Don't eat the cheese.
Head coach Mike McCarthy preached it all week heading into this Lone Star showdown – don't overlook the one-win Houston Texans. But while the Dallas Cowboys were able to come away with a 27-23 victory, they by no means dominated an opponent against whom they were favored by 17 points.
Still, in today's NFL, a win is a win.
Trailing by six points heading into the final quarter, the Cowboys were able to rally over the final 15 minutes with 10 unanswered points. Prior to that exciting finish, though, the team was largely its own worst enemy as turnovers, mistakes and questionable play-calling kept the lowly Texans in the game.
Dak Prescott in particular struggled through the first three quarters, as he finished the day with 284 passing yards but had one touchdown throw and two interceptions with at least a couple of other pass attempts nearly picked off. He finished with only a 70.9 passer rating, his lowest since returning from injury.
Dallas fared better on the ground, averaging 4.1 yards per carry for 127 rushing yards in all. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 62 yards on 15 carries with Tony Pollard adding another 42 yards on 10 tries.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys at times seemed ill-prepared for Houston quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was elevated from the practice squad for this matchup. He completed just four of six passes for 38 yards but also ran for 36. The Cowboys were unable to sack him or Davis Mills and only had one quarterback hit. Together, the pair finished with a 93.6 rating with wide receiver Chris Moore also totaling 10 catches for 124 yards, both career highs.
The Cowboys didn't waste time getting on the board as they scored on their opening possession, only the third game this season they've crossed the goal line on their first series. The nine-play, 76-yard drive saw five runs and four passing attempts with Pollard getting the points after an 11-yard run off right tackle to the front pylon.
Despite that fast start, however, Dallas reverted back to the annoying habit of stumbling in the early going and eventually found themselves trailing, 10-7, by the end of the quarter.
The struggles started with the one thing this team couldn't afford to do against an inferior opponent – turn the ball over. Although the Cowboys defense forced a three-and-out, return man KaVontae Turpin muffed the ensuing punt and Houston recovered the prize at the Dallas 24-yard line.
Six plays later, running back Dameon Pierce snuck his way in for the equalizer, his fourth touchdown of the season.
And then after the Cowboys offense went three-and-out, Houston came right back with a six-play series that moved the visitors into field goal range. The big blow came on a 36-yard pass play down to the Dallas 27-yard line. McCarthy challenged the completion ruling, but after review, the call stood.
The Cowboys held their ground from there, but Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn slipped his attempt just inside the left upright for the 43-yard field goal and the lead.
Dallas wouldn't stay behind for long. Prescott got things going by scrambling to his right and then on the run threw downfield to wideout Noah Brown for a 51-yard pickup. Two snaps later, Pollard dashed out to the right for 18 yards and two snaps after that, the running back took a dump-off from Prescott and danced down the left sideline the final 10 yards for yet another touchdown. That marked his second consecutive and fourth multi-touchdown game of the season, but his first career outing with both rushing and receiving scores.
The Dallas defense kept Pierce from reaching the chains on a fourth-and-3 at the Cowboys 42-yard line, but the stand came with a cost. Both cornerback Trevon Diggs and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins left the game during the series due to thumb and shoulder injuries, respectively. Thankfully for a Cowboys secondary that was already down two starting cornerbacks in Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, Diggs was able to return.
But the turnover bug again bit the Cowboys, Prescott throwing yet another interception late in the first half. A quick slant to Brown was tipped by safety M.J. Stewart, went through the hands of Brown and was eventually corralled by cornerback Tremon Smith, who raced 26 yards down the left sideline to the Dallas 27. Seven of Prescott's nine picks on the season have now come in the second quarter.
Houston then need only two snaps to reach the goal line as receiver Amari Rodgers outleaped a pair of Cowboys defenders for the first touchdown of his career.
With 2:23 still on the clock, there was plenty of time for Prescott and company to add to their point total. Dallas was able to move deep into enemy territory, but after being unable to get in the end zone, Brett Maher was good on a 33-yard field goal.
Unfortunately, there was more bad news on the injury front, as starting right tackle Terence Steele left the game with a left knee injury. Tight end Jake Ferguson also was listed as out with a neck issue.
Adding insult to that injury, the Texans were then able to come right back in the final 40 seconds of the quarter and set Fairbairn up for a 50-yard field goal as time expired, giving Houston an unexpected 20-17 lead at the break.
Diggs got the second half off to an exciting start. After Donovan Wilson stripped Pierce of the ball, Diggs picked it up on a bounce, ran nearly 20 yards backwards trying to find space, finally found a seam and returned it 17 yards to the Houston 28.
Then after running the ball 11 times compared to 23 pass attempts through the first half despite averaging 6.5 yards per carry on the ground, the Cowboys came out and handed the ball off nine straight times in this opening drive of the second half. But on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Elliott was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, Dallas coming away with nothing.
Starting from their own 2-yard line, the Texans were able to march 63 yards in 10 plays to get into field goal range. This time Fairbairn split the uprights from 54 yards to up the advantage to six points, 23-17.
The Cowboys' comeback hopes began late in the third quarter when Dallas took over at its own 25-yard line and worked its way across midfield to the Texans' 33-yard line. But there the drive stalled, the team turning to Maher, who kicked the 53-yard field goal to pull back to within three.
But then disaster seemingly struck. When Turpin let the punt go instead of hauling in the fair catch, the Texans downed the bouncing ball at the Dallas 1-yard line. But after picking up a first down and then falling back again, Prescott's arm was hit as he threw on second-and-20 at his own 2-yard line. The pass meant for tight end Daulton Schultz instead went right into the arms of the cornerback Smith, Houston now with the ball at the Cowboys' 4-yard line.
That's when the Dallas defense came up huge and kept the Texans out of the end zone. Driskel was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Cowboys getting the ball back with 3:20 left on the clock.
On the move they went. Prescott found Schultz for 21 yards, then again for 13 more. The quarterback would go on to convert a third-and-1 at the Texans' 46-yard line and then saw Brown make a beauty of a diving catch near the right sideline for an 18-yard gain.
When Prescott then connected with Schultz down the seam for 18 yards, the Cowboys had first-and-goal at the Texans' 4-yard line with 55 seconds left. It took three tries, but Elliott got the handoff and charged right up the middle for the 11-play, 98-yard game-winning touchdown.
The Texans certainly weren't going down without a fight and made it interesting in the end. When Mills found Moore in the middle for 31 yards to the Dallas 44-yard line, Cowboys Nation was more than a little anxious.
But Houston left tackle Laremy Tunsil was then called for false start penalties on consecutive plays, leaving Mills to try a final Hail Mary into the end zone. There, Cowboys safety Israel Mukuamu outleaped a gaggle of Dallas defenders to come down with the interception and seal the victory.
With the win, the Cowboys closed out their three-game homestand and kept pace with the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas next begins a final stretch of the regular season that will see three of its final four games on the road, starting with a matchup at the Jacksonville Jaguars next week.