No matter the way this season may have started, count the Dallas Cowboys as contenders now. In front of 93,273 rabid fans, they showed they're ready to hang with the big boys after taking down the powerful Kansas City Chiefs, 28-17.
Coming into the game, this appeared to be a matchup between similar teams. Two high-powered offenses with threats throughout the lineup against a pair of defenses that have struggled at times this year, particularly against the run.
But the offensive fireworks that were expected from Kansas City were limited, as the Dallas defense stood tall against a scoring machine that had been averaging 377.9 yards per game and 29.5 points, both of which ranked third in the NFL.
Kansas City did total 323 yards of offense, but the Cowboys racked up 375 yards of their own while also winning the time of possession battle, 31:17 to 28:43.
The Chiefs' Alex Smith completed 73.5 percent of his passes, but that was good for only 263 yards, and he also threw his first interception of the season. Conversely, the Cowboys' Dak Prescott didn't have the same yardage total, posting 249, but he tossed two touchdowns without an interception for a 106.8 passer rating.
And in the battle of premier running backs, the Cowboys defense held the NFL's rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, to just 37 yards on nine carries without a score. But last year's leading rusher, Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, totaled 93 yards on 27 attempts with a touchdown.
Perhaps the real heroes for the Cowboys, though, were their receiving corps. Terrance Williams hauled in nine passes for a season-high 141 receiving yards while Dez Bryant put up an additional 73 yards. Cole Beasley also got into the act with two touchdown catches.
Kansas City came into this game with a league-leading 54 points scored in the first quarter, but the Cowboys defense showed it was up to the task early. The Dallas unit forced three-and-outs on the Chiefs' first two possessions and held the visitors scoreless through the first 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys didn't get things rolling on offense themselves until their third possession, which came late in the opening frame. Prescott methodically marched his team 63 yards by completing five of six pass attempts. Perhaps the biggest came when Williams turned a short pass to the left into a 27-yard gain that erased a 10-yard holding penalty on Tyron Smith.
On the very next snap, Prescott then found Beasley on a 6-yard slant to the end zone to give Dallas the early lead, 7-0.
Kansas City managed to work its way into field goal range, getting on the board with a 38-yard attempt, but the Cowboys responded with a perfectly executed two-minute offense in the final 1:44 of the second quarter to go up 14-3. Prescott moved his team 82 yards in seven plays despite the drive starting with an incompletion and a sack.
But the quarterback connected with Bryant over the middle for 21 yards, the receiver leaping high to pull down the ball, before then finding Williams wide open down the right sideline for a big 56-yard gain. The series was capped with Prescott avoiding the rush and scrambling the final 10 yards for the touchdown himself.
Unfortunately, even though the Cowboys had played so well on defense throughout the first half, the group slipped just before the break. With Kansas City at its own 44-yard line and only two seconds remaining, the Dallas defense lined up deep to protect against a Hail Mary.
Instead, Smith threw underneath to Tyreek Hill, who also had three blockers in front of him. With a full head of steam, the speedster then proceeded to dance through the unaggressive Cowboys defenders all the way to the end zone for a 56-yard score, his fourth this season of at least 55 yards. That narrowed the home side's lead to 14-10 at the break, and perhaps more importantly, caused momentum to take a sudden shift.
Making matters worse, the Chiefs got the first possession to start the third quarter and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Byron Jones after the Hill touchdown pushed the Cowboys kickoff back 15 yards. Throw in a 30-yard return and Kansas City seemed poised to pick up right where they left off.
And sure enough, they did. Led by 29 yards rushing from Hunt and two completions to Travis Kelce for a combined 13 yards – the second of those two throws to the Kansas City tight end a 2-yard scoring toss on the right side of the end zone – the Chiefs took their first lead of the game, 17-14.
Ah, but just when it looked like things might be getting out of control for the Cowboys, the tide turned again thanks to a 12-play, 75-yard drive that was sparked by Elliott. The star running back carried the ball seven times during the possession and totaled 31 rushing yards, his last attempt a dart up the middle from two yards out that provided the touchdown. With the effort, Dallas was back on top 21-17.
The drive also knocked 5:37 off the clock and allowed the Cowboys to seemingly collect themselves on defense and right the ship. Kansas City never got on the board again.
After allowing touchdowns on consecutive Chiefs possession, the Dallas defense forced another three-and-out, the resulting punt giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 13-yard line. No matter the distance, as the clock ticked over into the fourth quarter Dallas went on the move.
Prescott completed passes to Beasley, Bryant and Williams during the series and Alfred Morris provided a surprise 11-yard run up the middle. That eventually led to a 7-yard completion to Beasley on the right side, the wideout darting just inside the pylon for his sixth career multi-touchdown game.
With the events surrounding halftime a distant memory, the Cowboys defense then came out and did what they needed to do – make a huge stop. The Chiefs worked their way into Dallas territory, but were facing a fourth-and-8 at the Dallas 43-yard line. Smith's pass attempt to Kelce, however, was instead picked off by safety Jeff Heath.
And that was that. While the Cowboys couldn't add to their point total, what they were able to do was force Kansas City to burn its remaining timeouts while eating up 3:16 of clock. That wasn't enough for the visitors. Game over.
The victory marked the third straight win for the Cowboys, which pushed their record to 5-3 on the season, good enough for second place in the NFC East. They will now head out on the road to take on the Atlanta Falcons at 3:25 p.m. next Sunday.