The Dallas Cowboys (13-2) didn’t have anything to play for on Monday night, but they managed to deliver their most impressive offensive performance of the year against a team with playoff aspirations. After going into halftime tied 21-21, Dallas shutout the Lions in the second half in order to pull away from Detroit by a final score of 42-21. The Cowboys are on a roll and will head into the postseason with more experience and momentum because they aren’t resting their starters. Here are four takeaways from the Cowboys’ dominant win on Monday night:
- Tony Romo will need to look elsewhere this offseason if he wants to start because Dak Prescott is too good to sit the bench
Against the Lions, Prescott set another Cowboys franchise record, as he has now posted a quarterback rating of at least 100 in 11 games this season. The previous record was held by the man he replaced, Tony Romo, whose record was 10. Prescott played mistake-free football and effectively moved the football down the field during the course of the game.
He completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns and posted a 148.3 quarterback rating. Prescott also delivered some passes to his receivers where they could only catch them and showed for another week he is not a typical rookie. With 12:18 left to go in regulation, Prescott threw a 19-yard back-shoulder pass to Dez Bryant for a score while Bryant was in double coverage to cap off a seven-play 63-yard drive. Passes like those are what separates Prescott from the rest of his draft class.
What’s telling is Romo didn’t take a snap in a meaningless blowout win. The Cowboys have clearly decided to roll with Prescott for the rest of the way, which should also allow Romo to get fully healthy to have some trade value this offseason. Prescott proved in college (and now in the NFL) he can take a hit and is tough as nails, making Dallas’ decision to start him in the final two weeks an easier decision.
- Dez Bryant had a field day against the Lions
Bryant’s value to the team shouldn’t be a question. He was Dallas’ leading receiver on Monday night, hauling in four passes for 70 yards and two scores. Bryant showed off unbelievable concentration when he only needed one hand to haul in a 25-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, which finished off a six-play, 51 yard drive and gave Dallas much-needed momentum for the second half.
On Bryant’s second scoring catch, he made significant history and surpassed Cowboys legend Michael Irvin for the second-most touchdown receptions in Dallas history, as Dez now has 66 to his name.
Just for good measure, Bryant also tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten on a trick play against Detroit, which is the first touchdown pass in Bryant’s career. This was also the first pass Bryant has attempted since high school.
- Ezekiel Elliott had an impressive outing against Detroit, but the Cowboys’ decision to sit him near the end of the game could cost him a chance at Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record
As we should come to expect at this point in the year, Elliott, behind the best offensive line in football, is almost impossible to stop unless he is pulled from the game to prevent injury. On Monday night, Elliott carried the football 12 times for 80 yards and two scores. His most electrifying run was a 55-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter, where he hit the whole perfectly, burned the entire Lions’ defense, and went airborne to land in the end zone.
However, if Zeke wants to break Dickerson’s record, he is going to need to churn up 178 yards on the ground in Philadelphia next week. Considering Dallas wants Elliott to be healthy in the postseason and will probably rest him early again, there is virtually no chance for Elliott to break Dickerson’s record. Despite it being a long shot to make history to that respect, Zeke has still delivered a performance for the ages in 2016 and may wind up being the MVP of the NFL in his rookie season.
- Dallas’ defense turned up the intensity in the second half, which contributed to the lopsided score
Although Dallas’ defense let up three rushing scores in the first half, which initially made this game a nail-biter, they decided to lend a hand to their dominant offense by winning the turnover battle. Statistically speaking, both defenses were strikingly similar on Monday night.
Both teams let up 23 first downs and held on to the ball for about 30 minutes apiece. Both teams also punted only four times in the ballgame. However, the Cowboys’ defense won the turnover battle, giving their offense two extra possessions while the Lions couldn’t force a turnover of their own.
It’s difficult to win a game if you lose the turnover battle, which is something Detroit and Dallas showed us last night. When the Lions were in the red zone with 4:23 left to go in the game and appeared ready to cut into Dallas’ lead, David Irving strip-sacked Matthew Stafford and the Cowboys recovered, giving the Lions no chance to engineer a comeback.
The other turnover for Dallas was registered in the third quarter by J.J. Wilcox, who came down with the football after his teammate, Brandon Carr, tipped it in the air. This play ended up being a huge swing of momentum for the Cowboys in the third quarter and the Lions wouldn’t score again for the rest of the game.