Both offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Dak Prescott promised some new "wrinkles" to the Dallas Cowboys offense coming into this game against the Detroit Lions.
Whether we actually saw anything new, or the plays called were just executed better, in the end the result was the desired one for the home fans, as kicker Brett Maher saved the day in 26-24 victory for the Cowboys.
Featuring an offense that showed more balance, Ezekiel Elliott had a field day against the worst run defense in the NFL. He erupted for 152 rushing yards on 25 carries for a 6.1 yards-per-carry average. But he also hauled in four passes for 88 yards, finishing the day with 240 all-purpose yards.
The Cowboys were facing a Lions defensive unit that had actually given up the fewest average passing yards in the league coming into this affair. But Dak Prescott was efficient and accurate in his play. He reached the magical 200 yards passing mark, earning 255, but he also tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions to post a 118.6 passer rating, his highest of the young season.
In all, the Cowboys totaled 414 yards of offense and were 5-for-12 on third down, a notable improvement. That offensive outburst helped carry the team when the defensive side of the ball wasn't at its best.
The Dallas D had been stellar through the first three games, and DeMarcus Lawrence had a standout effort in this one with three sacks. But as a group, they had trouble containing Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback put up 307 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 131.5 passer rating of his own. And Detroit added another 96 yards on the ground to total 382 yards of offense.
In the end, though, it wasn't enough.
The Cowboys got on the board initially when they first made good on that promise to show a few wrinkles with the offense. Prescott found a wide open Geoff Swaim underneath, the tight end breaking loose down the right sideline for a 31-yard reception, the longest of his career.
Two plays later, Prescott went deep down the left sideline, laying a perfect pass into the hands of rookie Michael Gallup for a 32-yard completion. This after the quarterback didn't even attempt a pass of more than 20 yards the week before at Seattle.
From there the Cowboys stalled in the red zone, so out came Brett Maher for a 32-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the Lions came back with some big plays of their own. Stafford attempted seven pass attempts on the nine play, 77-yard drive and completed five of them for 63 yards. That last of those, though, was a 45-yarder that saw wide receiver Golden Tate break free of tripping cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was playing only his second snap of the season, and then juke safety Jeff Heath down the right sideline for the touchdown and a 7-3 advantage.
Dallas did manage to come back with a 43-yard field goal from Maher, but they perhaps left points on the field. Prescott threw a honey of a pass into the arms of Tavon Austin in the end zone, but with Lions All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay on his heels, the wideout couldn't come down with the ball, seven points gone for an eventual three, the score 7-6.
But whereas Dallas receivers were dropping balls, failing to give Prescott enough help, Stafford's wideouts were making the plays. On the visitor's next drive, Marvin Jones Jr. hauled in a 34-yard over-the-shoulder completion, and then on third-and-4 at the Cowboys' 47-yard line, Tate made a tough catch with cornerback Chidobe Awuzie draped all over him to move the chains.
The Dallas defense eventually tightened up in the red zone, holding Detroit to a 33-yard field goal, trailing 10-6.
Just before the half, however, the Cowboys bounced back by utilizing the big play again. Taking over at their own 25-yard with 2:50 left in the second quarter, Elliott ran around the left end for 19 yards with Prescott finding Cole Beasley for 12 more at the two-minute warning.
After an unnecessary roughness penalty on Detroit gave Dallas an additional 15 yards, the Cowboys executed a perfect screen pass to Elliott. The shifty back hauled in the short pass and then with outstanding blocking in front of him, particularly by center Joe Looney, he raced down the right sideline and into the end zone, giving the home side a 13-10 lead at the break.
In a rare occurrence, Dallas was able to start the second half with the ball, but they again lost out on a chance for some points. After reaching the Detroit 26-yard line, a block-in-the-back penalty pushed the ball back 10 yards, Beasley dropped a pass and Elliott only gained 2 yards.
Now facing 2-and-18 at the Lions' 34-yard, Prescott tried to avoid the rush, only to lose 14 yards, knocking the Cowboys out of field goal range.
The Cowboys found their stride on their next possession, though, and it came thanks to Elliott's legs. On the first snap of the series, the running back burst through for a big 41-yard gain and then came right back with a 9-yard scamper. Now facing third-and-10 at the Detroit 14, a sidearm rifle from Prescott to Beasley pushed the ball to the 3.
But on fourth-and-1, Dallas went for it and Elliott powered up the middle for the needed 1 yard. On the very next play, Prescott then found a wide-open Swaim in the back corner of the end zone for the touchdown, the first career score for the tight end, the Cowboys up 20-10, where it remained heading into the fourth quarter.
Soon enough, however, the Lions closed the gap, as Stafford marched his team 75 yards in seven plays, hitting Jones for 17 yards and Kenny Golladay for 22. That eventually led to Johnson slamming through safety Jeff Heath and into the end zone on an 8-yard run, narrowing the score to 20-17. Heath had to leave the game with a shoulder injury afterward.
That's when Dallas once again turned to a balanced offense. Moving 85 yards in 16 plays, while eating up 8:31 of clock, the Cowboys made it all the way to the Detroit 4-yard line. To get there, Prescott dropped back to pass eight times and handed it off on eight more.
But against the aforementioned worst run defense in the league, the Cowboys chose to pass twice from the 4-yard line and saw both attempts fall incomplete. Instead they settled for a 22-yard field goal from Maher and a 23-17 lead with just under six minutes left in the game.
That was plenty of time for Stafford, who needed only 3:32 minutes to get his team in the end zone. He torched the Dallas secondary for completions of 35 yards and 38 yards, the second of which was a toss to Tate, who walked into the end zone virtually untouched. With the extra point, the Lions had retaken the lead.
ening their record for the season to 2-2. They'll now head to Houston to take on the Texans in a prime-time game next Sunday night.
But Dallas had the answer. Starting at their 25-yard line with 2:17 remaining, Prescott found Swaim for 7 yards, Allen Hurns for 9 and then dropped a perfect pass to Elliott along the right sideline for a huge 34-yard gain down to the Detroit 25-yard line. Three run plays and 5 yards later, and out came Maher for a 38-yard field goal attempt.
He split the uprights, the hero of the day giving the Cowboys the 26-24 victory and ev