2016 Season

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Green Bay 34, Dallas 31: Yet Another Heartbreak

Part of the storyline following the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs will focus on the future in Dallas.

Hopefully, Dak Prescott can take this team to places it has not seen in more than twenty years. It will have to happen next year, though, thanks to a 34-31 loss to the Packers on Sunday.

It does look bright—at least on the offensive side of the ball. Dak Prescott showed he could handle the pressure in a playoff game, making only a few mistakes and guiding the team to what could have been a comeback for the ages. He used all of his weapons, with Zeke Elliott coming through with 125 rushing yards and Dez Bryant catching nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

Here’s the problem—we remember Roger Staubach because he was Captain Comeback. That title means he won his comebacks. He also won Super Bowls. We remember Troy Aikman for the same reason; he was a winner.

We do not remember Craig Morton fondly, for he could not lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title in the two years he was at the helm. We do not remember Danny White fondly because the team lost three consecutive conference championship games under his leadership. Perhaps only one of those losses was White’s fault, but that is his legacy.

Prescott has plenty of time to develop his own legacy, but he is going to have to help elevate the Cowboys to a level higher than they have seen in more than twenty years.

Between 1970 and 1995, the Cowboys went 14-3 in divisional playoff games. Conference title games were a different matter, but the team knew how to win in the playoffs.

Since the 1996 season, the Cowboys have gone 0-5 in the divisional round. Following several of those seasons (1996, 2007, 2009, 2014), the Cowboys were considered to be favorites to reach the Super Bowl the next year. But Dallas did not even reach the playoffs in 1997, 2008, 2010, or 2015.

It looked as if the Cowboys were going to change history on Sunday thanks to a frantic fourth-quarter comeback.

The team needed that comeback because of a first-half debacle. Aaron Rodgers was on fire and so confident that he did not even buckle his chinstrap on one play. A 3-0 Dallas lead evaporated into a 21-3 deficit, and the game felt much like the 34-3 divisional-round loss at Minnesota in 2009.

But Prescott led the team to ten points near the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 21-13.

Green Bay received the ball to begin the third quarter, and the Dallas defense once again had no idea how to stop him. When Rodgers hit Jared Cook for a three-yard touchdown pass, the Packers led 28-13, and Dallas was reeling.

But Prescott did not fold. He led Dallas to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28.

The Dallas defense needed a stop and appeared to catch a break when Jeff Heath picked off a pass deep in Dallas territory with less than two minutes remaining. But Anthony Brown was called for defensive pass interference, and the Packers were within field goal range.

DeMarcus Lawrence then made a play reminiscent of Larry Cole’s tackle of John Riggins in the famous 1979 game. Lawrence blasted through the left side of the Packers’ line and stuffed Ty Montgomery for a five-yard loss.  The play forced the Packers to try a 56-yard field goal.

Which Mason Crosby made. We would see it again.

Prescott again drove the Cowboys back downfield. In two plays, he moved the Cowboys from their own 25 to the Green Bay 40.

Dallas chose to spike the ball with 47 seconds remaining, which turned out to be a mistake. A seven-yard pass to Cole Beasley set up a 3rd and 3, but Prescott’s pass on third down was deflected. The Cowboys had to settle for a 52-yard field goal to tie the game.

The turn of events gave Rodgers 35 seconds to drive the Packers into field-goal range.

On a play that will live in infamy, Rodgers hit Cook on a 36-yard pass play to move the ball to the Dallas 32, allowing the Packers to try a game-winning field goal.

Which Mason Crosby made.

***

I’m thinking that Jason Garrett’s legacy might end up being his inability to manage the clock.

From PFT:

Among the plays that helped set the stage for the Packers to beat the Cowboys with a last-second field goal was a spike by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on the team’s final drive.

A pass to Jason Witten gave the Cowboys a first down in Green Bay territory with 1:07 left to play and Prescott spiked the ball to stop the clock at that point. The Cowboys, trailing by three at the time, would move seven yards closer before a third down incompletion set up Dan Bailey’s field goal with 35 seconds left to play.

After the game, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was asked about the decision to spike the ball there rather than continue running plays and time off of the clock.

“Just felt like that was the right thing to do at the time,” Garrett said. “Keeping the timeout to be able to kick a field goal is really important if you can do it. So in those situations when you make a first down, we believe you clock it there so you keep the timeout in your back pocket. Obviously in that situation we’re trying to go down and score a touchdown so you want to keep as much time on the clock as you can. If the clock is going and you need a timeout to get yourself in field goal range you have that one still available to you.”

