thought Prescott said was the Cowboys wanted to kick to start the first half and kick to begin the second half.
UPDATE: Dak Prescott did say defer to the 2nd half, but only after he said "defense" and "kick." pic.twitter.com/zKMKbHTc0U— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 15, 2019
It was almost a caricature of the officiating issues that have plagued the league this season. This was so egregious that Anderson’s crew changed its decision at halftime after reviewing the audio (and perhaps getting a phone call from senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron) and decided to let Dallas get the second-half kick.
Even if the Rams had gotten the extra possession, it wouldn’t have mattered. At halftime, the Cowboys were up 28-7 and the Rams had 3 rushing yards, 2 of which came from Jared Goff. Dallas held the Rams to 14 carries for 22 rushing yards, tied for the Rams’ season low, while Dallas rushed 45 times for 263 yards, their season high. Ezekiel Elliott had 117 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, while rookie Tony Pollard had 131 yards and one score on 12 carries. It was a near exact reversal of the rushing script when the Rams beat the Cowboys in the playoffs with 273 rushing yards mostly from Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson while Dallas had just 50 rushing yards. Dallas’s defense tipped its plays to the Rams in that playoff game. On Sunday, it did not. The Rams scored 21 points and gained just 289 yards of offense, but 14 of those points and 135 of those yards came on their final two drives once the score was already 37-7 with less than seven minutes to play. L.A.’s offense looked rejuvenated against Seattle and Arizona the past two weeks, but the Cowboys sent them back to earth. Meanwhile, the Cowboys relaunched after a sleepy few weeks. Dallas gained 475 yards of offense (7.0 yards per play), and converted seven of their 13 third-down attempts. The win was their biggest margin of victory since October.
It’s an astonishing turnaround from where the Cowboys were 10 days ago. Former Cowboys receiver and current NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin said after the Bears loss that the Cowboys couldn’t “continue down this path,” in reference to Garrett’s job security. Cowboys legend Jimmy Johnson was even harsher, saying on Fox last week “nobody would be happy if he was the head coach a year from now.” Announcer Troy Aikman said on air the only impediment to firing Garrett was none of the assistant coaches deserved to be named the interim head coach. One game later, Garrett’s squad eviscerated the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs and is on the verge of making it back to the postseason.
The Cowboys and Eagles play next week. A win would make Dallas the NFC East champion. If the Cowboys win the division, they’d likely play either the Seahawks or 49ers in the wild-card round. Dallas would surely have a better chance against the Seahawks, whom they beat in the same round last January. All of the Cowboys fans hoping Garrett won’t be back would be torn about whether they want Dallas to advance in the playoffs.
First, the Cowboys need to win the division. If the Eagles beat Dallas next week, the Cowboys could still win the title with a win over Washington in Week 17 and an Eagles loss to the Giants because Dallas would have the better record in the NFC East. Considering how disgusting the Eagles looked against Washington before pulling away for a 37-27 win, this version of the Cowboys shouldn’t have trouble beating Philly, whom they beat 37-10 in Week 7. This is undoubtedly the best the Cowboys have looked since then, and the win came just in time. Jerry said as much to reporters after the game.
“Just what the doctor ordered,” Jones said.