“The Dallas Cowboys started 3-5 and….” is a sentence that will have to wait at least another week to be finished, adding yet another layer of disbelief on Saturday when the Cowboys came from behind to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card playoffs.
Winning 24-22, the Cowboys avenged a previous loss to the Seahawks and won their first playoff game in the Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott era. It took Prescott's latest fourth quarter heroics for the Cowboys to hold off Russell Wilson and advance to the Divisional Round for the second time in three seasons.
The Cowboys will know their next playoff opponent, and destination, by the end of Sunday. Before they do, let's go over a few of my notes from their gutsy performance in front of home fans vs. the Seahawks.
- The Cowboys promising opening drive yielded just three points after Noah Brown slipped on a first down throw and Amari Cooper came up short on a third down screen, which it seemed Left Guard Connor Williams could have done a better job setting up.
Left Tackle Tyron Smith ultimately missed his block on the outside to allow the Seahawks to contain Cooper, but Williams was late getting out and made up for it by getting vertical too quickly. It looked like Williams was in position to reach Smith's defender, instead angling up the field as Cooper cut into the defense.
Other than this play, I thought Williams held up very well at left guard against a tough Seahawks interior defense. Seattle's front seven is capable of wrecking a game with their speed and tenacity, both things the Cowboys matched with their offensive line and tight ends in an incredibly physically game.
- A scary moment in this game occurred early when Allen Hurns exited with an ankle injury. How the Cowboys responded from losing an important locker room presence could have decided the game, and fortunately the defense was ready.
The Cowboys defensive line turned in one of their best sequences of the night to get the Seahawks off the field in three plays on their first possession after the Hurns injury. Antwaun Woods made a huge stop in the backfield on first down, bowling over Chris Carson for a loss of eight yards. Give Tyrone Crawford an assist from the right defensive end position on this play, as his rush quickly occupied two blockers and allowed Woods to do what he does best.
Shooting a gap and playing downhill, Woods followed up this splash play with a run stop on the next down. On third and long, Randy Gregory forced Wilson to escape the pocket and gain just three yards – bringing up a Seahawks punt.
- The season-long story of the Cowboys linebackers can't be written without mention of Joe Thomas. The veteran's been an afterthought ever since a strong preseason thanks to rookie Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but his special teams tackle on Tyler Lockett potentially saved points for the Cowboys.
The Seahawks turned this second quarter drive into a game-tying field goal behind gains of 26 and 40 to Ed Dickson and Lockett. If not for the drive starting at their own ten, Seattle would've been in position to take the lead with a touchdown on this drive.
As Lockett reversed field on the punt return, Thomas was the only Cowboy standing between him and a big return. Breaking down in a hurry and taking a great angle to Lockett, Thomas made the play that forced the Seahawks to drive a long field for three points.
Rallying back from some early mistakes, the Cowboys special teams swung this game in their favor behind this play from Thomas and a later return of 51-yards from Tavon Austin.
- I don't hate the play call to get Noah Brown running to the corner against a linebacker, but poor timing on top of a missed pass interference caused Dak's only turnover of the game.
The Cowboys were driving to put the game away, instead giving the Seahawks life and delaying their eventual sealing touchdown – which Prescott handled himself with his legs. Having success gaining leverage on throws to the boundary, the Cowboys had Brown against K.J. Wright, releasing with a delay to beat Wright at the pylon.
Recovering by going through Brown, Wright ended up in position to intercept the ball, completing the catch as he fell backwards.
At this point in the game, Brown was in for the injured Hurns, but given his use earlier Brown's night started and ended on a sour note. With Hurns done for the season and Cole Beasley limping through much of this Wild Card game, the Cowboys may be forced to give Brown extended snaps again next week.
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An ugly win like the one the Cowboys just earned has become something of Dak Prescott's resolve. Through the chaos that is any NFL playoff game, there's a calmness that comes over the Cowboys when Prescott is put in position to win.
Unlike in his first playoff experience, the Cowboys weren't chasing in the second half, kept in each contest this season by a tremendously well-coached and talented defense. What worked for the Cowboys against the Seahawks will have to be cleaned up and executed once more when they travel to either the New Orleans Saints (having beat them at home 13-10 in week 13) or Los Angeles Rams next weekend.