Good note from the broadcast: This is the first time the Cowboys have won 12+ games in consecutive seasons since 1994 and 1995. (Those were 16-game seasons, obviously.)
Cowboys vs. Titans score, takeaways: Dak Prescott rebounds from sluggish first half to down gritty Tennessee
Dallas utilized a strong fourth quarter to put Tennessee to bed
The Dallas Cowboys moved to 12-4 in Week 17, defeating the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, 27-13. With the Titans missing so many starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, fans from both sides were expecting a blowout. However, the gritty Titans kept it close until the fourth quarter -- even with a quarterback that was making his first career start.
Former University of Tennessee star quarterback Joshua Dobbs got the nod from Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, and he was decent in his first extensive NFL action. The former fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers completed 20 of 39 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Rookie wideout Treylon Burks had an impressive outing, as he caught four passes for 66 yards. The MVP for the Titans on Thursday night, however, was star safety Kevin Byard, who recorded back-to-back interceptions in the first half.
Dak Prescott played the entire game, and completed 29 of 41 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ezekiel Elliott scored a touchdown for the ninth consecutive game, but managed just 37 rushing yards on 19 carries. CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz were Prescott's go-to weapons, as the wideout caught 11 passes for exactly 100 yards, while the tight end caught seven passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas utilized a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to put this game to bed. With this win, the Cowboys keep their slim hopes for an NFC East title alive, while the Titans now shift their focus to a week 18 matchup against the Jaguars that will decide their postseason fate. So, what went down in Nashville on Thursday night? Let's take a look.
Why the Cowboys won
The Cowboys were the more talented team on Thursday night, but we knew that coming into this matchup. It took awhile for that talent to show, as Prescott's three first-half turnovers kept Tennessee in the game, and Dobbs orchestrated a few drives that resulted in points. Then, the fourth quarter happened.
Prescott led a 10-play, 75-yard drive which resulted in a touchdown on the first drive of the fourth quarter, and then a seven-play, 53-yard drive on the next possession that resulted in a Brett Maher field goal. That 10-0 fourth-quarter run was too much for Tennessee to overcome.
Thursday night didn't show all that the Cowboys are capable of, but it says something about this team that they can rebound from early mistakes and finish games. That's what contenders do.
Why the Titans lost
The Titans had a tough task Thursday night, but there were some moral victories to take away in the loss -- even if they are worthless. Dobbs reenergized Tennessee's passing attack and the defense played gritty ball and recorded three turnovers. While the Cowboys were the better team, the Titans certainly beat themselves at the same time.
Tennessee racked up 10 penalties for a whopping 124 yards. It's hard to win with those numbers -- even if the full roster was healthy. More specifically, Tennessee's young cornerbacks struggled without Kristian Fulton on the field, as they were penalized four times for 79 yards, including a 51-yard pass interference penalty committed by Tre Avery that set the Cowboys up for their second touchdown of the game. If the Titans recorded three penalties for 35 yards like the Cowboys did, who knows what would have happened? At the very least, the game would have been closer.
Up just four points entering the fourth quarter, the Cowboys flipped a switch. Prescott led a 10-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by Schultz's second touchdown of the game. With the Titans down 11 points with just under 12 minutes remaining in the game, everyone understood it was going to be an uphill battle from there.
QB @dak Prescott + #WPMOYChallenge with a DIME to the end zone! 🎯— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 30, 2022
TE @BinghamBaller9 comes down with it & hits the "too small" celly! 🙌
📺: #DALvsTEN on @NFLonPrime pic.twitter.com/wZfN2cBhQu
Plays of the game
The Titans were down starters at all three levels on defense, but one player that did play on Thursday night was Byard. The star safety is one of the most important leaders on this team, and there was no way he was going to sit out this prime-time matchup. In the first half, he recorded back-to-back interceptions.
The first pick was more on Cowboys tight end Peyton Hendershot, but "right place, right time" takes skill sometimes too.
Kevin Byard intercepts it off the bobble ‼️ @KevinByard#DALvsTEN on Prime Video— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2022
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/745fAOdlLT pic.twitter.com/wRo9CFHw11
The second of Prescott's back-to-back interceptions, however, was definitely on him. Byard was a huge reason why the Titans kept this game so close until the final stanza.
2nd INT of the half for @KevinByard! #DALvsTEN on Prime Video— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2022
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/745fAOdlLT pic.twitter.com/iYDvqm9FWU
Titans QB situation
We don't know what the Titans' strategy was with their quarterbacks heading into Thursday night, but we have a good idea of what it is now. Entering the do-or-die showdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18, Dobbs will likely start again over Malik Willis. When asked who would get the call next week Vrabel kept things close to the vest, saying: "We'll make a decision going forward." Dobbs isn't as fluent in Todd Downing's offense, but he can do more as a passer, and that showed on Thursday night. He crossed 100 yards passing in the first half against the Cowboys. Willis hasn't surpassed 100 yards passing in any of his three starts.
