Who needs 30 points to win? Not your Dallas Cowboys.
In defeating the Los Angeles Chargers, 20-17, the Cowboys moved to 1-1 on the season and broke a streak of 34 straight games of only winning when they topped 30 points. It marked the first time to do so since a 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay on Dec. 23, 2018.
Which was no doubt a surprise. A shootout was actually expected in this one as each team came into the matchup boasting high-powered offenses. Even worse, the Dallas defense had been shaken with news throughout the week that both starting defensive ends, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, as well as starting safety Donovan Wilson would all be out of the lineup. But give the Cowboys defense some credit. Although helped by 12 Los Angeles penalties, Dallas’ bend-but-don’t-break unit did enough to give Dak Prescott and the offense a chance to pull out the win.
And that’s exactly what they were able to do, Greg Zuerlein splitting the uprights from 56 yards away as the clock hit zeroes to give the Cowboys the improbable win.
The Dallas defense allowed 408 yards of offense, but the Chargers reached the end zone on only one of four trips into the red zone. Dallas also had two interceptions with two sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, lining up as a pass rusher, recorded one sack and four pressures on his own.
The was good enough for the Cowboys offense, which scored on two of three red zone trips, converted 60 percent of its third down chances and totaled 419 yards of offense. Prescott completed 85.2 percent of his passes for 237 yards and one interception, but he didn’t need to carry the team this week. Instead, the Cowboys racked up 198 rushing yards, led by Tony Pollard’s 109 and Ezekiel Elliott’s 71. Both also had 31 and 26 receiving yards, respectively.
The Cowboys really couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, as they finished the first 15 minutes of the game having a punched in a pair of touchdowns. The first came on the opening drive, which broke a streak of 20 straight games without doing so.
And it was a healthy mix in the 15-play, 78-yard drive with Elliott running the ball six times while Prescott completed 5 or 6 passes for 46 yards. Pollard finished things off with his third carry of the series, a sweep around the right end to the goal line.
After both sides traded interceptions – cornerback Trevon Diggs becoming the first Cowboys defender to record picks in the team’s first two games of the season since Lee Roy Jordan did so in 1975 – the Chargers got on the board with a 46-yard field goal.
But Dallas responded with another impressive possession. Pollard first got the call with three straight touches for 34 yards. That was then followed by CeeDee Lamb hauling in three consecutive catches for 36 of his own. Elliott got the scoring honors, though, driving behind right guard Zack Martin the final 5 yards for a 14-3 lead after one period of play.
Dallas finished with 13 first downs in the opening quarter, a team record that also tied the NFL mark.
However, the advantage was narrowed early in the second quarter. Despite the Chargers committing four penalties on their next possession and having to face a third-and 11 and then a third-and-13, they were able to keep the drive alive and reach the end zone. A Justin Herbert touchdown pass to wideout Mike Williams followed by a two-point conversion brought Los Angeles to within three.
Dallas then narrowly avoided going into the half with the game tied. First, a questionable decision to rush the punter when the Chargers were booting the ball away on fourth-and-20 with only 2 minutes remaining resulted in a roughing the kicker penalty on the Cowboys. Given the gift, Herbert then got his team into field goal range, only to see a 44-yard attempt fail.
The Cowboys nearly scored with a little razzle dazzle on the last play of the half when Prescott found Lamb over the middle, the receiver taking it 34 yards and then lateraling the ball to Elliott, who made it to the Chargers’ 3-yard line before being pushed out of bounds.
The tie came soon enough. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Chargers got their field goal, a 32-yarder which gave them 11 unanswered points. Los Angele’s effort was helped along when the Dallas defense allowed a 42-yard pass on third-and-15, unable to get off the field.
But just when it looked like the Chargers would finally take the lead, the Cowboys defense came up huge. Los Angeles had marched from its own 9-yard line all the way down to the Dallas 9. That’s when safety Damontae Kazee intercepted a Herbert pass intended for Keenan Allen in the end zone, ending the threat and shifting the game’s momentum back to the visitors.
Following the turnover, the Dallas offense went on the move as the clocked ticked over into the final frame. Pollard started things off with three straight runs for a combined 29 yards, the team eventually working its way down to the Los Angeles 16. There the Cowboys had to settle for a 34-yard Zuerlein field goal for the lead.
With just under four minutes to play, though, the score was tied once more, 17-17. The Chargers again moved down the field, traveling 64 yards, but for the second time in the game they had a touchdown nullified by a penalty, having to settle for a 29-yard field goal.
That’s when offense went to work, going from its own 13-yard line to the Chargers’ 38. But through some questionable clock management, the team seemed willing to settle for a long field goal. But the plan worked, as Zuerlein was good on his 56-yard try as time expired, marking his 10th career game-winning kick and the second-longest game-winner of his career.