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Cowboys edge Texans

By Elwyn Henderson

    In a game between the two Texas Intrastate NFL teams, the surging 9-3 Dallas Cowboys hosted the freefalling 1-10-1 Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Sunday before a packed house.  The Cowboys were still hoping to somehow find a way to make up the 2-game difference between themselves and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Eastern Division of the NFL while the Texans were hoping to climb out of the cellar in the league.

     Dallas came into the game as a 15½ point favorite against Houston, the largest of any NFL game this season.  When the dust had cleared and the final gun sounded, Dallas claimed a nail-biter 27-23 victory, moving to 10-3 with the win, while the Texans dropped to 1-11-1 with the loss with 4 games remaining in the 2023 regular season.

     Houston won the coin toss to begin the game and elected to defer to the second half.  Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked the ball KaVontae Turpin and he returned the ball to his 24 and Dallas took over at that point to begin their first possession.  

     Dak Prescott led the offense methodically down the field and the drive culminated with a Tony Pollard 10-yard TD run with 11:20 left in the first quarter.  Brett Maher added the PAT and Dallas took a quick 7-0 lead.  The drive was 9 plays, 76 yards and took 3:40.

     Maher’s ensuing kickoff went out of the end zone and Houston began their first possession at their 25.  The Dallas defense swarmed the Houston offense on three consecutive plays forcing a Cameron Johnston punt on 4th and 7.  Turpin fumbled the ball and Blake Cashman recovered for Houston on the Dallas 24.

     The Texans took advantage of the Turpin bobble, moving the 24 yards to pay dirt in 6 plays and taking 3:28 off the clock.  The score came on a 1-yard plunge by Damien Pierce with 5:33 left in the opening quarter.  Fairbairn added the extra point and the game was tied at 7-7.

     Dallas took over following the Fairbairn kick out of the end zone on their 25.  The Houston defense forced a three-and-out and Bryan Anger punted from his 31 down to the Houston 16.  Desmond King returned the ball up to the 28 and Mills brought his offense back on the field.

     Thanks to a long pass completion, the Texans moved the ball down to the Dallas 26 where the Dallas defense stiffened forcing a Fairbairn 44-yard field goal with 18 seconds left in the opening frame.  The drive was 6 plays, 47 yards and took 3:09.

     Following a Fairbairn kickoff out of the end zone the Cowboys began at their 25 on their next possession.

     Prescott converted on a key third down pass with a long completion to Noah Brown that kept the Cowboys drive alive.  The drive concluded when Prescott hit Pollard from 10 yards out for a go-ahead score with 12:28 left in the first half.  Maher added the point after and Dallas reclaimed the lead, 14-10.  The drive was 7 plays, 75 yards and took 2:50 off the second quarter clock. 

     Houston went back on offense at their 25 following a touchback on Maher’s kickoff.

     The Texans rotated quarterbacks early on, splitting time between Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel.  Driskel was brought up from the practice squad for the game while Kyle Allen who started the last two games was not active for the game.  The ploy worked well the first half and seemed to have caught the Cowboys by surprise, as they had trouble adjusting to the move.

     Houston moved inside Dallas territory to the 42 and went for a 4th and 2 from that spot.  The move appeared to have paid off as Pierce ran the ball, but following a measurement he was just inches short and the Cowboys took over on downs at their 40.

     Houston’s defense forced a three-and-out and Anger punted away to King who took the ball at the 12 and returned it up to the 21 where Driskel came out to lead the team.  It was a quick three-and-out by the Defense and following a Johnston punt to the 27, Turpin returned the ball up to the 36 where Dallas went on the offensive again.

     On the first play of the possession Tremon Smith intercepted a Prescott pass intended for Noah Brown that was tipped up into the air.  He returned the pick down to the Dallas 27 and Houston was on the march once again.

     It took just   plays for the visitors to find the end zone and take the lead again.  Driskel hit Amari Rodgers on a 28-yard strike with 2:23 left in the half, and after Fairbiarn’s PAT Houston’s lead was 17-14.  Interestingly enough, both the Texans TD’s in the first half came as the result of turnovers.

     Dallas got the ball back one more time at their 25 after a touchback of Fairbairn’s kickoff and immediately went to their 2-minute offense.

     Prescott moved the team down to the 16 and on 4th and 10 Maher nailed a 23-yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the half, tying the score at 17-17.  The drive was 11 plays, 60 yards and took 1:43.

     The Texans began their next drive at their 25 and on the first play Mills completed an 18-yard pass to Chris Moore and Houston was in position to make a run at a field goal before the half expired as they had all three of their timeouts available.

     Houston drove down to the Dallas 32 where they called their final timeout with 2 seconds remaining in the half.  Fairbairn came in to try a 50-yard field goal on the last play of the half. The kick was good and the Texans led at halftime 20-17 and were set to begin the second half by receiving the kickoff.

     Maher’s second half kickoff went into the end zone and Houston set up on their 25.  After picking up one first down, a fumble was picked up by Trevon Diggs and he returned the ball to the Houston 28, setting Dallas up in great field position.

     They moved down to the Houston 2, and facing a 4th and goal they fell short as Pollard lost a yard back to the 3 and the ball turned over on downs with 8:19 left in the third quarter.

