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Comeback Victory Latest in Cowboys’ Dramatic History

Posted on September 24, 2020 by Chris Kent

Great drama has always marked the Dallas Cowboys over the decades. In this, the franchise’s 61st season, the Cowboys have always stood out for better or for worse. The franchise has always made major headlines whether it be during the season or in the offseason. In the early 1970’s, legendary head coach Tom Landry went back and forth between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton as his starting quarterback – going as far as alternating them on each play during one game – before naming Staubach the starter. The volatile tendencies of linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson surfaced later in the decade over drugs, alcohol, his flamboyant play, and high visibility lifestyle. Dallas also played in five Super Bowls and won two in the 1970’s when the team became known as “America’s Team” and took on the persona of the team people love or love to hate which still exists today. The 1980’s saw good teams unable to get over the hump with three straight losses in NFC Championship games. There was also another quarterback controversy, this one between Danny White and Gary Hogeboom between 1983 and 1984. Pressure had mounted on White after losses in three straight NFC Championship games. While Landry appointed Hogeboom as the starter during part of the 1984 season, neither he nor White could lead Dallas to the playoffs that season. The decade ended with new ownership as Arkansas oilman Jerry Jones bought the franchise and hired Jimmy Johnson – his old college teammate at Arkansas – as head coach. That proved fruitful as the Cowboys became the first franchise in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span during the 1990’s when they were the team of the decade.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson parted ways shortly after Dallas won back-to-back Super Bowls in the early 1990’s.

Yet change also came about for the franchise in the 1990’s with the shocking and well-documented breakup of Jones and Johnson due to egotistical control issues. During the 2000’s, Dallas made only four playoff trips and won just one playoff game. While the Cowboys rebuilt in the early 2010’s, they were stuck largely in mediocrity with four 8-8 finishes in head coach Jason Garrett’s nine full seasons on the job sparking a yearly discussion about his job security. In more recent years, Dallas came under the microscope with legal issues off the field as star running back Ezekiel Elliott eventually served a six-game suspension during the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy based on allegations of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend dating back to 2016. Drama has always seemed to follow the Cowboys whether it has been good or bad.

Dallas players celebrate with place-kicker Greg Zuerlein after his 46-yard game-winning field goal against Atlanta on Sept. 20

The latest episode came last Sunday, Sept. 22. In what was nothing short of miraculous, Dallas overcame a 20-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 40-39 for its’ first win of the season. The improbable come-from-behind victory became official when Greg Zuerlein converted a 46-yard field goal as time expired. The kick followed a successful onside kick that Cowboys’ cornerback C.J. Goodwin recovered at the Dallas 46-yard line. Six plays and 27 yards later, the Cowboys (1-1) were in the win column following Zuerlein’s ninth career game-winning field goal. Thrilling. Exhilarating. Suspenseful. It was full of intrigue which is what makes the comeback grab and keep your attention.

The 20-point comeback was the largest for Dallas since it erased a 21-point deficit in a 34-31 road win over the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 21, 2014. Sunday’s deficit also tied for the second largest comeback victory in franchise history. The 20-0 hole was triggered by four Cowboys’ fumbles in the first quarter, three of which the Falcons recovered and converted into 17 points.

With just 1:06 left in the first quarter, Dallas started to show some life in what was its’ sixth possession of the game. Elliott’s one-yard touchdown run capped an 11-play drive in which he ran for 34 yards on six carries. The Cowboys were on the board and trailed 20-7 with 12:09 left in the second quarter.

Atlanta responded with a 12-play 75-yard drive that took 6:11 off the clock. The Falcons mixed runs and passes on the drive that was capped by Matt Ryan’s three-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley giving Atlanta a 26-7 lead. In a move that you can debate, the Falcons went for two and Ryan’s pass to Ridley was incomplete in the back of the end zone. Passing on kicking the extra point there would come back to haunt Atlanta big time in this one.

Each team would add a field goal in the last six minutes of the second quarter. The Falcons lead 29-10 at the half and were in control. Dallas was left to regroup after a bad first half in which it fumbled four times – losing three of them – and failed to convert a fake punt on fourth-and-three from their own 29-yard line.

Ezekiel Elliott breaks free amid a couple of Falcons’ defenders and gains positive yardage.

