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Cowboys 2021 Season Review: Part 3 – Defensive Success


Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (4) and RB Ezekiel Elliott (21) during gameplay. | Image from the Athletic

As The Dallas Express Cowboys 2021 Season Review continues, we follow Dallas after their bye week. The Cowboys traveled to Minnesota to take on the Vikings on Halloween, this time with Cooper Rush getting the start under center as Dak Prescott was held out with a calf injury. Rush passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first game of the season that Diggs did not record an interception as the Cowboys squeezed out a 20-16 win.

By Week 9, the Cowboys were already in control of the NFC East and faced a Denver Broncos team struggling to keep up with the rest of the AFC West. The Cowboys lost only their second game of the season, shut down by a strong Denver defense. The Cowboys failed to score until the fourth quarter and lost with a final score of 30-16. 

One of the few bright spots against Denver was 2.5 sacks recorded by Micah Parsons. Parsons had already emerged as one of the best selections in the 2021 draft and began to get serious consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The Cowboys followed up the bumbling disaster against Denver with a crushing defeat of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. Dallas put up 43 points while allowing the Falcons to only score a field goal on their game’s opening drive. The 40-point victory would go down as the second-largest points differential of the season. 

Cowboys special teams blocked a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Dak Prescott ran in for the game’s final score in the third quarter. It was his only rushing TD of the season and came on a fourth-down scramble. Dallas scored 29 points in the second quarter en route to a 43-3 win.

The Cowboys explosive offense was shut down against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11. The Cowboys turned in one of the statistically worst performances of the season. Dallas turned the ball over three times and gained a season-low 276 yards while failing to score a touchdown. The Chiefs were victorious by a score of 19-9 in a game dominated by both teams’ defensive units.

Micah Parsons recorded two sacks and a forced fumble that Dallas recovered, but the offensive line gave up five sacks, and Prescott threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a strip-sack play. 

The Cowboys entered the fourth quarter of Week 12 down by a score of 27-19 to Las Vegas but came back to force overtime with the game tied at 33. In overtime, a pass interference call on Cowboys corner Anthony Brown gave the Raiders a fresh set of downs after an incomplete pass would have forced a fourth-down punt. Dallas’ consecutive neutral zone infraction penalties gave the Raiders a chip-shot field goal to win the game 36-33 on Thanksgiving night

Cowboys running back Tony Pollard had a highlight-reel punt return for a 100-yard touchdown return in the third quarter, and Prescott threw for 375 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions, but ultimately the effort fell short. 

A COVID outbreak resulted in numerous key players and coaches being held out for the Week 13 match-up against the New Orleans Saints. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn took over duties as the Cowboys head coach after McCarthy tested positive for COVID

Trevon Diggs picked off his ninth pass of the season, and three other Cowboys recorded interceptions. A 58-yard run for a TD by Cowboys running back Tony Pollard and a fourth quarter interception return by Carlos Watkins sealed the bounce-back victory for Dallas 27-17

As Dallas entered the final stretch of the season, they would face four division opponents in five weeks; games that would be the key to making the playoffs for the first time since 2018. At 10-3 and leading the division, a playoff spot was all but guaranteed as long as the team could close out strong.

In the final part of this series, we will review the last stretch of games that led to the NFC East title and the final moments of the season.

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