Garrett never needed that timeout, which obviously would have been in his pocket with or without a spike on the first down play, and he wasted a down that could have been used to try to score a touchdown. The Packers could have stopped the clock, but that would have left them without timeouts to use on their own final drive and increased the likelihood that Bailey’s kick sends the game to overtime.

No one knows how things would have played out otherwise, but there’s no arguing with Aaron Rodgers‘ assessment that the Cowboys left him with “a little too much time on the clock.”

 

 

Dallas 42, Detroit 21: Looking Elite

Several versions of the Cowboys during the 2000s had a habit of falling apart during the month of December.

Anyone with a memory of that decade will remember the 8-4 start in 2006 that disintegrated into a 9-7 finish.

The 8-4 start in 2008? Yep, another 9-7 finish.

A good way to end the 2016 regular season, even if it’s row 22 of section 416.

In between those seasons was 2007, when the Cowboys raced to 12-1 start. However, the Cowboys struggled against the Detroit Lions and wound up losing two of the final three to end the season with a 13-3 record and little momentum. Despite having the best record in the NFC, Dallas lost to the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.

So when this year’s version of the Cowboys lost to the Giants on December 11, many of us started to worry. The Cowboys’ performance against Tampa Bay did not resolve our concerns, given that the Cowboys blew a 17-6 halftime lead.

Thankfully, the Cowboys did not need to do more than that to win the NFC East, because Philadelphia’s 24-19 win over the Giants ensured that Dallas would have the #1 seed in the NFC.

Dallas could have rested its starters or not taken Monday’s game against the Lions seriously. Of the two teams, Detroit actually had more to play for, given that a win over the Cowboys would have guaranteed a playoff spot for the Lions.

Instead, Dallas looked like the best team in the NFC. Despite giving up 21 first-half points, along with too many big plays by a running back named Zack Zenner, the Cowboys looked sharp on offense and turned up the intensity in what turned out to be a 42-21 romp of the Lions.

Dak Prescott was nearly flawless all night. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 148.3 (along with a QBR rating of 94.4). Prescott will not beat Tony Romo’s 113.2 passer rating from 2014, but the rookie QB’s rating of 105.6 is better than any other rating in team history, including Roger Staubach’s 104.8 rating during the team’s first Super Bowl season in 1971.

Ezekiel Elliott only managed 80 yards, but he still managed two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder in the first quarter.

The receiver named Dez Bryant? He caught two touchdown passes and threw for a third.

The Dallas defense? Despite giving up some longer runs to Zenner in the first half, the defense forced two turnovers and sacked Matthew Stafford four times.

The result? The Cowboys played like the best team in the NFC. They close their season at Philadelphia on Sunday before hosting the division round two weeks later.

***

It’s my blog. Here we are (way up there).

 

***

In 1971, the starting defensive line consisted of Bob Lilly, Jethro Pugh, George Andrie, and Larry Cole. I didn’t have to look that up.

In 1977, the starting defensive line consisted of Pugh, Randy White, Harvey Martin, and Too Tall Jones. Nope, didn’t have to look that up either.

In 1992, the starting defensive line consisted of Charles Haley, Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas, and Tony Tolbert. Didn’t have to…you get the picture.

Against the Lions on Monday night, the starting defensive line consisted of Benson Mayowa, Terrell McClain, Maliek Collins, and Jack Crawford, with David Irving and Randy Gregory seeing quite a bit of action.

I was at the game but still had to look that up.

Dallas 26, Tampa Bay 20: More Drama Than Necessary

The Dallas Cowboys are not going to bench Dak Prescott for Tony Romo. We’re talking about replacing a QB who has won 12 games this season with a QB who has not completed a pass in a regular-season game since throwing three interceptions on Thanksgiving Day in 2015.

We’re also talking about a potential franchise quarterback vs. the previous franchise quarterback who won a grand total of two playoff games in more than nine years as a starter.

Ekekiel Elliott scored his 13th rushing TD against Tampa Bay and broke the Cowboys team record for rushing TDs by a rookie.

So with the Cowboys holding an NFL-best 11-2 record and the team closing in on a division title, the drama has centered on whether the team should insert Tony Romo into the lineup.

You are not welcome here, Mr. or Ms. Unnecessary Drama.

Against Tampa Bay on Sunday night, rookie Dak Prescott nearly set an NFL mark in completion percentage in a single game by hitting 32 of 36 pass attempts. Only Rich Gannon in 2002 completed a higher percentage of passes on 36 or more attempts.

