After struggling for three quarters, the Dallas Cowboys offense finally found some rhythm in the fourth frame – consider it too little, too late.
Facing a playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals squad, Dak Prescott and company struggled to get into a groove offensively for much of the game on their way to a disappointing 25-22 loss, a defeat that has significant postseason implications. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams both winning their games earlier in the day, the Cowboys, who have already captured the NFC East, dropped to fourth in the conference standings.
Although he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 330-yard passing performance against Washington last Sunday, Prescott had just 150 passing yards through the first three quarters of this one and finished with 226 overall. He would, however, throw three touchdown passes to earn a 105.8 passer rating. In doing so, he set a new career high for scoring throws in a season with 32.
Remarkably, Prescott was also the Cowboys' leading rusher, which is never a good sign, totaling 20 yards on the ground. And while Tony Pollard would surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the season – he and Ezekiel Elliott becoming the first running back tandem to do so for the Cowboys since Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker turned the trick back in 1986 – the current combo rushed for 25 yards combined in this one.
On the other side of the ball, the Dallas defense had trouble containing Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, a former star for nearby Allen High School. His passing statistics were similar as he finished with a 105.5 rating, 263 yards through the air and two touchdown tosses. But the speedster ran for 44 yards as well, helping a ground game that totaled 127 rushing yards. The Cowboys would also fail to record a takeaway for only the fourth time this season.
The Cardinals got on the board first, coming away with a 24-yard field goal after a nine-play, 78-yard drive. Dallas might have caught a break, though, when Arizona wideout A.J. Green got behind the defense for a 42-yard completion. But because the pass was slightly underthrown, cornerback Trevon Diggs was able to make the tackle at the 3-yard line and avoid giving up a touchdown.
After a holding penalty on left tackle Tyron Smith helped stall the Cowboys' first possession, a false-start flag on center Tyler Biadasz produced the same result on Dallas' second series. Even worse, Greg Zuerlein then pulled his 43-yard field goal attempt wide left, his sixth miss of the season.
The offensive line struggles continued as a holding call on La'el Collins negated a possible first-down run by Pollard and set up a third-and-11 instead. A Prescott sack on the next snap forced the punt.
A spectacular play by special teams ace C.J. Goodwin pinned the Cardinals at their own 9-yard line, but the visitors were able to march the needed 91 yards to the end zone. Dallas appeared to have them stopped on fourth-and-2 at the Arizona 36-yard line, but a fake punt picked up 23 yards for the first down.
A third down pass interference penalty by the Cowboy moved the chains again, but it was another fourth down that provided the points. The Cardinals elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with Murray rolling left and then flipping a pass to Antoine Wesley for a 10-0 lead.
But the Cowboys responded. Helped by a pair of pass interference calls on Arizona, one of which wiped out a would-be interception, the Cowboys traveled 77 yards in 11 plays to pay dirt. Prescott connected on five passes for 55 yards, the last of which was a 21-yard throw to Michael Gallup who fell inside the left pylon for the team's first touchdown of the day.
Unfortunately, the points came with a price as Gallup suffered a left knee injury on the play and was forced to leave the game.
With 1:25 on the clock and three timeouts remaining, that was enough time for Murray to get his side back in field goal range. Out came Matt Prater for a 53-yard try, the kicker splitting the uprights as time expired to give Arizona a 13-7 advantage at the break.
The Cardinals picked up right where they left off when the second half got underway. Starting at his own 25-yard line, Murray connected on an 11-yard pass to running back Chase Edmonds and then two plays later found Christian Kirk for a 43-yard gain. The drive was then capped with a 19-yarder to a leaping Wesley for the receiver's second touchdown of the game, Arizona failing on its two-point conversion attempt.
But three more points were added to the Cardinals' tally on their next possession. Dallas nearly got off the field unscathed when Jayron Kearse juggled a potential interception in the end zone, unable to corral the prize. That allowed Prater to come out for a chip-shot 26-yard field goal to increase the visitor's lead to 22-7.
Perhaps more importantly, the Cowboys had to burn a timeout prior to the field goal after both Murray and Prater came on the field, confusing the Dallas defensive unit.
The Cowboys finally caught a break just before the third quarter ended. With Arizona forced to punt from its own end zone, CeeDee Lamb took the return 17 yards to the Cardinals 31-yard line. As the clock ticked over into the final frame, Dallas then faced a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 10-yard line.
There Prescott kept it himself, diving forward for the fresh set of downs, and three plays later the Cowboys were across the goal line. This time the quarterback found receiver Cedrick Wilson streaking in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, the deficit now narrowed to eight.
But just when Dallas seemed to have all of the momentum, a 26-yard strike to Lamb jumpstarting the team's next series, Prescott had the ball knocked loose on a scramble. The fumble was recovered by Arizona linebacker Dennis Gardeck at the Cowboys 44-yard line, and while the Dallas defense held, Prater was good on his 38-yard field goal to push the score back to a two-possession lead.
The Cowboys weren't done yet, though, as Dallas came right back with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that took only 3:50 off the clock. Amari Cooper got the scoring honors, hauling in a 4-yard pass from Prescott, but Wilson did the bulk of the work getting there.
The wideout caught three passes during the drive for 15 yards but also threw a 31-yard pass to Pollard, his third completion of the season. And for good measure, Wilson then caught the two-point conversion as well to pull Dallas to within only three points, 25-22, with just under five minutes remaining.
Desperately needing a stop, a tired Dallas defense nearly did just that. On first-and-10 at the Cowboys 35-yard line, Edmonds appeared to have fumbled the ball. But he was ruled down on the field and since Dallas was out of timeouts – again having had to use one prior to the earlier field goal – head coach Mike McCarthy couldn't challenge the call.
When Murray then ran around the left end for the first down, the game was over, the Cowboys' four-game winning streak coming to an end.