The Cowboys came out much more aggressive in the third quarter and it showed right away. Dak Prescott, who finished 34-for-47 for 450 yards and a touchdown while also adding three touchdown runs, lead Dallas down the field for touchdowns on their only two possessions of the quarter. The Cowboys moved the ball swiftly on both drives during which Prescott asserted himself by spreading the ball around with a steady mix of runs and passes. Dallas opened the third quarter with a seven play 74-yard drive. Elliott, who lead the Cowboys with 89 yards on 22 carries, started things off with a 10-yard run. Three plays later, Prescott found prized rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for a 37-yard gain on third-and-six setting up Dallas with a first down at the Falcon’s 23-yard line. An 18-yard completion from Prescott to reserve tight end Dalton Schultz – now the starter due to the week one season-ending knee injury of Blake Jarwin – gave the Cowboys a first-and-goal at the Atlanta five-yard line. Two plays later, Prescott scored on a two-yard run after keeping the ball on a run-pass option play. Following the extra point, the Falcons now lead 29-17.

Dallas forced Atlanta to punt on the ensuing possession and then worked their way quickly down the field. The big play was Prescott’s 58-yard pass to Amari Cooper who made the catch after bobbling it with one hand. Cooper was solid in the game with six catches on nine targets for 100 yards. The thrilling catch by Cooper gave the Cowboys a first-and-10 at the Falcon’s 17-yard line. Six plays later Prescott scored on a one-yard run pulling Dallas within five at 29-24 with 4:14 left in the quarter.

Atlanta responded with an 11-play 74-yard drive that took 4:51 off the clock and overlapped the third and fourth quarters. The drive ended on Ryan’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage. The Falcons kept the drive alive by converting on fourth-and-two from the Cowboys’ 40-yard line. Atlanta now lead 36-24 and had control of the game with 14:23 left to play in the fourth quarter.

The outlook for a Dallas victory was grim at best at this point. However it would get even worse. The Cowboys took the ensuing kickoff and ran four plays before facing a fourth-and-five at their own 40-yard line. Showing punt formation with 12:53 to play, Dallas faked its’ second punt of the game on a direct snap to safety Darian Thompson who came up short on a three-yard run up the middle. The Falcons took over on downs at the Cowboys’ 43-yard line. Atlanta then took 4:49 off the clock by running 10 plays for 30 yards that ended with a 32-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo. That appeared to be the final nail in the coffin for Dallas which now trailed by 15 points, 39-24 with 7:57 to play. However Prescott and the Cowboys would have something to say about that.

Dak Prescott showed his toughness and leadership in bringing Dallas back from a 20-point deficit.

Following a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Dallas used a no-huddle shotgun approach and marched down the field. Prescott was 7-for-9 for 72 yards on the 10-play drive that featured only one rushing play and took exactly three minutes. Prescott found Shultz in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 4:57 to play. Schultz showed positive signs that he can fill in adequately for Jarwin, finishing the game with nine catches on 10 targets for 88 yards and the one score. An extra point here would of made it a one-possession game with an eight-point deficit. However in a controversial call, the Cowboys went for two by handing off to Elliott who was stopped at the one-yard line. Dallas was now down nine, 39-30, and in a two-possession hole. Things looked really bleak.

The Falcons took the kickoff and ran two minutes of the clock while running five plays for 12 yards. The Cowboys were forced to use all three of their timeouts to conserve time. The Dallas defense did its’ job by forcing the Falcons to punt and got the ball back with 2:52 to play. Prescott then drove the Cowboys 76 yards in nine plays in just 1:08. Michael Gallup’s 38-yard catch from Prescott set up Dallas with a first and goal from the Atlanta five-yard line. Three plays later, Prescott’s 1-yard touchdown plunge on a quarterback sneak brought the Cowboys to within 39-37 following the extra point by Zuerlein.

Out of timeouts, the only hope for Dallas was conducting a successful onside kick, something they had not done since December 28, 2014 in a win at Washington. Zuerlein and the Cowboys special teams unit lined up at the Dallas 35-yard line where Zuerlein placed the ball on the ground without any tee and got ready for the kick. After the Falcons called a timeout to talk things over, Zuerlein kicked the ball diagonally toward the sideline. With the rule stating that the kicking team has to wait for the ball to go 10 yards before they can touch it, Dallas players pursued the ball closely as it approached the 45-yard line in a spinning fashion on the ground. Although the recovering team does not have to wait for the ball to go 10-yards to touch or recover it, Atlanta players froze and made no move on the ball. As soon as the ball reached the 45-yard line, Goodwin pounced on it and was able to secure possession of it amid many oncoming Falcons. Dallas was miraculously still alive and took over at their own 46-yard line with 1:46 to play.

Six plays later the Cowboys had done the unthinkable as Zuerlein’s game-winning kick sailed through the uprights. Prescott’s 24-yard pass to Lamb on second-and-10 was the key play in the six-play drive that set up the clutch kick. Dallas was in the win column and it was in thrilling and dramatic fashion. Chalk up another drama filled event in the history books for Dallas.

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