It's amazing what a few turnovers will do for a team.
Despite the Cincinnati Bengals holding the advantage on the stat sheet for the most part, the Cowboys defense provided a spark at the start that led to Dallas leading where it matters most, on the scoreboard, the team coming away with a 30-7 victory.
The Cowboys forced fumbles on each of the Bengals' first three possessions, turning each of those recoveries into points and an early 17-point lead. It marked the only time the team has forced a turnover on an opponents' first three series of the contest in the last 25 years. The three fumble recoveries also tied for the most in the first half of a game in franchise history since 1994. The last time they turned the trick was on Dec. 30, 2007 at Washington.
Not to be forgotten, this also marked the triumphant return to Cincinnati of Andy Dalton, who played nine years for the Bengals and left holding several of the franchise's passing records. He enjoyed a productive day, passing for only 185 yards but completing 69.6 percent of his passes with two touchdowns for a season-high 122.6 passer rating.
The Cowboys jumped out to an early 10-0 lead thanks to a pair of takeaways from the Dallas defense. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence got things going with a forced fumble on Cincinnati's second play of the game. Recovered by cornerback Jourdan Lewis at the Bengals' 32-yard line, the Cowboys were able to work into the red zone, but had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein.
Less than five minutes of game clock later, Dallas was in the end zone. The team caught a bit of break when Trayveon Williams ran into his own man and fumbled as well. Defensive end Aldon Smith was there to pick up the prize and returned the ball 78 yards for the touchdown, the fifth-longest fumble return in team history and the longest since Greg Ellis had a 98-yard fumble return for a score against Arizona on Oct. 3, 1999.
The first play of the second frame saw the Cowboys defense strike again, as the Bengals decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 15-yard line, only to cough the ball up again. This time safety Darian Thompson knocked it loose with linebacker Jaylon Smith falling on the gift.
With that, the Cowboys went on a long, methodical march, converting four third downs while grinding out a 15-play, 88-yard drive. Dalton connected with Amari Cooper three times for 44 yards, the last of which was an 11-yard strike for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Although the score suggested otherwise, Cincinnati had been moving the ball, and the Bengals finally responded with a 16-play, 77-yard drive of their own. Quarterback Brandon Allen capped off the series with a 5-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green just before the half to get the home side on the board.
Still, Dallas held a two-possession lead even though its offense had really only enjoyed two complete series.
The Cowboys opened the second half with points on their third straight possession, this time working their way down to the Bengals' 2-yard line. And while they were unable to cross the goal line, out came Zuerlein for a chip-shot 20-yard field goal and a 13-point advantage.
Zuerlein certainly cured whatever ails had plagued him the week before when he missed three field goals at Baltimore. He was perfect against the Bengals, capping off his day with a 55-yard goal with just over five minutes left in the game.
The rest was left up to the Dallas defense, which finished what it started, holding Cincinnati scoreless for the final 30 minutes of play to secure the team's fourth victory on the season. That included snuffing out the Bengals on fourth-and-19 on their own 16-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Four plays later, Dallas was in the end zone. Dalton completed his return to Cincinnati with a swing pass out to Tony Pollard for the final 7 yards, wrapping up the scoring and securing the blowout.