3 Takeaways from Cowboys' Week 11 Win
For the first time since Dak Prescott underwent season-ending surgery on his right ankle, the Dallas Cowboys have won a game.
On Sunday, the Cowboys overcame a late deficit to take down the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It was Dallas' first victory since Week 5 against the New York Giants, which was the game in which Prescott suffered the ankle injury.
After that, the Cowboys lost four straight games to sputter into their Week 10 bye. But they played much better upon their return to action, as quarterback Andy Dalton threw a game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining to lift Dallas to victory against Minnesota.
It was the Cowboys' first road win of 2020, which is their first season under head coach Mike McCarthy.
Here are three takeaways from Dallas' victory on Sunday.
Dalton's Return Provided Jolt to Offense
Only two games after Prescott went down, the Cowboys lost Dalton, who suffered a concussion and then tested positive for COVID-19. That caused the 33-year-old veteran quarterback to miss the losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 8 and 9, while rookie Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert each got a start under center.
Dalton's return to the lineup provided a much-needed boost for Dallas, as he passed for 203 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score to Schultz late. That also opened up the Cowboys' running game, as Ezekiel Elliott had 21 carries for 103 yards, his first 100-yard rushing performance of the year. Elliott also caught one of Dalton's touchdown passes for his first score since Week 5.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper had 81 receiving yards (his most since Week 4), rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb scored a touchdown for the second straight week and running back Tony Pollard also got into the end zone. And it all came with Dalton keeping the offense moving, as the Cowboys had 376 total yards and picked up 24 first downs.
"I thought he did a heck of a job today," McCarthy said of Dalton, per Rob Phillips of DallasCowboys.com. "He kept us in clean plays. He really gave us the ability to stay with the run and the pass."
Dalton won't play at the same level as Prescott, but it's clear he gives Dallas a better chance to win than DiNucci or Gilbert. He does a better job of getting the ball to the Cowboys' talented playmakers, who have the potential to still make this unit a strong one down the stretch.
Wilson Impressed with Big Defensive Plays
The Cowboys had a 16-7 lead at halftime, and that may not have been the case if not for a pair of big opportunities created by safety Donovan Wilson. And these plays could be a sign of things to come for the 25-year-old, who should only continue to get better in his second NFL season.
On Minnesota's opening drive, Wilson ripped the ball away from quarterback Kirk Cousins on a sack, earning him a forced fumble and fumble recovery and giving Dallas possession at the Vikings' 30-yard line. The Cowboys then scored the first points of the game three plays later on Dalton's 6-yard touchdown pass to Elliott.
Wilson wasn't done. He caused Minnesota star running back Dalvin Cook to fumble with a big hit late in the second quarter. The ball was recovered by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who then handed the ball to linebacker Jaylon Smith for a 21-yard return that put Dallas at the Vikings' 48-yard line. Again, it led to points for the Cowboys, as Greg Zuerlein booted a 19-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining in the first half, pushing their lead to nine points.
Wilson also had nine tackles, one shy of his season high, and it was the first time in his career that he forced two turnovers in the same game.
"Every day at practice I’m punching, swinging, trying to get whatever ball I can out," Wilson said, according to Calvin Watkins and David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. "I think that just carried over to the game."
The Cowboys Could Actually Win the NFC East
With how bleak things were looking prior to the Cowboys' Week 10 bye, it would have been hard to imagine them as a serious contender in the NFC East, even with how lackluster the division has been this season. But Dallas showed signs of life on Sunday, and it now has a chance to move into first place on Thanksgiving.
All four teams in the NFC East currently have three wins. The Philadelphia Eagles are in first at 3-6-1, while Dallas, New York and Washington are each 3-7. Either Dallas or Washington will take the lead on Thursday when the teams go head-to-head, but it may be only for a few days if Philadelphia beats the Seattle Seahawks next Monday night.
Most years, the Cowboys would not be in a position to potentially reach the playoffs with the way they've played. But they'll have a chance to capitalize on this situation and get things back on track, which could be doable after their win over the Vikings.
Five of Dallas' final six regular-season games are against teams with losing records—its three NFC East rivals, the San Francisco 49ers (4-6) and the Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1). Its only matchup against a team with a winning mark is a Week 13 contest against the Baltimore Ravens, who are 6-4 but have lost two straight.
The Cowboys will need to play better (like they did Sunday at Minnesota), but this schedule should at least give them a chance to win their fourth NFC East title in seven seasons.