The Dallas Cowboys won in unbelievable fashion against the Atlanta Falcons in their 2020 home opener at AT&T Stadium. It was a crazy, wacky, weird contest between the two teams that ended with an onside kick recovery, a 46-yard game-winning field goal by Kicker Greg Zuerlein, and a 40-39 final score.
The Falcons are no strangers to blowing huge leads but although this stage wasn’t nearly as huge as Super Bowl LI, the way they lost this game was just as bad. The Dallas Cowboys certainly weren’t supposed to win this game. At least not after turning the ball over in four of the first five drives.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, since turnovers were officially tracked for the first time in 1933, 440 teams had scored 39 points in a game without turning the ball over entering week 2. Unsurprisingly, those teams were 440-0.
The Falcons had 39 points with zero turnovers in their loss against the Cowboys.
Entering today, teams were 440-0 when scoring 39 points with 0 turnovers since 1933, when team turnovers were first tracked, according to Elias. pic.twitter.com/LZdqzwQZyD
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 20, 2020
The Falcons loss ruined a 440-game long trend that sounds kind of obvious. Just how do you ruin a 39-point performance without even turning the ball over? The thing to note for Atlanta is how those points were scored in the first place. 20 points came off of the Cowboys’ turnovers in the first quarter, including turnovers on downs.
Just take a look at the Falcons’ starting field positions for their first four scoring drives:
- Dallas 22 – Touchdown
- Atlanta 48 – Touchdown
- Dallas 29 – Field Goal
- Dallas 48 – Field Goal
Just like that, the Falcons enjoyed a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. In case you’re wondering just how historically bad the Cowboys performance was in those first 15 minutes, take a look at this EPA (Expected Points Added) stat.
Here’s a crazy one:
The cowboys -21.6 EPA in the first quarter is tied for the third worst 1st Quarter in terms of EPA since 1999. And the falcons still managed to blow it.
— william (@wbjames_) September 20, 2020
And if that isn’t crazy enough for you, taking a look at win probabilities over the course of the game gives you an idea of how crazy the Cowboys win was. With less than three minutes left to go in the third quarter and while leading by nine points, the Falcons had a win probability of 99.9%, per ESPN. Yes, you read that number right.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, since the onside kick rules changed in 2018, teams were 11-of-111 when attempting to recover an onside kick. That’s a 10% chance of getting the ball back. Who knows what went through the minds of the Falcons’ special teamers as they watched the ball (literally, they just watched it) travel 10 yards for the Cowboys to be able to get it back.
It’s hard to say the Cowboys shouldn’t have won that game, but based on these numbers, it’s certainly true. On the other hand, the main reason the Falcons jumped to such a lead is because of Dallas’ mistakes. If they hadn’t racked up four consecutive turnovers, how many points does Atlanta score? I can’t say they looked like a better team than the Cowboys.
Anyways, the rest, as they say, is history. The Cowboys played it safe and didn’t try to end the game with a touchdown. Instead, they played for three and Greg Zuerlein came into the game to kick the 46-yard field goal to win the game.
And just like that, teams are 440-1 when scoring at least 39 points without turning the ball over.