Reeling from a two-game losing streak with questions swirling on just what kind of team this 2017 version of the Cowboys might be, Dallas took care of business against a winless San Francisco 49ers squad, running away with a 40-10 victory.
Nearly everything was clicking for the Cowboys as the team racked up an incredible 501 yards of total offense while limiting San Francisco to just 290 yards. Not surprisingly, they also came out on top in first downs, 27 to 23, and in time of possession, 32:50 to 27:10.
Ezekiel Elliott was the star for the good guys as he broke loose for 147 rushing yards on 26 carries, which was the third-highest ground game of his young career. But he wasn't alone. Quarterback Dak Prescott completed 64 percent of his attempts for 234 yards with three touchdown tosses and no interceptions, earning him a healthy 134.0 passer rating. He completed passes to eight different receivers with Dez Bryant posting 74 receiving yards on a game-high seven catches.
Despite the gaudy numbers at the end, when looking at the first quarter stat sheet, the Cowboys didn't necessarily appear to be dominating the 49er. They were, however, sitting just fine where it counted most – on the scoreboard. Coming into this game, Elliott had only two rushing touchdowns through the first five outings this season, but he crossed the goal line twice in the first frame alone to put Dallas up 14-0.
His first score came just three plays after Kavon Frazier knocked the ball loose from the 49ers' Trent Taylor on a punt return with Cowboys rookie Xavier Woods picking up the prize to give Dallas possession at the San Francisco 20-yard line. That led to three straight Elliott runs, the last of which was a 1-yard dart off of right guard for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
Then after a quick three-and-out by the 49ers, Prescott and company took over on their own 26-yard line and went the full 74 yards in seven plays to reach the end zone again. This time Elliott had perhaps his prettiest run of the young season, exploding off left tackle and sprinting into the end zone from 25 yards out.
A twist to the festivities came, though, when Dallas unexpectedly decided to go for the two-point conversion, which they failed to convert. When safety Jeff Heath then came out to handle the ensuing kickoff, it was announced that Pro Bowl kicker Dan Bailey had suffered a groin injury and was lost for the game.
Fortunately, the Cowboys maintained a comfortable lead throughout the day, thus avoiding any last-second field goal dilemmas for Heath.
After the Dallas defense held the 49ers to a 42-yard field goal, Jason Witten decided to show the young guns just how it's done. On their fifth possession of the first half, the Cowboys took over at their own 14-yard line, but systematically marched down the field.
When they found themselves at the San Francisco 18-yard line, Prescott dropped a pass perfectly into the back of the end zone, where the veritable Witten raced under it, fought off the defender and hauled in the throw one-handed for his third touchdown catch of the season. That already equals his scoring totals from both 2015 and 2016.
Despite the advantage, Dallas had been in this position before, only to allow points just before the half that seemingly shifted the momentum. And when the 49ers barreled their way to the Dallas 5-yard line with just under a minute to play, there was concern that this might be déjà vu all over again.
But this time defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence took matters into his own hands, literally. He ripped past left tackle Joe Staley to hit quarterback C.J. Beathard just as he was stepping into his pass, and in the process knocked the ball loose, forcing a fumble. He then capped off the standout play by recovering his own work, bringing a halt to the 49ers threat.
Now the goal was to pick up right where they left off once the break was over. Although up 21-3 at halftime, the Cowboys through five games had been outscored 37-7 in the third quarter.
There would be none of that in this one, though. On the team's very first snap of the second half, Elliott hauled in a little screen pass on the right side and then simply exploded down the sideline, outrunning San Francisco's defenders and skirting the out of bounds edge on his way to a 72-yard touchdown.
And with the Cowboys now up 26-3, why not? Out came Heath for an extra-point try. When the booted ball ricocheted off the right upright and through the goal posts, there was pure elation from the Dallas special teams unit. Who knew.
At that point, there was really nothing left to do but play out the clock. The longer the game went on, the more Dallas seemed to dominate.
The Cowboys added another touchdown on their next possession, this time the team traveling 80 yards in 13 plays. Prescott carried the load on this series, going 5-for-5 on his pass attempts and converting a third-and-2 on a quarterback sneak before then slipping into the end zone on a quarterback draw from 2 yards out.
Heath wasn't so lucky this time around, but the Cowboys' lead still grew to 33-3.
With the 49ers offense largely made one-dimensional, the Dallas pass-rushers were licking their chops at a chance to get to San Francisco's rookie quarterback. And sure enough, on the last play of the third quarter, linebacker Jaylon Smith broke through on a blitz for the sack and forced fumble, this time defensive end Tyrone Crawford coming up with the loose ball to give the Cowboys possession at the 49ers' 29-yard line.
That led to yet another score, Bryant getting into the act with one of his patented highlight-reel catches in the back of the end zone. And just for added measure, Heath was good this time around.
The only real drama left for the day came after the 49ers found the end zone on their next possession, the score now 40-10. For the first time all season, Cooper Rush was activated as the backup quarterback with Kellen Moore being left off the game-day roster.
And sure enough, with the game well in hand, out for his first career NFL action came Rush, who actually converted a third-and-3 with a quarterback keeper around the left end for 15 yards. Elliott's day also done, Rod Smith stepped in for him and took off on a 45-yard gain down the right sideline to get into the red zone.
But the drive stalled at the 15-yard line, and with no need to give Heath a field-goal opportunity, the Cowboys failed to convert on fourth-and-11.
No matter on this day. With the victory, the Cowboys moved to 3-3 on the season. They'll be back on the road next week with a showdown against the division-rival Redskins at Washington next Sunday before returning back home on Nov. 5 to host the Kansas City Chiefs.