Parts of Sunday’s game were indeed frustrating, but not because of Prescott. Dallas should have had a chance for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, but a holding call on Vince Mayle effectively derailed the drive, and Dan Bailey missed a 56-yard attempt.

Most of the rest of the first half went the Cowboys’ way, and the team held a 17-3 in the second quarter thanks to touchdowns by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

But just as the Cowboys had trouble putting the Giants away last week, Dallas nearly self-destructed against Tampa Bay.

That 17-3 lead? It evaporated into a 20-17 deficit. The defense had chances but could not contain the Buccaneer offense. And the automatic one, Bailey, missed another attempt from beyond 50 yards.

The rest of the game was a nail-biter, as Dallas could only manage to kick three field goals. The defense followed one of those field goals with an interception by Jeff Heath, setting up yet another field goal.

The magic really appeared to wear off when Jason Witten fumbled with 8:45 remaining in the 4th quarter. But Tampa Bay could do nothing on the ensuing drive, resulting in another punt.

Following another punt by Tampa Bay, Dallas drove 81 yards in 8 plays, with the Cowboys relying heavily on Elliott. Although the Cowboys could not score a touchdown, the team kicked another field goal to take a 26-20 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Tampa Bay had two more drives but could not move the ball. On the Buccaneers’ final drive, Orlando Scandrick picked off Jameis Winston to end the game.

At 12-2, Dallas will clinch the NFC East and home-field advantage with a win in either of the final two regular season games against the Lions and Eagles.

 

 

Dallas 27, Baltimore 17: Just More Magic

The first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Baltimore gave Cowboys fans reason to think the magic of 2016 wouldn’t carry the team to a ninth straight win.

Dak Prescott looked off. Zeke Elliott couldn’t get anything going on the ground. The Dallas defense was giving up chunks of yards.

But with the Cowboys trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the magic reemerged. The team faced a 1st-and-30 from its own 28 thanks to two holding penalties, but the team gained it all back in chunks.

A 12-yard run by Prescott.

A 12-yard pass to Dez Bryant.

A 41-yard pass to Brice Butler.

Cole Beasley just keeps coming up huge in 2016.

Cole Beasley just keeps coming up huge in 2016.

And three plays later, a touchdown pass to Cole Beasley.

The teams exchanged field goals to end the first half tied 10-10, but the momentum had swung in the Cowboys favor.

Dallas had three drives in the second half of 92 yards on 10 plays, 88 yards on 13 plays, and 72 yards on 13 plays. Time of possession on those three drives?

Time of possession on those three drives? 20:09 out of 30 minutes.

During those long drives, the Cowboys faced only five first downs. They converted four of them. Dallas nearly converted the fifth, but the Ravens stopped Elliott a yard short.

Dallas kicked a field goal on the next play to ice the game.

This is the first nine-game winning streak in franchise history. Elliott set the team mark with for rushing yards by a rookie with 1102 yards. Prescott currently has a passer rating of 108.2, which is better than all but one of Tony Romo’s season.

The Cowboys have a two-game lead over the New York Giants and face the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day.

Dallas 35, Pittsburgh 30: Far Out

The Dallas Cowboys faced a so-called trap game right in the face when they traveled to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Steelers seem to have a knack for winning at home, and the Cowboys have had trouble winning big games on the road such as this one.

Recall the last time Dallas played at Heinz Field in 2008.  The team was 8-4 and riding a three-game winning streak. Dallas managed a 13-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Steelers quickly erased the lead in the fourth quarter, followed by play where Deshea Townsend intercepted a Tony Romo pass and returned it for a touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 20-13 win.

Dallas managed only one more win that year and missed the playoffs.

That was, of course, then. Townsend has not played in the NFL since 2010, and Tony Romo was not going to be throwing the passes against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the first quarter to take a lead but inexplicably went for two after both touchdowns. The Steelers led 12-3 late in the first.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott executed a screen pass on 2nd-and-18 with just seconds left in the first quarter. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott grabbed the screen, followed his blockers, and raced 83 yards for a touchdown.

Elliott...off...to...the...races....

Elliott…off…to…the…races….

That’s just what these rookies do—make the plays they need to make.

The teams exchanged field goals in the second and third quarters. Dallas finally took a 23-18 lead late in the third when Prescott found Dez Bryant open on a deep touchdown pass down the left sideline.

The teams relied on field goals no more. Pittsburgh scored a touchdown to take a one-point lead with 7:51 left, giving Dallas plenty of time to drive for a go-ahead field goal.

