The Dallas Cowboys' Sunday night showdown against the Indianapolis Colts marked the first of three consecutive games against teams with a losing record. Still chasing the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead, the Cowboys need to take care of business during this important stretch.
Well, they certainly made a statement on this night, riding roughshod over the Colts with a dominating 54-19 victory.
The Dallas defense simply overpowered Indianapolis as the game went along, the fourth quarter turning into a feeding frenzy. The unit recorded three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, four of which came in the final quarter.
Malik Hooker, who was originally drafted by the Colts and spent the first four years of his career in Indianapolis, recorded both an interception and a fumble recovery, returning the latter for a touchdown. In doing so, he became the first Cowboys defender to achieve the feat since Dennis Thurman on Sept. 11, 1983, at St. Louis.
Of course, he wasn't alone as rookie cornerback DaRon Bland pulled in two interceptions himself while the defense as a whole also finished with three sacks and held Colts quarterback Matt Ryan to a paltry 59.9 passer rating. Running back Jonathan Taylor, last season's rushing champ, was also limited to just 3.9 yards per carry for a total of 82.
On the other side of the ball, a balanced offensive attack saw Dallas run the ball 34 times and drop back to pass on 31 occasions. The ground game churned out 220 rushing yards with Tony Pollard totaling 91 and Ezekiel Elliott another 77.
And don't look now, but the Cowboys might just have their No. 1 wide receiver. CeeDee Lamb was brilliant. Going in motion more times than he ever has in his career, he wound up with 71 receiving yards off of five catches with one score. Michael Gallup also reached the end zone twice as quarterback Dak Prescott completed 66.7 percent of his passes for just 170 yards, but had those three touchdowns with only one interception for a rating of 100.7.
The Cowboys would reel off 33 points alone in the fourth quarter, a new team record.
It took a series and a quick deficit before the Dallas offense got things rolling. After the Colts went up 3-0 off a 52-yard field goal, the Cowboys came right back and bullied their way down the field on a 12-play, 73-yard drive. Elliott and Pollard combined for eight carries and 32 yards, which included a 6-yard pickup by the former on fourth down.
But Prescott did his part as well, completing three passes for 41 yards, the last of which was a 20-yard strike to Lamb, who rolled over a would-be tackler, never touched the ground and spun off for the goal line and his sixth touchdown of the season, already equaling his career high.
The home side's lead didn't last long, though. The Colts' quarterback Ryan first burned Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown on the right side with a big 45-yard gain. And then two snaps later Ryan got fellow corner Trevon Diggs to bite on a fake, leaving receiver Ashton Dulin wide open in the left side of the end zone for the score.
Blitzing safety Donovan Wilson got to Ryan on a third-and-4 at the Indianapolis 25-yard line that pushed the Colts back to their own 16. Donovan's effort, and the ensuing Indy punt, set the Cowboys up at their own 44-yard line and required only six plays to again reach pay dirt.
Pollard got things off with a 17-yard run off left tackle and then capped the series with a 2-yard dart up the middle for the touchdown. In between, Lamb added to his total with 22-yard catch and run down the left sideline.
Unfortunately, Prescott threw an interception with just under three minutes remaining in the second quarter, his seventh of the season but his fourth to come late in the first half. This time cornerback Stephon Gilmore got the pick, returning it 31 yards to the Dallas 19-yard line. The Cowboys defense held, but with a 34-yard field goal, Indianapolis closed the deficit to just one.
The Cowboys got another crack at it before the break, though, when Brown this time tipped a Ryan pass with Hooker there to corral the ball. The safety got to his feet and scampered 26 yards to the Indianapolis 26-yard line, Dallas taking over with 55 seconds remaining and all three timeouts in hand.
That was plenty of time for Dallas to get back into the end zone. On third-and-9 at the 13-yard line, Prescott drifted to his right before finding Gallup streaking through the middle, the receiver then forcing his way into the end zone to extend the Cowboys lead at the half, 21-13.
Things tightened up again in the game's third frame when the Colts went on an extended 15-play drive that went 90 yards and ate up 8:00 off the clock. Indianapolis made the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 13-yard line, Ryan keeping it himself to pick up the needed yardage and move the chains. Two snaps later, the quarterback connected with Alec Pierce for the touchdown. Indianapolis went for two, but the pass attempt fell incomplete.
During the drive, the Cowboys' Brown had to leave the game with an ankle injury. His replacement, Kelvin Joseph, was the victim on the score that brought the Colts back to within two.
Once again, Dallas came right back, taking off on a 10-play, 75-yard drive of its own that ticked over into the final quarter. The team actually caught a break when a near interception in Colts territory was not only overruled, but a penalty on Indianapolis pushed the ball to the opponent's 20-yard line.
Given another chance, Prescott, found a streaking Lamb across the middle for a 17-yard gain down to the 3-yard line before targeting Gallup again for the score. That marked the receiver's third multi-touchdown game of his career.
And then the floodgates opened.
On the Colts' first play of their next possession, rookie linebacker Damone Clark punched the ball free of tight end Mo Alie-Cox, the ball bouncing right into the arms of Hooker. He then ran 38 yards untouched down the left sideline for the touchdown, the first of his six-year career. Dallas tried to go for two to make it a three-possession game, but Lamb's trick-play pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
Then it was welcome to the Bland show. The rookie cornerback earned his second career interception shortly thereafter to give Dallas possession at its own 47-yard line, which eventually led to a 30-yard touchdown run by Pollard.
The extra point was blocked, but no matter. On the Colts' next series, Bland turned the trick again, muscling in his second pick of the night. With the crowd chanting his name, this time Elliott got the scoring honors, plowing in from the 4-yard line for the touchdown. With that, he moved into a tie with Bob Hayes for the third-most touchdowns in team record books, totaling 76.
All that was left to do now was play out the clock and bring the game to a merciful end. But there was still six minutes left to play.
When Sam Williams then recovered a fumble after Ryan was strip-sacked by Osa Odighizuwa, out came quarterback Cooper Rush and many of the second stringers. Not that it made a difference, as rookie running back Malik Davis scooted in for his first career touchdown, the team surpassing 50 points for the 11th time in club annals.
The Cowboys kept pace with the leading Eagles and widened the gap of those behind them in the division. They will next welcome the struggling Houston Texans for a Lone Star State showdown next Sunday.