This was a game that on paper should not have been close, but the feisty Houston Texans put up a great fight against the Dallas Cowboys, who ultimately triumphed 27-23 as Texans quarterback Davis Mills’ Hail Mary pass as time was expiring fell into the arms of Cowboys Israel Mukuamu. The Cowboys’ defense yet again came through to make up for mistakes by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense to get a win and stay just two games back from the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles.
WHAT TO KNOW
The Houston Texans came into this game at 1-10-1 and are closer to the first-round draft pick than anything else this season. The team is still continuing to look for answers in the post-Deshaun Watson era, but the squad performed above their record against one of the most explosive teams in the NFL on December 11. Dallas needed a stellar fourth quarter for the second week in a row against last-place teams to pick up the victory.
Ezekiel Elliott scored a touchdown with less than one minute to play in the game to give the Cowboys a lead after having trailed since the second quarter when backup QB Jeff Driskel hit a stunner to give the underdogs a lead. While the Cowboys’ offense was forced to find ways to win from 98 yards out, the Dallas defense was the only reason the team had a chance after forcing a turnover on downs when the Texans had the ball at the Dallas four-yard line.
BY THE NUMBERS
Prescott threw more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one) for the first time this season, but the ground game, led by Elliott with 62 yards and a touchdown and Tony Pollard with 42 yards and a touchdown, was able to do just enough to secure a must-win game as Philadelphia demolished New York as the NFC East race tightens. Prescott completed 24-of-39 passes for 284 yards, but the most impressive part of his game Sunday was the last 98-yard drive for a needed score.
Tight end Dalton Schultz and receiver Noah Brown were the most common recipients of Prescott’s passes on the final drive. Schultz added yards after the catch on short passes to net 21, 18, and 13 yards on three receptions. Schultz finished with six catches on the day and 87 yards. Most of those yards (52) came on the final game-winning drive.
Brown had similar production at 85 yards total, catching just four passes all day, and recording an 18-yarder on the last drive. Brown also had a 51-yard reception earlier in the game.
The Texans have struggled all season to close out games and Week 14 was no better. Quarterback Davis Mills did not record a touchdown pass and threw a gruesome interception on the final play of the game that fell into a sea of Dallas Cowboys players with no Texans receiver even trying for the ball. The Cowboys’ defense held leading rusher, Dameon Pierce, to just 78 yards on 22 attempts to earn just 3.5 yards per carry.
As brutal as the Cowboys’ defense has been, they were held to zero sacks today, a significant rarity for a defense that regularly chews up quarterbacks. Tremon Smith’s two interceptions nearly set the stage for a massive in-state rivalry upset—until the Dallas defense forced the final turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter deep in the red zone.
Head coach Mike McCarthy wanted his team to know that no matter the opponent’s record, no game should be checked off as an easy win. He said: “It’s so damn hard to win a game in this league regardless of the betting spread. You can never lose sight of that.”
The Dallas Cowboys face the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday—their third AFC South opponent in a row that holds a losing record on the season. Both the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans gave the Cowboys trouble and forced the team to show grit in the fourth quarter, which will likely affect how much bettors are willing to believe the Cowboys can stay in the race for the NFC East title.