Check out the top moments that helped define the outcomes of Sunday’s NFL matchups.
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(Photo: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)
ARLINGTON, Texas — Just two seconds were on the clock before halftime when the Kansas City Chiefs dialed up the perfect play to foil Rod Marinelli’s prevent defense.
With eight Dallas Cowboys defenders stationed inside their own 10-yard line — looking for a Hail Mary — Alex Smith took the snap from Kansas City’s 44-yard line and flipped a pass over the middle for Tyreek Hill.
Tyrone Crawford, the Dallas defensive end, was assured as he turned back to watch the play develop.
“Oh, man, we’ve got this,” Crawford remembered thinking, flashing back in the boisterous locker room following the 28-17 victory.
“All those guys are down there.”
Hill, the lightning-fast receiver who doubles as one of the NFL’s most dangerous returners, had a convoy of blockers in his midst. He went into full punt-return mode, darting and dashing to a stunning, 56-yard touchdown.
Crawford’s next thought: “Are you kidding me?”
It was that kind of day at JerryWorld. Strange things happened.
The much-maligned Dallas defense essentially kept one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in check, regaining its groove after the mid-game lapse — Dallas gave up a 62-yard TD drive to start the second half to fall behind for the only time in the entire game, 17-14 — to pass a major test.
If you saw this coming, you should hang out with Tony Romo, Nostradamus in a broadcast booth.
But there they were. This rebuilt defense, applying heat from the front with the likes of Crawford, NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving and rookie Taco Charlton. Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s rushing leader, ran for just 37 yards. Kansas City was 4-for-11 on third-down conversions. Smith, the NFL’s highest-ranked passer, threw his first interception of the season.
If Dallas (5-3) is going to stay in the thick of the race, this is the type of defense it will need.
“I think we’re starting to get close to the type of defense we want to be,” linebacker Sean Lee said.
More tests await: Next up, Atlanta. Sure, the Falcons are sputtering, but they’ll be at home. Maybe reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. are poised for a flashback. Then Philadelphia comes to North Texas. The Eagles, the hottest operation in the NFL, put up 51 points against the Denver Broncos’ top-ranked defense Sunday.
No, this road will not get any easier for the Cowboys — especially if they’re without Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas had its star running back in the mix Sunday, after his six-game suspension was put back on hold by an administrative stay ruling Friday — another entry into the saga that is Elliott legally fighting the NFL’s contention that he violated the league’s domestic violence policy. But despite limited practice time, he rushed for 93 yards on 27 carries, with a touchdown, to provide his typical foundation for the Dallas offense.
But with his on-again, off-again suspension drama flowing with the rulings from the four courts that have touched his case since the suspension came down in August — prompting Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw to crack on a studio show that he’s been the NFL’s comeback player of the year three times over this season — there’s a different layer of inspiration with Elliott’s presence.
When Elliott returned Friday, wideout Dez Bryant reports, “He got a standing ovation when he walked into the meeting room.”
Still, while hoping the suspension is nullified, the Cowboys have all along braced themselves for the possibility that Elliott’s appeals will be exhausted and he’ll sit for six games. The deeper this uncertainty goes into the season, the closer the possibility that Elliott will miss some, if not all of the stretch run in December that could determine a playoff berth.
With that scenario in the air, the Cowboys need to prove they can win games like they did Sunday, when the defense dominated and Dak Prescott played splendidly. Prescott passed for an efficient 249 yards (2 TDs, 0 INTs, 106.8 rating) and had three timely runs (27 yards) that included a 10-yard TD scramble and two scampers for first downs.
Also, while Bryant caught six passes for 73 yards, it was Terrance Williams with the 100-yard game (9 catches, 141 yards) and Cole Beasley with a pair of TD catches.
All of that balance on offense, all-around defensive effort, a special teams lockdown. A complete game, to run the winning streak to four games. If they ultimately lose Elliott, is this the formula for the Cowboys to keep winning?
“No, we won with him,” Bryant pointed out. “We need him.”
Having Elliott, Bryant added, creates the matchups for everyone else. Yet not having him might represent the adversity just around the corner.
After the crazy touchdown before the half — some serious in-game adversity — the Cowboys demonstrated a certain resilience.
“Let it go, we can’t change it,” Crawford said of the mindset. “We just have to keep playing.”
They’d better keep that mantra in mind.
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