It wasn’t always pretty, but when they needed it most, the Cowboys looked simply beautiful.
With the odds seemingly against them, and momentum clearly so, Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense executed the two-minute offense to perfection to set Brett Maher up with the game-winning field goal as time expired, giving the Cowboys a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
That final series capped an effort that saw Prescott maintain his efficiency. He completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 208 yards without a touchdown throw, but he ran for one, and perhaps most importantly, did not turn the ball over once.
Instead, he left the heavy lifting to Ezekiel Elliott. The running back rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown while also hauling in seven passes for 79 more. He provided 201 of the Cowboys’ 323 total yards of offense.
That was less than the 354 yards that Atlanta mustered, but a Dallas defense led by DeMarcus Lawrence and Leighton Vander Esch held a high-powered Falcons offense that was averaging more than 30 points per game at home, to only 19.
To go along with their impressive finish, the Cowboys got off to a strong start in the game. The defense forced Atlanta to punt with Dallas’ offense then taking over at its own 12-yard. From there, the team methodically worked its way down the field, going 85 yards in 15 plays and 7:23 or clock.
Elliott was the workhorse as he touched the ball six times for 62 yards, picking up 28 yards rushing on five carries with a 34-yard screen pass thrown in. But they couldn’t get the touchdown they needed. Even worse, they should have.
On first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Prescott threw to Beasley to the right side, but the receiver dropped the ball in the end zone, the pass incomplete. A 1-yard Elliott run and incompletion later and Dallas had to settle for a chip-shot 21-yard field goal from Maher.
That, unfortunately, would be the only real threat the Cowboys would muster in the first half as they failed to cross midfield on their next three series. Meanwhile, the Dallas defense was able to limit the Falcons to 24 yards rushing in the first half, but Ryan started to find his rhythm in totaling 136 passing yards through two quarters.
Atlanta wasn’t able to cross the goal line, either, but field goals from 41- and 45-yards by Matt Bryant gave the home side a narrow 6-3 lead at the break.
Just like they did to open the game, the Cowboys then found their offense again with their first possession of the third quarter. Starting at its own 25-yard line, the team continued to ride Elliott, this time the running back contributing 30 of Dallas’ 43 yards on the drive to get into field goal range. Maher then split the uprights from 50 yards out to tie the game, 6-6.
And although the Falcons would respond with yet another field goal to move back ahead, the Cowboys then took what at the time looked like control of the game within a span of just 41 seconds in the fourth quarter.
It started with a Prescott touchdown run that capped off a 14-play, 75-yard drive on the Cowboys’ next possession. Much hand-wringing ensued, however, when Maher pulled the extra point to the left, the Dallas lead only three, 12-9.
But on the third play of the Falcons’ next series, Ryan’s pass to rookie Calvin Ridley went off the receiver’s hands and into the waiting arms of Vander Esch. The rookie linebacker then returned the interception to the Atlanta 31-yard line. Two plays later, Elliott broke free up the middle, bursting the final 23 yards for the score and a 19-9 lead.
The Falcons came right back with a lengthy drive of their own, reaching the Dallas 2-yard line, where the defense then held, forcing a chip-shot field goal. But the Cowboys were unable do anything on offense, and while Chris Jones’ punt appeared to have Atlanta stuck on their own 16-yard penalty, a costly late-hit penalty on Lance Lenoir tacked on 15 yards.
With the momentum now firmly behind the Falcons, it didn’t take long for Ryan to guide his team down the field, throwing four passes for 60 yards, the last of which was a 34-yard bomb down the right sideline to Julio Jones to tie the game, 19-19.
The Cowboys still had 1:52 on the clock with which to work, though, and it didn’t take long for them to move from their own 25-yard line past midfield. Then on second-and-10 at the Falcons’ 49-yard line, Prescott connected with Beasley for a huge 19-yard gain.
Already in field-goal range, the Cowboys were now content to run down the clock to set Maher up for his last-minute heroics. On he came for a 42-yard try, his kick just sneaking past the right upright as time expired to give Dallas the 22-19 win.
With the victory, the Cowboys evened their record for the year at 5-5, a 3:30 p.m. showdown with first-place Washington now coming up in just four days in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.