     Driskel moved the team down to the Dallas 35 where Fairbairn hit a 54-yard field goal with 3:03 left in the third quarter, moving the Houston lead to 23-17.  The drive was 10 plays, 63 yards and took 5:16.

     The Cowboys began their next drive at their 25 following a touchback.

     Prescott led the team down to the Houston 35, but a 3rd down pass fell incomplete, forcing a 53-yard field goal try by Maher.  The kick was good, and Dallas trimmed the Houston lead to 23-20 with 14:50 left in the game.  The drive was 9 plays, 40 yards and took 3:13.

     After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Houston began from their 25 once again.  The Dallas defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out and after a Johnston punt, the Cowboys were back in business at their 12.  It was a short possession, as Houston forced a three-and-out.

     Anger punted from his 19 to the Houston 20.  King returned the ball to the 42, but Houston was called for holding, pushing the ball back to the 25.  The Texans managed to pick up a couple of first downs and after being forced to punt the ball away, the ball was downed on the Dallas 1 and the Cowboys took over with 8:01 left in the game trailing 23-20 and knowing they needed to put together a sustained drive to get the lead back.

     On the second play of the possession Prescott was intercepted by the Houston defense at the 12 and the ball was returned to the Dallas 5.  That was the third turnover of the day by the Cowboys compared to just one by Houston.

     The Dallas defense held and the ball turned over on downs at the Dallas 2 with 3:20 left in the game.

     The 93,843 fans in attendance knew as well as the team did that they had to at least get into field goal range to tie the game and force overtime to avoid an embarrassing loss at home to the worst team in the NFL.

     The Pokes did exactly what they needed to do, moving the 98 yards in 11 plays over 2:39.  The drive ended with an Ezekiel Elliott 2-yard TD run with 41 seconds left in the game.  Maher added the extra point and Dallas led 27-23.

     Maher kicked the ball out of the end zone on the kickoff following the score and Houston took over on their 25 with no timeouts and needing a TD to win the game.

     Houston managed to complete a pass down to the Dallas 44 with 14 seconds left.  The fans were the loudest they have been in years at AT&T Stadium imploring their defense to end the game.  Houston committed two false starts in a row, setting up a 2nd and 20 from their 46.

     On the next play Davis Mills threw up a Hail Mary that was intercepted by Israel Mukuamu with 3 seconds left in the game.  Prescott came out at the 20 and took a knee in victory formation and the game was over, giving Dallas the 27-23 victory.

     A very relieved Coach Mike McCarthy addressed the Dallas media after the game.  

     “I think today is definitely a fourth quarter dividends that will pay off through the course of the season.  I’m talking about January, February football.  This is the way we do two-minute every day.  The composure; we had a number of guys get injured today.  There was a lot going on along the sidelines.  I thought the communication was excellent, I thought the players that had to step up stepped up, and guys just kept fighting.  We could sit here and talk about all the things that didn’t go right and I get it, but at the end of the day you have to go win the game in the fourth quarter and we did that today with the stops on defense, and with the two minute drive.”

     When Dak Prescott came in for his post-game presser he was asked what he said to the team when they began the 98-yard winning TD drive.

     “I told them ‘we’re going to go win this game.’  After the interception it’s just having faith and trusting the defense and knowing those guys are going to go out there and make a play.  Once they did that we had the opportunity, I told them one play at a time and let’s focus and that’s something that I’m always reminding the guys ‘hey, we’re going to go win this game and don’t blink’ and those guys did.  I could see in their eyes they believed and a couple said it themselves.  It was a great win.  Obviously, it’s the NFL and it was a tough win and we didn’t play our best by any means, and we had an opportunity right there with two minutes left and went and got it done.  At the end of the day, that’s all its about, is capturing wins and we were able to get this one.”

     Houston Coach Lovie Smith knew his team had played their best game of the year and he focused on the positive things about the game when he met with the media after the game.

     In the end it’s just about winning. You either win or you lose and we realize that. But where we are with our program, we want to win. We want to get better and the guys are getting better. The effort today, I thought the guys just played hard from start to finish. Offensively, we haven’t been able to do an awful lot lately, but I thought, first, the offensive line did a good job. That defense we played, I think leading the league in sacks. I don’t think we gave up one. I thought Dameon Pierce ran hard. And our receivers – we were down our top two receivers today – but Chris Moore really stepped up. Amari Rodgers stepped up, so you like what those guys were able to do. And, quarterback-wise, again, we made a change. We looked for a spark. I thought Davis did some good change passing the football, made some good throws today. Made some good decisions today. I liked things he did. And the combination with Jeff Driskel. Early in the week we decided to go with this plan to use Jeff. I thought he did some good things too. Realize at the end we had an opportunity. First-and-goal inside the five. We needed to cash that in for a touchdown. Defensively, whenever you can take the ball away, that’s a big thing. When Steve Nelson went down, we were down a couple of our starting cornerbacks. quarterbacks. Tremon Smith, outstanding job. Des King has done an outstanding job. These guys just keep, next man up mentality and they played well. Maliek Collins Jalen Pitre, we gave ourselves a chance. We continue to do things like that. Special teams, that fumble recovery by Blake Cashman, Ka’imi hitting the field goals. Lots of positive things for us to build on. We understand it’s late in the year on building on something but, where we are, that is a big thing.

     Things don’t get easier for Houston as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs visit NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, December 11th.  Dallas will travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars next Sunday.


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