INGLEWOOD, Calif. — After a game filled with miscues and penalty flags, the Dallas Cowboys defense came up big in the final two minutes to seal a 20-17 win against the Los Angeles Chargers on “Monday Night Football.”
With quarterback Justin Herbert playing through a fractured middle finger on his non-throwing hand, the Chargers dropped to 2-3 on the season as the Cowboys moved to 4-2.
After what happened last week against the San Francisco 49ers, a win of any kind was required by the Cowboys.
Monday’s win certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys enter their bye week with a 4-2 record and still within striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers, who suffered surprising losses Sunday.
Everything was in question after last week. Mike McCarthy’s playcalling, Dak Prescott‘s ability, the defense’s toughness. Nothing was perfect — too many penalties, too many big plays allowed, not enough big plays made, special teams’ turnover — but when it mattered, they made the necessary plays.
Starting with three key third-down conversions on a game-winning drive that ended with a Brandon Aubrey field goal, a sack — the first of the game for the Cowboys — by Micah Parsons and a sealing interception by Stephon Gilmore.
The Cowboys are now 10-1 after a loss over the last two seasons.
Maybe they’re not dead after all.
QB breakdown: Let’s forget the passing numbers for Prescott. Let’s talk about his rushing. He had the longest touchdown run of his career (18 yards) in the first quarter and the longest by a Cowboys QB since 2010. Prescott has not used his feet as much in recent years. He had 18 rushing touchdowns in his first three years and now nine in the last five. He had 45 yards rushing in the first five games and 33 in the first half versus the Chargers. He’s not a running quarterback, but he can be effective with his feet and may need to do more of it.
Promising trend: Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb had 84 receiving yards in the first half — more than he had in four of the first five games. He acknowledged during the week his body language needed to be better after he was salty in the San Francisco game. All five of his catches in the first two quarters covered 10 or more air yards. In the New England game, he had eight completions with air yards of 10 or more.
Silver lining: Maybe it’s not a trend, since it’s only one game, but the Cowboys were solid in their first outing without linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Markquese Bell moved from safety to linebacker late in training camp after DeMarvion Overshown was lost for the year with a torn ACL. He was able to come up with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in the first half on 17 snaps when the Cowboys had two linebackers in their personnel group. When the Cowboys lost Vander Esch late last season, the run defense suffered. On Monday, the Chargers had just 50 yards on 22 carries in Austin Ekeler‘s return from injury.
Next game: vs. Rams (Oct. 29, 1 p.m. ET)
Dak Prescott: Cowboys showed resilience in win over Chargers
Dak Prescott reflects on the Cowboys’ nail-biting victory over the Chargers on “Monday Night Football.”
Los Angeles Chargers
Monday night’s game between the Chargers and Cowboys appeared to have all the elements required to be a high-scoring, touchdown-laden affair: Two of the best offenses in the league, a former coordinator facing his old team and a struggling Chargers secondary. Instead, it was another Chargers loss that came down to the final moments. All of their games have been decided by 7 points or less this season.
Eye-popping NextGen stat: Herbert was pressured on 42% of his dropbacks, his highest in any game this season (he had the fifth-lowest pressure rate at 25% entering the game).The Cowboys’ pass rush often forced Herbert out of the pocket as he scrambled for runs and took many big hits from defenders while playing with a fractured finger on his left hand.
Pivotal play The Chargers’ pass rush got to Herbert all game, and in the fourth quarter, they forced the game-deciding error. With the Chargers losing by three and just under two minutes remaining, the rush caused an errant pass from Herbert that landed in the hands of Gilmore, effectively ending the game.
Troubling trend: The Chargers are still struggling to run the ball. Even with Ekeler returning from a high right ankle sprain he suffered in Week 1, Chargers running backs struggled to have any success, amassing just 35 total yards. Outside of a 233-yard rushing performance in Week 1, the Chargers have rushed for over 100 yards just once this year and combined for just 91 yards in Weeks 2 and 3.
Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)