It appeared that the Cowboys were in a position to run down the clock to kick the game-winning field goal. Dallas managed a first down at the Pittsburgh 14 just before the two-minute warning. It looked as if the Steelers might have just allowed Elliott to run for a 14-yard touchdown, and the strategy actually could have worked. When Dallas missed the two-point conversion, the Cowboys had a 29-24 lead.

The Dallas defense had no answers. Pittsburgh moved the ball 75 yards on 5 plays, ending when Ben Roethlisberger faked a spike and hit Antonio Bryant on a 15-yard touchdown pass.

(Somewhere in the United States, a middle-aged blogger was yelling about Jason Garrett’s inability to manage the clock. The rant did not last long.)

Dallas had 42 seconds. The team had a rookie quarterback who needed to lead the team into field-goal range.

He did just that. Prescott hit three of four passes to move the ball into Pittsburgh territory. Although referees missed a facemask call on Cole Beasley, the refs did catch a facemask on Jason Witten. The penalty moved the ball to the Steeler 32.

Win the game on a Dan Bailey field goal? That would have been fine, but an even better result would have involved Elliott racing up the middle for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Bingo. Far out.

Dallas is now 8-1 and has tied the longest winning streak (eight games) in franchise history.

The Cowboys will attempt to win their first game in franchise history next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

***

Elliott’s touchdown reception in the first quarter was the fourth longest TD reception by a running back in team history. Here are the top five:

91 yards, Tony Dorsett, vs. Baltimore Colts (1978)

85 yards, Amos Marsh, vs. L.A. Rams (1962)

84 yards, Herschel Walker, vs. Philadelphia (1986)

83 yards, Ezekiel Elliott, vs. Pittsburgh (2016)

80 yards, Ron Springs, vs. Tampa Bay (1983)

Dallas 35, Cleveland 10: Dominant When Expected, for a Change

The Dallas Cowboys have defeated opponents by at least 25 points in 72 games in franchise history, including the 35-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

It used to be a more common occurrence that the Cowboys would enter a game expected to win, and Dallas would put the game away early. No stress for fans—we could just enjoy watching.

Jason Witten caught eight passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland.

Jason Witten caught eight passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland.

The first 59 games when the Cowboys won by at least 25 points occurred between 1960 and 1999. Since 2000, however, Dallas has won by this margin only 14 times. More distressing in recent years is that during the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys have won by that margin only five times: twice in 2011, twice in 2014, and now once in 2016.

(By comparison, New England has won games by 25 or more points 42 times since Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season. Since 2014 alone, the Patriots have won by 25 or more a total of eight times.)

So we haven’t been the Patriots. Against the Browns on Sunday, though, Dallas put away Cleveland in a manner more reminiscent of the way New England tends to win games.

Cleveland took an early 3-0 lead, but it did not last. Dak Prescott drove the Cowboys on a touchdown drive the ended when he hit Jason Witten on a nice-looking 26-yard touchdown pass. Dallas never trailed after that.

Dallas scored two touchdowns following two long drives in the second quarter. A touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott and a touchdown pass from Prescott to Cole Beasley gave the Cowboys a dominant 21-3 lead.

Though the defense gave up some yards against the Browns, Cleveland could not keep up with Dallas in terms of points. The Browns did score near the end of the first half, so the Cowboys faced a minor test to see if they could put the game away early.

The Cowboys did just that. On the first play of the second half, Prescott hit Witten on a 35-yard pass play to move the ball into Cleveland territory. Elliott scored seven plays later when he ran around right end and dove with the ball over the marker.

The Dallas defense did not force a turnover, but the Dallas offense was so efficient that the team did not need turnovers. Consider these touchdown drives:

1st quarter: 10 plays, 75 yards, 5:53

2nd quarter: 9 plays, 69 yards, 4:48

2nd quarter: 9 plays, 67 yards, 4:39

3rd quarter: 7 plays, 75 yards, 3:30

3rd quarter: 9 plays, 64 yards, 5:30

The Cowboys are 7-1 for the first time since 2007, when they finished 13-3.  Dallas travels to Pittsburgh next week to face the Steelers.

Dallas 29, Philadelphia 23 (OT): Without Precedent

For a franchise that has had so many great starting quarterbacks, it would seem difficult for a rookie to accomplish more than all of them to open his career. Dak Prescott is doing just that.

