Dak 100% player of the game... Dak look damn good today....Dallas D come on with it... Dallas can and will be scary... remember these words— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) September 20, 2020
The Dallas Cowboys should send an apology letter to any fan subjected to the misery that was their first quarter against the visiting Atlanta Falcons, but it'll return to sender after they pulled out a thrilling 40-39 victory to spoil the upset. The former coughed up a total of four fumbles in that quarter alone and lost three of them -- allowing the Falcons to score 14 points off of those turnovers en route to a big lead in Arlington. It dug a huge hole early for the Cowboys, but they were able to clean up their act a bit on the back end of the quarter and took the momentum from a positive drive into the start of the second quarter, which ended in Ezekiel Elliott bullying his way into a much-needed touchdown.
The Falcons mounted a 12-play drive to reply, as the Cowboys defense began to wear down a bit from Dallas losing the time of possession battle. A game that began with the injury bug ravaging the latter has since seen it do the same against the former though, with key injuries changing the dynamic for the Falcons -- Kaleb McGary out with a knee injury, Ricardo Allen battling an elbow ailment and Demontae Kazee entering concussion protocol after being victimized by Elliott on the aforementitoned touchdown run.
It ultimately turned into a bit of a barnburner as opposed to what looked early on to be a looming blowout, and the Falcons nearly escaped with a 1-1 record, but hold your horses. A big play by Michael Gallup, second rushing touchdown by Dak Prescott, recovered onside kick and game-winning boot by Greg Zuerlein instead changed the entire plot to this movie.
Cowboys win. Falcons collapse. Football is back.
Why the Cowboys won
Four fumbles in one quarter turned out to not matter one iota.
The Falcons used those mistakes to take a two-possession lead, teeing off on the porous offensive line that lacked both La'El Collins and perennial All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, and most wrote the Cowboys off from there. With both starting tackles absent, the Cowboys were forced to start two undrafted talents in their place, and it showed throughout. Rookie Terence Steele and second-year talent Brandon Knight were basically mauled by Grady Jarrett and Co. for much of the game, as was third-year left guard Connor Williams, but Prescott kept climbing out of the coffin -- so much so it was like he was auditioning to be an extra in a Thriller remake.
The Cowboys offense continued to chip away despite an abysmal defensive effort by most, setting themselves up to strike when the Prescott and Co. forced the game to 29-24 in the early fourth quarter. Big catches from CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup fueled the comeback, as did a career day from backup tight end Dalton Schultz. By the time the Cowboys recovered the onside kick that led to Greg Zuerlein's game-winning kick, it felt a foregone conclusion the football gods had changed their favor toward Dallas and against Atlanta.
Why the Falcons lost
Leave it to the Falcons to figure out how to escape with a loss.
In a game that saw both Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley torch the Cowboys defense, and their Atlanta counterparts force four fumbles in a single quarter -- recovering three of them -- head coach Dan Quinn seemingly refused to go 1-1 on the season. The Falcons went two for two on plays with goal to go as well as on fourth down, and had a +4 turnover margin, but were still outgained in total yardage by 190 yards and ran nine fewer offensive plays despite winning the time of possession battle by more nearly seven minutes and having the lead for 59 minutes and 56 seconds. It's too bad for them it's a 60-minute game.
The Cowboys did a wonderful job shutting down Julio Jones for much of the game, and a key drop that would've been a touchdown felt like a momentum shifter at the time even though Dallas didn't capitalize on the next drive. Is it Jones' fault in totality that the Falcons wet the bed? No, it is not, but that touchdown would've put the game out of reach. That mistake combined with a list of defensive ones, and the botched onside kick, to ultimately pluck the feathers right off of the bird.
And with that, the Falcons are 0-2 and Quinn's seat could not possibly be much hotter.
Julio Jones is arguably the best wideout in the NFL and a definitive first-ballot Hall of Famer, but not on Sunday. He turned in just two catches for 24 yards and this dropped touchdown took the nail off of the Cowboys coffin.
He'll have nightmares about this one all week.
Play of the Game
In a game chocked full of highlights from all three of the Cowboys top receivers, Prescott and Elliott -- this catch will dominate reels this week. My word, Amari Cooper, there were women and children watching.
"WOW!!!!! OK DALLAS!!!" - Cowboys legend Dez Bryant, via Twitter
The Cowboys must now ready for an all-important conference battle with the Seattle Seahawks, while the Falcons head home to face the Chicago Bears, reeling from what happened in Arlington on Sunday.
Check out all the highlights from a Sunday thriller in the live blog below.