The Seattle Seahawks ruined Ezekiel Elliott's return from his six-game suspension and ended the Dallas Cowboys' playoff hopes in the process, earning a crucial 21-12 win Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Despite not reaching 100 yards of total offense until the final play of the third quarter, the Seahawks (9-6) capitalized on three Cowboys turnovers in the contest, turning them into 21 points. Russell Wilson won the battle of the quarterbacks, meanwhile, throwing two touchdown passes with no turnovers as Dak Prescott tossed two interceptions and failed to lead the Cowboys to a touchdown.
Dan Bailey also missed two crucial field goals late in the fourth quarter for the Cowboys (8-7), killing any chances of a late comeback.
The win kept Seattle in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the NFC, though the Seahawks will still need the Atlanta Falcons (9-6) to lose in Week 17 since Atlanta holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Seattle's win was another reminder of the team's resilience:
It was a brutal way for the Cowboys to end the season, meanwhile:
The Cowboys took a 6-0 lead behind two Dan Bailey field goals in the second quarter. They quickly squandered that lead, however, after Dez Bryant fumbled on the team's next possession at the Dallas 43. Five plays later, Wilson connected with tight end Jimmy Graham on a three-yard touchdown pass.
Dallas regained the advantage on the next possession and took a 9-7 lead into the half after Bailey's 51-yard field goal.
The Cowboys couldn't have dominated the first half more thoroughly, at least from a statistical standpoint. They out-gained the Seahawks in total yards, 179-44, and held the ball for 18 minutes, 20 seconds. The Cowboys looked to be in control behind a running game that chewed up 103 rushing yards on the ground.
Seattle's defense locked down in the second half, however. After a short drive and punt from Seattle's offense to start the third quarter, Justin Coleman intercepted Prescott's overthrown pass to Elliott and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, giving Seattle a 14-9 lead it would never relinquish.
Bailey hit his fourth field goal on Dallas' next drive, but two possessions later the turnovers bit the Cowboys again after Prescott threw behind Bryant, who couldn't come down with the catch. The ball deflected into the arms of K.J. Wright, and 13 plays later Wilson connected with Doug Baldwin on a six-yard touchdown to give the Seahawks a 21-12 lead.
Bailey had a chance to trim the game to a one-possession deficit on Dallas' next drive but missed a 34-yard chip shot. The Cowboys had a 2nd-and-2 on the 2-yard line before a holding penalty and an 11-yard sack of Prescott forced them to try the field goal.
Bailey missed his second field goal on Dallas' next drive, and with that, the Cowboys' postseason hopes were officially extinguished.
Seattle's defense deserves credit for clamping down in the second half, namely on the ground, holding the Cowboys to just 25 rushing yards in the third and fourth quarters. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com also blamed the Cowboys for abandoning the running game, though:
Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks
The #Cowboys have an identity crisis. Their offensive coaches refuse to call the game in a way that showcases their best players. No.21 should be the focal point. He sets the table for everyone else. Whenever they deviate from that approach, they fail.. Run the rock over & over
Elliott rushed 24 times for 97 yards. But in key moments, including in the red zone, the Cowboys failed to get their best player the ball.
Seattle's defense also bailed out an offense that only managed 136 total yards on the evening, but Wilson (93 passing yards, 29 rushing yards) and the Seahawks turned their opportunities into touchdowns, while Prescott (182 passing yards) and the Cowboys only managed field goals.
Seattle also largely took Bryant out of the game, as the veteran wideout managed just three receptions for 44 yards.
Still, so inept was the Seahawks offense for most of the game that they became the "first team to win a game with more penalty yards (142) than total yards (136) since the Eagles in 1966," according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Up next for Seattle is a matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on New Year's Eve at 4:25 p.m. ET. That game will only have relevance for the Seahawks if the Falcons lose their 1 p.m. ET meeting against the Carolina Panthers. One positive for the Seahawks, however, is that the Panthers will be gunning for an NFC South title and fully incentivized to win.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, have nothing to play for in Week 17 except for the possibility of being spoilers when they face the Philadelphia Eagles. If Philly loses against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, it'll need either a win next week or a Minnesota Vikings loss to guarantee homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.