  • It took Don Meredith three seasons before he started as many games as Dak Prescott, and Meredith’s starting record as a starter was a losing one until several years into his career.
  • Craig Morton was a good backup and a good starter, but his record as a starter during the first four years of his career was 3-2.
  • Roger Staubach famously had a 10-0 record in 1971, but he was also 29 years old at the time. During his first two seasons, Staubach went 3-1 in his few opportunities to start.

    Not quite Mount Rushmore. Close, though.

    Not quite Mount Rushmore. Close, though.

  • Danny White’s first year as a starter was good, but his 1980 Cowboys team was 7-3 after 10 games. Moreover, White was hardly new in 1980, given that he had played in the NFL for four years following one season in the World Football League.
  • Troy Aikman’s career infamously began horribly, as he compiled an 0-11 record as a starter in 1989.
  • Tony Romo’s first year as a starter had a somewhat magical feel to it, similar to how Dak Prescott’s rookie season seems to have felt. But though Romo was a feel-good story that season, his  record as a starter was only 6-4.

In seven starts in 2016, Prescott is now 6-1. His touchdown pass to Jason Witten in overtime gave the Cowboys their sixth consecutive win.

Prescott wasn’t even very good against the Eagles. He threw a poor interception in the end zone late in the second quarter. He missed other passes and had trouble avoiding the Philadelphia rush.

But when the game was truly on the line in overtime, Prescott was flawless. He completed all five of his pass attempts, and his run on 4th and 1 from the Eagle 28 kept the drive alive.

He looked a bit Romo-like on the game-winner. He dodged the rush, rolled to his left, and found Witten wide open in the middle of the end zone.

The win gives Dallas a two-game lead in the NFC East. Prescott has a passer rating of 99.6, which is better than Romo’s passer rating in all but two seasons.

Dez Bryant returned and was involved, catching four passes for 113 yards and a game-tying touchdown. Ezekiel Elliott nearly gained 100 yards, earning 96 on 22 carries.

The news today, though, was not all rosy. Some reports have speculated that Elliott could face a suspension for domestic violence. Reports are suggesting that Elliott’s suspension could be six games if the league finds evidence, but the reports are not clear whether this punishment is imminent.

Moreover, Dallas has lost both Barry Church and Morris Claiborne to injury. The Dallas secondary has been far better than anyone expected, and that is thanks largely to Claiborne.

For now, though, the win feels good. Dallas travels to Cleveland to face the winless Browns next Sunday.

Dallas 30, Green Bay 16: It’s Looking Memorable

Since the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season, the team has started with a 5-1 record only four times—2003, 2007, 2014, and 2016. Dallas wound up in the playoffs during those three previous seasons, and the Cowboys certainly looked like a playoff team in a 30-16 win at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Just feed the young man the ball.

Just feed the young man the ball.

Zeke Elliott has been simply awesome. He gained 157 yards on 28 carries, giving him 130 or more yards in four consecutive games. He has 703 yards on 137 carries, giving him a 5.13 yard-per-carry average.

He not only makes highlight-reel runs, but he has been strong when the Cowboys have needed to grind it out on the ground at the end of the game. For example, when the Cowboys gave up a touchdown with just under seven minutes left, Dallas led 27-16 and needed to run the clock down.

Dallas managed one first down, then saw Elliott burst up the middle for a 29-yard run to move the ball deep into Green Bay territory. The play helped to set up the Cowboys’ last field goal.

The storyline of the game continued to focus on the play of Dak Prescott, who was again very good. Despite turning the ball over a couple of times, including his first interception, he maintained his composure and threw three touchdown passes.

Prescott led perhaps the most significant drive at the end of the first half.

Dallas had a 10-6 lead but was making mistakes on both sides of the ball. The defense force the Packers to punt with 1:39 remaining in the half, and Green Bay downed the ball at the Dallas 2.

Two runs by Elliott set up a 3rd-and-1 with 45 seconds left. Had Dallas failed to convert, Green Bay would have had plenty of time to drive for another field goal attempt.

Instead, Lucky Whitehead took a reverse 26 yards to move the ball to the Dallas 38. One play later, Prescott hit Terrance Williams down the right sideline for 42 yards. On the following play, Prescott hit Brice Butler for a 20-yard touchdown, giving Dallas a 17-6 halftime lead.

The Dallas defense has continued to play well. The Cowboys forced four turnovers, including three in the second half. One of those turnovers occurred on a 1st-and-goal from the Dallas 1.