The Cowboys close out the regular season on the road, as they will pay a visit to the Washington Commanders next Sunday. As for the Titans, they travel to Jacksonville to face the rival Jaguars. That game will decide the winner of the AFC South.
Meanwhile, the Titans will play the Jaguars next week for the AFC South title. Winner goes to the playoffs and loser likely goes home. (But still might have a chance to make it based on a zillion other things.)
Looks like Dallas will win this one, which means the pressure will be on the Eagles to win at least one of the next two games to make sure they hold onto the NFC East and the No. 1 seed. They play the Saints this Sunday and then the Giants in Week 18. (Assuming Dallas can beat Washington next week.)
Just 37 yards on 19 carries for Zeke tonight. He's more of the grind-it-out in short yardage guy and Tony Pollard is the big-play guy, but this is still a rough game for him. Understandable against such a good run defense, though.
Nowhere to go with the ball on fourth down for Dobbs and he has to try to force a pass into double-coverage. Cowboys have a chance to run the clock out with this next possession.
Dobbs held onto that ball for one hitch too long on third down. Gave just enough time for pressure to hit home before he could release the pass.
That was Sam Williams with the pressure on Dobbs. He briefly left with an injury earlier.
Avery had a rough penalty earlier but he had some nice coverage on Noah Brown on that third-down pass. Good job getting the ball back quickly for his team.
Instead, Dobbs gets picked off by Nahshon Wright. With Anthony Brown out for the year, Kelvin Joseph had been in that second corner spot across from Trevon Diggs. But after he struggled, Wright has been getting a shot in nickel packages. He's looked pretty good.
Down two touchdowns, the Titans catch a break with a kickoff going out of bounds. The result of this game doesn't matter for their season, but Josh Dobbs can still do some things to ensure himself more of a shot next week and in the future.
Taeir Tart is having a really nice night. Just tossed McGovern aside to pick up the sack on second down. But now he's down being evaluated for an injury.
Biadasz is back on the sideline with a boot on his right leg. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are still trying to run the ball against this Titans run defense against which they have not been able to run the ball all night.
Burks was NOT happy about the lack of a flag on that deep ball down the sideline against Wright.
And now Sam Williams is down for the Dallas defense. This team is turning into a MASH unit.
Designed touches for Treylon Burks tend to work out. They did in college, and they are so far in the NFL.
Dak and Schultz connect in the end zone again! #DALvsTEN on Prime Video— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2022
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/745fAOdlLT pic.twitter.com/jjG036EfOQ
What a throw from Dak to Schultz. Sheesh.
Seems like a questionable penalty there. Titans now up to 114 yards in fouls.
Some shuffling along the line: LG Conner McGovern moves to center, LT Tyler Smith to LG, Jason Peters in at LT. Dallas now, incredibly, with three future HOF players on the same offensive line.
Dallas already lost RT Terence Steele for the season to a torn ACL. Now C Tyler Biadasz goes off the field with an injury.
...and then T.Y. Hilton makes yet another big play against an AFC South opponent.
Dallas seems blissfully unaware of the fact that it cannot run the ball against this Titans defense.
First career TD pass for @josh_dobbs1 ‼️#DALvsTEN on Prime Video— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2022
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/745fAOcNWl pic.twitter.com/apTR2IYLCI
Dobbs slides to his left under pressure (again) and finds Woods for a touchdown. Nice design on that play to ensure the defensive backs were screened from finding him underneath. First touchdown pass of Dobbs' NFL career.
Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker both down for the Cowboys after that last play. That's two of their top three safeties, who all play a lot. And they're already down their Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks for the year. Not good.
Another really nice third-down throw by Dobbs, this time to Robert Woods on the out route in front of Wright. I think he's earned himself another start next week against Jacksonville.
Hassan Haskins made that happen himself. Just ran over Tank Lawrence after being met in the backfield. Great job.
I'd imagine the Titans are going for it on fourth down here after running the ball on third-and-6. Must-have conversion.
Dobbs has made some really nice throws on third down. He finally got one completed right there.
Dalton Schultz walks in to extend the Cowboys lead.@BinghamBaller9 | #DallasCowboys#DALvsTEN on Prime Video— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2022
Also available on NFL+ https://t.co/745fAOdlLT pic.twitter.com/4l6wPlUw4H