An unlikely pairing garnered much of the spotlight heading into this Monday night showdown – the offensive coordinators. Mike McCarthy, in his first year calling plays for Dallas, was taking on the man he replaced, former Cowboys and current Los Angeles Chargers play-caller Kellen Moore.
However, in a tight game plagued by penalties, it was the defenses that ruled. Of course.
The Cowboys in particular needed a strong showing after the previous week's loss at San Francisco and they got it from Dan Quinn's bunch in a 20-17 victory. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was under pressure all night as Dallas recorded just one sack but had eight quarterback hurries, two tackles for loss, six passes defensed and a game-sealing interception.
Herbert finished with 227 yards passing with one touchdown throw for an 84.0 passer rating while the Los Angeles ground game was limited to just 53 yards rushing on 23 attempts, a paltry 2.3 yards per carry average. Not that that Cowboys ground game was appreciably better. It only averaged 3.7 yards per try, but ended with 96 rushing yards overall.
Dak Prescott finished for a season-high 272 yards and a 109.3 rating while scoring touchdowns with both his arm and his legs. CeeDee Lamb was the beneficiary on the receiving end, catching all seven of his targets for 117 yards, his second time this year topping the century mark.
Things couldn't have started much worse for the Cowboys. A three-and-out on their first possession was followed by a Chargers 26-yard punt return that set the home side up at the Dallas 42-yard line. Five plays later, Los Angeles was in the end zone, having actually crossed the goal line twice, the first called back because of a penalty. The second time worked, this a 1-yard pass to Keenan Allen, and with that, the Cowboys were quickly in the hole.
But Dallas responded, getting on the board with a play that hasn't been seen lately. On fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 18-yard line, Prescott kept the ball himself and scampered untouched up the middle to the end zone.
That marked his first rushing touchdown since doing so against the Bears on Oct. 30 of last season. It was also his longest career running score and the longest by a Cowboys quarterback since Jon Kitna found pay dirt on a 29-yard scamper back on Nov. 21, 2010 vs. Detroit.
Despite a number of penalties that only made the task harder, the Dallas defense settled in and continued to keep the Chargers from threatening. Of course, the Cowboys offense wasn't having much success either. The closest they came in the quarter was a drive deep into enemy territory that came to a screeching halt when Prescott was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Los Angeles 13-yard line.
However, just before the half, the Cowboys got back on track. Starting at their own 29-yard line with 59 seconds left on the clock, Prescott connected on passes of 23 yards to Lamb, 11 to Michael Gallup and 15 to Jake Ferguson, with another 15 tacked on for unnecessary roughness. That eventually led to a 32-yard field goal by Brandon Aubrey as time expired to give Dallas a 10-7 lead at the half.
The Cowboys defense was put to the test right out of the gate when the Chargers marched down to the Dallas 7-yard line. But on fourth-and-1, Herbert's pass to wideout Joshua Palmer in the end zone was broken up by cornerback DaRon Bland, giving Dallas possession.
But when the Cowboys then went three-and-out deep in their own end, the Chargers were set up at the Dallas 49-yard line to start their next series. With that, they were able to reach the 6-yard line before the Cowboys forced Los Angeles to settle for a game-tying 24-yard field goal.
And then lightning struck. On the first play of the final frame, facing a third-and-11 at their own 24, Prescott spun out of pressure and found releasing running back Tony Pollard, who then spun out of a tackle and raced 60 yards to the Chargers' 16-yard line. That marked the longest play from scrimmage for the Cowboys this season.
Four plays later, Dallas was in the end zone. From the 2-yard line, Prescott dropped a perfect floater into Brandin Cooks for the touchdown and another lead.
Unfortunately, a pair costly miscues would turn the advantage back over to Los Angeles. Jalen Tolbert, in an effort to recover what he thought was a punt first touched by the Cowboys, instead touched it first himself and the Chargers recovered the ball at the Dallas 20-yard line.
That was then followed by a pass interference call on Stephon Gilmore, which meant in two snaps of the ball the Chargers went from their own 30-yard line to the Dallas 5 without any real offensive production.
Although the defense held firm the first three tries, on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Herbert faked the handoff and rolled to his right before connecting with tight end Gerald Everett to tie the game up for the third time.
It wouldn't last for long. The Cowboys went on a lengthy 14-play drive and ate 4:52 off the clock to get down to the Chargers' 21-yard line. There they left it to Aubrey, who split the uprights from 39 yards out to swing the lead back to Dallas, 20-17.
With Los Angeles getting the ball at its own 25-yard line with 2:19 left on the clock and no timeouts, that left it to the Dallas defense to put the game away.
And that's exactly what they did. After a Micah Parsons sack gave the Chargers a third-and-10 at their own 25, the Cowboys came at Herbert again. This time, the pressure forced the quarterback into a Gilmore interception. Game over.
The Cowboys will now head into their bye week with a 4-2 record while having gained ground on the Eagles and 49ers, who both lost over the weekend. They'll next face the Los Angeles Rams at home on Oct. 29.