One of those turnovers occurred on a 1st-and-goal from the Dallas 1. Aaron Rodgers tried to run a quarterback draw, but he was stuffed and fumbled the ball. Instead of a touchdown that would have cut the Dallas lead to 17-13, the Cowboys continued to have a two-score advantage.

Prescott did make a mistake and threw an interception, but the Dallas defense held the Packers to a field goal. The Dallas offense responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a touchdown pass from Prescott to Cole Beasley.

The Cowboys have a bye, followed by a home game against Philadelphia on October 30.

Dallas 28, Cincinnati 14: Keep Romo on Ice

Jerry Jones continues to channel his inner Al Davis and has pronounced that Tony Romo will be the starter when healthy.

After the Cowboys destroyed the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday with rookie Dak Prescott leading the way again, good luck finding more than a handful of fans who agree with Jerry.

Prescott was effective once again, completing 18 of 24 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown. Prescott also added a touchdown run, giving him three this season.

But it was fellow rookie Zeke Elliott who continues to impress. He gained 134 on only 15 carries, scoring two touchdowns on the day.

Other rookie running backs have gained more than 100 yards in three different games, which is what Elliott has done in 2016. Here’s the difference—Elliott has done it in three consecutive games.

He is on pace to rush for 1,747 yards. Only one other rookie running back has gained more than 1,000 yards for the Cowboys, and that was Tony Dorsett in 1977 (14 games). At Elliott’s current rate, he would surpass 1,007 yards sometime around the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Washington.

The Dallas offense was effective from the outset. The team drove 64 yards on seven plays to open the game, and Elliott’s first touchdown run gave Dallas a 7-0 lead. Prescott’s TD run early in the second quarter capped off an 89-yard drive, giving Dallas a 14-0 lead.

Now that's a hole.

Now that’s a hole.

In plenty of previous games, the Cowboys would have trouble putting an opponent away. Not on Sunday. Dallas moved the ball 80 yards on eight plays midway through the second quarter, and Prescott’s touchdown pass to Cole Beasley gave Dallas a 21-0 lead.

The Bengals drove into Dallas territory to open the second half, but kicker Mike Nugent missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.

On the next play, Elliott raced up a huge hole, going 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys an insurmountable 28-0 lead.

Morris Claiborne continued to play well. He was principally responsible for holding A.J. Green to four receptions for 50 yards.

The rest of the defense was also effective, sacking Andy Dalton four times and holding the Bengals to 345 total yards.

Dallas has a tough game next week as the Cowboys travel to Green Bay to face the Packers.

Dallas 24, San Francisco 17: These Kids Don’t Know Mediocrity

The Dallas Cowboys looked as if they were headed for a 2-2 start.

That would just make sense for a franchise that has mastered mediocrity. The two-game winning streak would be forgotten after a failed trip to San Francisco.

With the 49ers ahead 14-0 in the second quarter, the Cowboys opened a drive with a holding penalty. It looked like another three-and-out.

But then rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw a screen to rookie running back Zeke Elliott, who took the ball 19 yards to put the Cowboys in position to make a first down.

Four plays later, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-6, and the 49ers managed to sack Prescott. But referees called defensive back Jaquiski Tartt for unnecessary roughness on a very questionable call, giving the Cowboys life.

Prescott capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Terrance Williams, giving the Cowboys hope.

Brice Butler caught this four-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 14 in the second quarter.

Brice Butler caught this four-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 14 in the second quarter.

By the end of the first half, the game was tied thanks to a touchdown drive that ended when Prescott hit Brice Butler on a four-yard touchdown pass.

The 49ers regained the lead in the third quarter, but the Cowboys took control. Late in the third quarter, Elliott capped off a 10-play, 78-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The Cowboys would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.

Morris Claiborne picked off a deep pass thrown by Blaine Gabbert, and Claiborne returned it to the Dallas 34. The Cowboys then drove the ball deep into San Francisco territory. A Dan Bailey field goal with 4:11 left in the game increased the lead to 7, but the Dallas defense needed to hold the 49ers.

The Dallas defense did just that. San Francisco moved the ball into Dallas territory, but with less than two minutes left, the 49ers needed to convert a 4th-and-6. Gabbert completed a three-yard pass to Torrey Smith, but Claiborne made the stop short of the sticks.

Dallas was able to make a first down thanks to a 47-yard catch-and-run by Cole Beasley.

The Cowboys have matched their 3-1 start from 2014. Elliott has looked even more effective than DeMarco Murray did two years ago. Elliott gained 138 yards on 23 carries. Prescott finished with a passer rating of 114.7 after throwing two touchdown passes.