Cowboys at Chargers score, takeaways: Dallas boots Los Angeles on Greg Zuerlein's last-second field goal

It turned out to be a bare-knuckled brawl in Week 2, complete with wild-and-crazy events for both teams, with the Dallas Cowboys escaping SoFi Stadium with a narrow 20-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Both teams were dealing with injuries at key positions, so as things got underway at SoFi Stadium, keeping an eye on how both teams adjusted was key. 

This one had it all, from questionable coaching decisions to controversial officiating calls and non-calls, and even an issue with the time on the scoreboard toward the end of the game -- per head coach Mike McCarthy -- that led to a clock-management gaffe that nearly cost the Cowboys the game. It all set the stage for what might be an electric finish in Los Angeles, and that's exactly what we were treated to. In the end, it was a 56-yard kick by Greg Zuerlein, a player who left at least four points on the field in the Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that sealed the deal for the Cowboys and served as one final gut punch for a talented Chargers team that simply couldn't get out of their own way.

Football gonna football.

Why the Cowboys won

Grit.

And no, I'm not talking about the kind you eat for breakfast, I'm talking about the kind that allowed the Cowboys to digest their many errors without getting acid reflux. This is a team that finished with eight penalties for a total of 76 yards and while the Chargers had more, it was the untimeliness of when Dallas saw flags that nearly buried their hopes at SoFi Stadium, but they continually climbed out of the grave, time and again, to the point Michael Jackson would've probably asked them to be in the "Thriller" video. 

Dak Prescott didn't throw for 400 yards, but he didn't have to, because the Cowboys took what the Chargers were given them and it led to an explosive day in the rushing attack -- led by Tony Pollard with 109 yards on 13 carries and additionally fueled by 71 yards on 16 carries from Ezekiel Elliott, with both delivering the only two touchdowns on the afternoon for the Cowboys. So, again, the Cowboys don't need balance. What they need is wins, and adapting weekly will help increase their odds of stacking them.

Last but clearly not least, credit a Cowboys defense that is often maligned, but intercepted Justin Herbert twice and allowed only one passing touchdown, while also keeping a lid on Austin Ekeler and the Chargers run game. They weren't perfect, but when Dallas needed them most, they clamped down and sent Herbert packing.

Why the Chargers lost

This is going to sound familiar to Chargers fans: Herbert couldn't do it alone.

Much like his stellar rookie season, Herbert had the Chargers in position to pull away from the Cowboys but they simply couldn't. It is true the young quarterback has to lay some of the blame for this at his feet -- having tossed the aforementioned two interceptions -- because some of his youthful mistakes simply compounded the problems for Los Angeles. But on a day that saw him tandem with wideout Keenan Allen (108 receiving yards) for a robust 338 passing yards on 31 completions in 41 attempts, you have to wonder how the game would've gone if the defense would've gotten more than one takeaway. 

Going into the game, it was all anyone could do to avoid talk of what All-Pro pass rusher Joey Bosa would do to backup tackle Terence Steele, but Bosa finished with only three combined tackles and no sacks. As a matter of fact, the Chargers pass rush struggled with a less-than-whole Cowboys offensive line all afternoon, sacking Prescott only once in four quarters and failing to stop a consistent dose of Pollard, Elliott and CeeDee Lamb -- the latter reeling in 81 yards on either catches with nine targets.

The Chargers secondary struggled in large part because Prescott stayed on his feet most of the game, and having to key in on Prescott combined with the loss of defensive tackle Justin Jones to make for a softened defensive middle for the Cowboys to run through. Herbert deserves some of the blame, absolutely, but let's not pretend the Chargers couldn't have asked more from their top defensive playmakers as well.

Turning point

It looked more like a movie with a hundred plot twists than an actual football game, so choosing one was difficult. I mean, there's the 18-yard sack by Micah Parsons, the roughing the kicker penalty that joined other Cowboys errors in nearly giving the Chargers the win, etc. etc. But when you get right down to it, arguably the most pivotal play was made by Damontae Kazee -- who shaved four points from the Chargers final score with this red-zone interception.

The Cowboys went on to win by three, so do the math.

Play of the game

There can only be one, and while there are worthy highlights that challenge for play of the game, it came down to a kick by Zuerlein -- who mentally had to overcome his whiffs in Week 1 that helped cost the Cowboys a victory. In Week 2,  the villain became the hero.

Parsons is the real deal

The Cowboys needed their rookie first-round pick to take on more duties rushing the passer in the absence of All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. All he did was deliver a key sack that gave the Cowboys a chance to win the game, and they did.

"A lot if it was natural. Some people had a long day out there." -- Parsons

What's next

The Cowboys will get ready for a homestand that starts by playing host to the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC East clash that will help shape the division, while the Chargers try and rebound against the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC West matchup they can't afford to lose.

Be sure to check out the live blog below for anything you might've missed from one of the best games you'll see this season.

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LAC -3, O/U 55

Season Leaders

passing
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D. Prescott 4449 YD, 37 TDS, 10 INTS
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D. Prescott 4449 YD, 37 TDS, 10 INTS
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J. Herbert 5014 YD, 38 TDS, 15 INTS
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J. Herbert 5014 YD, 38 TDS, 15 INTS
rushing
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E. Elliott 237 ATT, 1002 YD, 10 TDS
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E. Elliott 237 ATT, 1002 YD, 10 TDS
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A. Ekeler 206 ATT, 911 YD, 12 TDS
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A. Ekeler 206 ATT, 911 YD, 12 TDS
receiving
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C. Lamb 79 REC, 1102 YD, 6 TDS
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C. Lamb 79 REC, 1102 YD, 6 TDS
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M. Williams 76 REC, 1146 YD, 9 TDS
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M. Williams 76 REC, 1146 YD, 9 TDS
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September 20, 2021, 12:20 AM
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September 19, 2021, 11:19 PM
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AWFUL clock management by the Cowboys there. Just awful. 

September 19, 2021, 11:16 PM
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Trainers aren't evaluating Cooper. Bullet dodged, it appears. Cowboys already without Gallup -- on IR with a calf injury.

September 19, 2021, 11:15 PM
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Cooper is walking to the sideline under his own power. 

September 19, 2021, 11:13 PM
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Amari Cooper is down and in pain. The Cowboys are already without Michael Gallup, who's on IR with a calf injury. 

September 19, 2021, 11:12 PM
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Craziness in this game continues. Micah Parsons credited with the sack on Herbert and it's controversial, but that's the call. Forces the Chargers into a FG on a drive that saw them reach the end zone but saw it negated by an illegal shift penalty. 

This game is WILD. 

September 19, 2021, 11:02 PM
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