Having yet to beat a team this season with a winning record, including last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, there was a feeling that the Dallas Cowboys needed to come in and show their true strength over a three-win Detroit Lions squad.
And while they didn't exactly dominate the home team, especially defensively, the Cowboys once again did take care of business against a sub-.500 squad, defeating the Lions, 35-27. This marked the sixth time this season they've topped 30 points, all wins.
The Cowboys' offensive engine was revving in this one. With Dak Prescott the driving force, the unit racked up 509 yards of total offense, averaging 7.2 yards per play and converting 62 percent of their third-down chances. For his part, the quarterback finished with 444 yards passing, the third-highest total of his career, with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 116.6 passer rating.
Prescott connected with seven different targets, none more so than Michael Gallup, who hauled in nine passes for 148 yards, both game highs. He was joined by Randall Cobb, the veteran wideout topping the century mark for the second straight game, totaling 115 receiving yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Dallas defense did surrender 312 total yards to the Detroit offense, including 121 on the ground, and failed to record a turnover. And Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel also passed for 209 passing yards with two scores and no turnovers for a 109.3 rating, and ran for another 51 yards. But in the end, it wasn't enough.
Of course, things didn't look so great early on. The Lions came into this affair averaging 7.9 points per game in the first quarter, which ranked third in the NFL, although most of that work was done by injured quarterback Matthew Stafford. Meanwhile, the Cowboys were tied for 17th, averaging 4.1 points.
And sure enough, both of those trends continued as Dallas again got off to a shaky start, which Detroit used to jump out to an early lead in the first frame. The initial trouble started on the Cowboys' very first offensive play of the game as Ezekiel Elliott took a handoff up the middle and promptly fumbled, the ball recovered by the home side on the Dallas 28-yard line.
Five players later and the Lions were in the end zone. Former Cowboys' seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough, who was making his NFL debut, pounded his way in from 5 yards out to give Detroit the early lead.
Before the end of the quarter, though, the Cowboys would shake off their doldrums, getting on the board and picking up points on four of their next five possessions in the half.
The first of those came after a lengthy 14-play, 74-yard series that ate up 7:31 of clock. But the drive stalled inside the red zone and when Prescott was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third-and-goal, out came Brett Maher for a 30-yard field goal, 7-3.
No matter, as despite not reaching pay dirt on this try, they were soon enough finding their way into the end zone on a regular basis.
With the clock ticking over into the second quarter, Prescott had three passes of at least 14 yards during the team's fourth possession of the game with two going for more than 20. The last of those was a dump-off to Tony Pollard, who cut across the middle and then raced down the right sideline 21 yards to give Dallas the score.
Ezekiel Elliot then got the honors later in the quarter. After Detroit took advantage of a 32-yard punt return to set up a short field for their next touchdown, the Cowboys responded with a touchdown of their own. While Elliott bulled his way in from the 1-yard line to get the points, the highlight of the drive was Gallup's falling, bobbling catch on the right sideline for 41 yards to the Detroit 9.
They weren't done. Getting the ball one more time before the half, the Cowboys were able to add to their total, thanks largely to Cobb. The receiver hauled in a pass for a big 49-yard gain, and then two plays later caught a 19-yarder over the middle, holding on as he reached the end zone despite taking a huge hit. With that, Dallas went into the break with what seemed a comfortable 24-14 lead.
Unfortunately, the second half didn't get off to the kind of start for which the Cowboys had hoped. The defense was unable to slow down Driskel and company as the Lions marched 75 yards in 10 plays, which included a 39-yard completion from the quarterback to Marvin Hall on a third-and-14. Two plays later, Driskel found Marvin Jones in the end zone to narrow the score to 24-21.
But Dallas responded, extending the point streak to six of its last seven possessions and four straight. The team quickly added a 34-yard field from Maher and then came back with an 11-play, 84-yard drive that saw Prescott complete 7 of 9 pass attempts, the last of which was a screen to Elliott on the right side, the running back making nifty grab and then darting 17 yards to the goal line.
With injuries hampering the Cowboys' defensive effort, though, Detroit was able to keep the game interesting. After a 29-yard kickoff return, Driskel threw passes of 23, 21 and 25 yards to get his team in the end zone. Somewhat surprisingly, the Lions decided to go for the two-point conversion, only to have Dallas stuff the attempt and keep the lead at eight, 35-27.
That, however, would be the Lions' last hurrah, Detroit's effort coming up short. With the win, Dallas improved to 6-4 on the season and maintained at least a tie for first place in the NFC East with the Eagles scheduled to play later in the day against the Patriots. But the Cowboys will now face teams with winning records in each of their next two games, an obstacle they have yet to overcome this year.
Meaning they'd better keep that offensive engine revving.