As the old saying goes, they come in bunches.
Turnovers, that is. A beleaguered Dallas Cowboys defense that had only seven turnovers in the first nine games of the season, racked up four takeaways in defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 41-33. The effort, coming on the heels of three takeaways last week at Cincinnati, now gives the Cowboys 11 turnovers in their last five contests.
This was a matchup between two teams that have been riddled with injuries in 2020 and saw even more head to the trainer's room during the game. That included Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup, as well as linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, defensive tackle Antwaun Woods and safety Xavier Woods. '
But despite the Dallas defense again playing shorthanded, the unit did what it had to do, creating two fumbles and two interceptions each that resulted in 24 points. Given that kind of help, the Dallas offense had a relatively easy day, highlighted by Tony Pollard. With Ezekiel Elliott out due to a calf strain, Pollard took over starting duties and finished with 69 rushing yards on 12 carries, a 5.8 yards per carry average, with two touchdowns, as well as another 63 receiving yards off of six catches.
The Dallas defense looked like the Doomsday of old early on when they forced a pair of fumbles that resulted in a quick 14 points. Dorance Armstrong got the honors first when he knocked the ball loose from the 49ers' Richie James on a punt return before landing on the prize himself to give the Cowboys possession at the San Francisco 22-yard line.
Pollard then touched the ball on five consecutive plays to push Dallas into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
That was followed on the 49ers' next series by DeMarcus Lawrence stripping quarterback Nick Mullens of the ball with Aldon Smith picking up the fumble at San Francisco's 24-yard line. Another five plays later, Dalton connected with Gallup in the back of the end zone for the score. `
The visitors would get on the board before the busy frame was over, though. Finally able to hold onto the ball, the 49ers marched 75 yards on 13 plays, averaging 6 yards per carry on seven rushes, before quarterback Nick Mullens found tight end Jordan Reed for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Dallas responded with a 48-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein, but the tide was starting to turn. San Francisco came right back with another 13-play drive with Mullens completing four passes for 52 yards. The last of those was a shuffle pass to Brandon Aiyuk for the 2-yard score to pull the 49ers to withing three.
The Cowboys had the opportunity for a points late in the quarter, pushing across midfield. But the possession stalled San Francisco 42-yard line and Zuerlein's attempt at a 60-yard field goal had the distance, but sailed wide right.
When the 49ers came out and tied the game with a 41-yard field goal less than five minutes into the second half, the Cowboys were seemingly on the ropes. But Andy Dalton then orchestrated an impressive 73-yard drive, the big blow coming when the quarterback rolled to his right before lofting a pass down the right sideline to CeeDee Lamb for a 45-yard gain. Tight end Dalton Schultz then hauled in a quick out on the very next snap and powered his way the final 12 yards for the touchdown and the lead.
The momentum was only temporary, however, as the pendulum quickly swung back to the 49ers. Dallas' defense continued its struggle to get a stop, as San Francisco had no real trouble in crossing the goal line once again. This time it was running back Jeff Wilson picking up the final yard needed to tie the score again heading into the final quarter.
But momentum is fickle and just as quickly as the Cowboys appeared to lose it, back it came to reward them, thanks to the Cowboys' special teams and defensive units.
Hunter Niswander started things off with a 52-yard punt that pinned the 49ers down at their own 1-yard line. Five plays into that possession, the Dallas defense then came up with another huge turnover. Safety Donovan Wilson, in his first game back after missing two outings due to a groin injury, dove in front of intended target Reed for his first career interception.
That set the Cowboys up at the visitor's 28-yard line. And while they couldn't gain any additional ground, out came Zuerlein to split the uprights on a 46-yard field goal.
And wouldn't you know it, just when the 49ers seemed to be on the move again, cornerback Anthony Brown stepped in front of another Mullens pass to record the team's fourth takeaway of the game. Pollard then broke away on a 40-yard scamper up the middle for his second touchdown of the day, essentially sealing the game.
The 49ers made it interesting, tacking on a 31-yard field goal with 40 seconds left, but their ensuing onside kick bounced right into the hands of Lamb, who then had nothing but daylight in front of him and raced all the way to pay dirt for a 47-yard touchdown return.
With the game already decided, San Francisco did complete a Hail Mary to round out the scoring, but the Cowboys still earned themselves an actual winning streak, having come out victorious in their last two outings.
And remarkably, with the victory the Cowboys' slim playoff chances are still alive. Thanks to Washington losing its game at Seattle, Dallas gained a game in the standings. The Cowboys will need to win their final two contests and hope for Washington to drop its last two in order to reach the postseason, but hey, they're not done yet.
The Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their last home game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3:25 p.m. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.