The Dallas Cowboys defense wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles Chargers all night long, ultimately becoming the decisive factor in the 20-17 win on the road Monday night.
After Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense led a drive that ended with a field goal from rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey to take a 20-17 lead, the Chargers had a little over two minutes to at least match those three points to force overtime at the end of the fourth quarter.
But the defense had victory in mind.
It started with star defensive end Micah Parsons taking Justin Herbert down to the turf for the team’s first sack of the night on second down. Then, on third-and-10, Herbert was pressured and forced into throwing an interception to Stephon Gilmore, which iced it.
The Cowboys improved to 4-2 following a beating from the San Francisco 49ers the week prior. Meanwhile, the Chargers went to 2-3 on the year after failing to pull together another game-winning drive.
This game looked to be a shootout from the start, as Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had the perfect opening drive script to put the pressure on his old colleagues in Dallas.
Herbert and the Chargers went five plays for 42 yards after forcing a three-and-out on Dallas to start the game, and Keenan Allen’s score on a 1-yard touchdown made it a 7-0 lead.
The Cowboys immediately responded with a touchdown drive of their own, as Prescott, on fourth-and-one, decided to keep it on a read option play, which the Chargers weren’t looking for at all. He rushed the ball 18 yards into the end zone, and as ESPN color analyst Troy Aikman put it, Prescott looked like his old self at Mississippi State when he was running in Dan Mullen’s offense.
After that, though, both offenses began to stall and penalties on both teams were a big reason why. Six combined punts and a turnover on downs by the Cowboys led to some boring football for those watching at SoFi Stadium and at home.
However, the final drive of the first half turned out to be critical, as Derwin James was hit with an unnecessary roughness penalty after Jake Ferguson caught a 15-yard pass that saw him tackled on the Chargers’ 32-yard line.
So, with 21 seconds left, the Cowboys were pushed to the 14-yard line and Aubrey hit a field goal to end the half, giving the Cowboys a 10-7 lead heading into the locker room.
In the end, that’s exactly what they needed to pick up a huge road win.
Looking at the box score, Prescott finished 21-of-30 for 272 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions while rushing for 40 yards on seven carries with his touchdown on the ground. Though Tony Pollard struggled in the run game for Dallas (15 carries, 30 yards), he dazzled with six catches for 80 yards, including a 60-yard catch-and-run.
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CeeDee Lamb was the Cowboys’ leading receiver, hauling in all seven of his targets for 117 yards. Brandin Cooks, the veteran who has been struggling to find his way in his first games with the Cowboys this season, tallied his first touchdown with Dallas and it was a big one in the fourth quarter.
Cooks secured a tough catch for a 2-yard score and erupted with emotion after giving his team a 17-10 lead after the Chargers tied the game on the previous drive.
For the Chargers, Herbert didn’t have his best game, missing on some big opportunities to Allen, who finished with 85 yards on seven catches (11 targets). Herbert was 22-of-37 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and his interception at the end of the game.
As the Cowboys head to their bye week satisfied with the early season, the Chargers will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face their AFC West rival in the Kansas City Chiefs – a game that always erupts on the offensive side of the ball.