It's been a rollercoaster season for the Dallas Cowboys, to say the least.
It's been, in Andy Dalton's own words, "a crazy three weeks" personally for the veteran quarterback.
Sunday's 31-28 comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings had to feel rewarding for everyone involved.
For Dalton and the Cowboys, who snapped a four-game losing streak since Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending right ankle injury Oct. 11 against the Giants.
And for Dalton personally after missing the first two games this month: the Eagles game Nov. 1 due to a concussion, and the Steelers game Nov. 8 due to a stint on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Healthy and medically cleared, Dalton returned to practice this week and delivered his most complete performance in three starts this season: 22-of-32 for 203 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 104.0 rating.
"I'm very happy for the offense and Andy, him being away altogether," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. "It was a full week's work coming into this. I thought he did a heck of a job today. He kept us in clean plays. He really gave us the ability to stay with the run and the pass.
"I thought (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) called an excellent game just creating opportunities continuously for all of our perimeter. That's they way we want to play. We want to be able to spread the ball around to our five perimeter positions. I thought Kellen and his staff did an excellent job with the adjustments and so forth while going up against a stingy defense in Minnesota."
Dalton completed passes to eight different receivers, including a game-high six to Amari Cooper for 81 yards. The biggest play might have been his fourth-down conversion to Cooper at the two-minute warning to get the offense into red-zone territory.
Five plays later, after making Minnesota burn two of its timeouts, Dalton found a wide-open Dalton Schultz for the winning touchdown after several Cowboys skill players cleared out the left side, drawing the Vikings defense's attention.
"We were in a good position," Dalton said of the 11-play, 61-yard drive. "I think we had four minutes left, so we were able to get down there. Again, it came down to fourth down, and we were able to convert. Amari did a great job of getting open, and once we got down there it was third down. Great play call by Kellen. At that point, it comes down to execution, and that's exactly what we did. Great play design and got Dalton wide open in the end zone."
The Cowboys' defense then forced three straight incompletions by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to seal the victory.
As crisp as the passing game was for most of the game, the offense had arguably their most complete performance of the season. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard helped the rushing game compile a season-high 180 yards, and the offensive line gave Dalton consistent time in the pocket. He was sacked only once, and he blamed himself for holding the ball too long.
"It feels good. I missed the game of football a lot while I was out for the three weeks," Dalton said. "To have to sit at home and watch our guys play, that was tough. But I'm very thankful to be back out here, thankful to be healthy and help this team win."
During the four-game slide since Prescott's injury — with Dalton, rookie Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert all getting starts — the offense hadn't even reached the 20-point mark. The 31 points Sunday tied for the team's fourth-highest total this year.
At 3-7, Dalton and the Cowboys now sit just a half-game behind the Eagles (3-6-1) in the NFC East with six games left. Next up is a division matchup with Washington (3-7) on Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium.
"We knew when we came off the bye that everything was in front of us. It doesn't matter what we've done up to this point; it's all about these next seven games," Dalton said. "For us to get the win today and keep putting ourselves in position to make a run at this thing is big. Everything is in front of us and we understand that, so this next week on Thursday it'll be really important for us to come out and get a win."