There wasn’t much to feel thankful about in this one.
With pressure seemingly mounting and the division race as tight as ever, the Dallas Cowboys came into their annual holiday tradition needing a victory, especially after last Sunday’s loss at New England. They also wanted to prove that they could beat a team with a winning record, something they have yet to do this season.
They still haven’t. In fact, this one was even more disappointing, as the home team fell to the now 9-3 Buffalo Bills, 26-15, in front of a sold-out crowd and a national television audience.
Hampered by the same poor execution and questionable decisions that have plagued the team all year, the Cowboys were better on the stat sheet than the Bills, but couldn’t come out on top where it counted, on the scoreboard.
Dallas finished the game with 426 total yards of offense to Buffalo’s 356 and converted 54 percent of its first downs (7-of-13). The team also totaled 103 rushing yards, led by Ezekiel Elliott’s 71, although 30 of those came on one run, his longest of the season.
Similarly, while the stat sheet didn’t look bad, Dak Prescott wasn’t sharp. He finished with 355 yards after completing 65.3 percent of his attempts for a 91.8 passer rating. But he also threw an interception, fumbled once and was sacked four times.
In all, he was outplayed by his counterpart on the Bills. Josh Allen completed 79.2 percent of his passes (19-of-24) for a 120.7 passer rating, even though he threw for just 231 yards. His primary target was former Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley, who got revenge against his former team with six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Early on, everything was going right for the Cowboys. Before some could even arouse from their turkey-induced nap, Dallas was on the board, taking the opening kickoff and immediately marching down the field to the end zone. Prescott completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive, including a perfectly executed screen to Elliott that picked up 20 yards.
Getting the scoring honors, though, was the venerable Jason Witten. On second-and-goal from the Buffalo 8-yard line, the tight end slipped away from the scrum to catch Prescott’s offering and give Dallas the early lead, 7-0. The touchdown catch was the 71st of Witten’s career, tying him with Bob Hayes for the second most in Cowboys history.
Of course, this was just what the doctor ordered after much handwringing about the team’s slow starts this year. In their previous three games, the Cowboys had been outscored, 28-3, in the first quarter. Not so in this one.
Unfortunately, the good vibes wouldn’t last long.
Just as the Cowboys have often been able to erase early deficits in previous games, so too did the Bills in this one. On Buffalo’s first possession of the second quarter, the visitors went on an eight play, 85-yard drive that saw running back Devin Singletary break loose for a 26-yard gain and Allen complete passes of 14, 9 and 25 yards. The last of those was a pass to Beasley over the middle, the diminutive wideout providing the Bills’ first touchdown of the day.
Things, however, went from bad to worse for the Cowboys, thanks to a pair of Dallas turnovers. The Cowboys came away unscathed after the first mistake, which was a screen attempt from Prescott that was instead intercepted by Buffalo defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at the Dallas 29-yard line. The Cowboys defense held its ground, and then Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka’s field-goal attempt going wide right, keeping the game tied.
Dallas couldn’t overcome the second giveaway, though. This time, Prescott had the ball stripped away as he was attempting to pass, the fumble recovered by defensive end Trent Murphy at the Cowboys’ 39-yard line.
Five plays later, Buffalo was back in the end zone. Just before the two-minute warning, the Bills went for it on fourth-and-1, Allen picking up a fumbled snap and bullying his way across the line to move the chains. That was then followed after the time out with the visitors running a reverse that saw receiver John Brown pull up and throw a 28-yard pass to a wide-open Singletary for the score.
Hauschka missed the extra point, but the Cowboys struggles continued. Prescott nearly had another throw picked off, only to be saved by a Buffalo penalty, but then Brett Maher had his own field-goal attempt tipped, the 35-yard try as time expired in the second quarter sailing wide left. With that, Buffalo had the lead at halftime, 13-7.
Considering the Cowboys were 0-5 this season when trailing at the break, the outcome already appeared ominous. And when Buffalo immediately opened the third quarter with another field goal, this time from 41 yards out, Dallas seemed in trouble.
They were. Particularly so when the Cowboys again only hurt themselves. The team was able to come back and work its way down to the Bill’s 25-yard line, but a sack and false start penalty set up a third-and-19. That eventually led to Maher coming out for a 47-yard field goal try, the kicker this time pushing his attempt right for his second miss of the game.
When Buffalo then responded with a seven-play, 63-yard drive to tack on another touchdown, the day was all but done for Dallas. Allen went 4-for-4 on his pass attempts during the series for 41 yards before then rushing the final 15 yards himself to reach the end zone.
Although if it wasn’t done then, the outcome was certain soon enough. The Cowboys worked their way deep into enemy territory on each of their next two possessions, but came away empty on both tries, failing to convert a fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 6-yard line and then a fourth-and-4 at the Bills’ 22.
In between those two failures, the visitors just kept up the pressure, adding yet another field goal, this one from 26 yards to extend their lead to a comfortable 26-7 advantage.
The Cowboys did manage to tack on one more score, Ventell Bryant’s first career NFL catch also his first career touchdown, and Witten hauled in the two-point conversion, but it was too little, too late.
With the loss, the Cowboys saw their record drop to an even 6-6 on the season. They’ll now have to wait until Sunday to see if they remain alone atop the NFC East. The rival Philadelphia Eagles, currently second in the division at 5-6, face off against the lowly 2-9 Miami Dolphins, although Dallas does hold the tiebreaker. Regardless, the Cowboys will have to shake off this two-game losing streak and get ready for a tough matchup at Chicago next Thursday night.