Cowboys struggles continue in Thanksgiving Day loss
On a day meant for thanks, there just wasn’t much to be thankful for in regards to this Cowboys performance.
It was a turkey.
Facing one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas was overmatched from start to finish, losing 28-6 in front of a sold-out crowd of 93,012 and a national television audience.
The hope was the return of left tackle Tyron Smith and kicker Dan Bailey would perhaps provide a spark for a team that had lost badly in each of its last two games. But with running back Ezekiel Elliott and linebacker Sean Lee still unavailable, both sides of the ball for Dallas just didn’t play well.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers simply picked apart the Cowboys, completing 81.8 percent of his passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns. He also wasn’t sacked once and didn’t throw any interceptions, earning a passer rating of 149.1. Los Angeles averaged 7.8 yards per play on its way to 515 total yards of offense, the most the Cowboys have allowed since Nov. 10, 2013 at New Orleans (625).
By comparison, Dak Prescott finished with only 179 passing yards, despite completing 74.1 percent of his attempts. But he also tossed two picks and failed to reach the end zone. Dallas finished with 79 rushing yards against the NFL’s worst rushing defense and totaled 247 offensive yards in all for the game.
Although the first quarter came and went without any points scored by either team, that hardly told the tale of how this game started. It seemed only a matter of time before the Chargers would find their way onto the scoreboard.
On their first possession, Rivers marched his team down the field in chunks, hitting tight end Hunter Henry for 17 yards and receiver Keenan Allen for 12 more. The big blow though, was a 46-yard bomb to wideout Travis Benjamin, which all eventually led to the visitors reaching Dallas’ 17-yard line. There, the Cowboys defense was able to halt the progress and then received a break when kicker Nick Novak’s 35-yard field goal try sailed wide right.
And Los Angeles found their way into the red zone again on its next possession, starting at its own 7-yard line and rolling down the field to the Dallas 12 as the clock ticked over into the second quarter. And like before, the yardage came in chunks – 11-yard and 32-yard connections to Allen and another 27 yarder to Henry, helped by an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Byron Jones.
But a fumbled snap aborted the Chargers’ drive, and with the kicker Novak temporarily out with a back injury (what are the odds the Cowboys’ opponent would lose a kicker in each of the last two games?), the Chargers went for it on fourth-and-13, only to come up a yard short.
The Cowboys’ good fortune was bound to end, of course, but at least they could take some solace in the fact that the Chargers next possession, which saw them reach the red zone yet again, resulted in only a 22-yard field goal from the returning Novak. Needless to say, with Los Angeles having racked up 228 yards of offense with 10 first downs to just 84 and five, respectively, for Dallas in the first half, the Cowboys were lucky to only be down 3-0.
Whatever solace could be taken, though, was soon lost. After Thomas Rhett entertained the fans during The Salvation Army Red Kettle kickoff at halftime, the Chargers took the opening possession of the third quarter and finally reached the end zone.
And like before, the big blow came thanks to another deep ball, this time Rivers connecting with running back Austin Ekeler down the left sideline for a 38-yard gain. The quarterback, enjoying plenty of time to find his target, went on to cap the series with a 3-yard pass to Henry in the middle of the end zone. The uncertain Novak did manage to shank the extra point to the left, but the Chargers lead was now 9-0.
The Cowboys appeared to finally get on the board on their next series when Prescott kept a keeper around the left end and ran 34 yards untouched all the way to the end zone. But a holding penalty on the left tackle Smith negated the play and Dallas was eventually forced to punt.
It was just that kind of day.
When the Chargers then drove 92 yards in eight plays to reach the end zone again, the game was essentially over. And cue up the broken record, big plays were the culprit.
A 16-yard pass here, a 31-yard completion there, followed by another 13-yard gain. The touchdown then came with a 27-yard strike to receiver Tyrell Williams down the right side of the end zone for the score. Punter Drew Kaser managed to split the uprights this time, the advantage now 16-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Finally, the Cowboys gave the home crowd something to cheer about, reaching paydirt with a nine-play, 81-yard drive that saw Dallas benefit from a 36-yard pass interference penalty. But Prescott also completed passes of 13 yards to Alfred Morris and a big 18-yarder to Dez Bryant on a third-and-6 before Rod Smith rumbled across the goal line from 2 yards out. The Cowboys failed to convert the two-point conversion, but the shutout was over, 16-6.
The good vibes didn’t last long. In order to complete any comeback, you’ve got to stop the other guys, too, and that just wasn’t going to happen. The Chargers bounced right back with another touchdown. This one a 42-yard completion to Allen that saw five different Dallas defenders miss the tackle.
That was then followed by the Cowboys moving down to the Los Angeles 13-yard line. But that’s when Chargers cornerback Desmond King stepped in front of a pass intended for Cole Beasley, hauled in the interception and then raced untouched 90 yard back the other way for the pick-six. At least the Chargers couldn’t make extra points, missing both.
But with the score now 28-6 and the crowd on their way home for leftovers, there was nothing left to do but play out the clock, and thankfully the Chargers obliged by running off the last 6:42 on their final drive.
The Cowboys have now been outscored 72-6 combined in the second half of their last three games, all losses, and their record has fallen to 5-6 on the year, their hopes of even a wild-card berth slowly starting to slip away. They’ll look to get back on track a week from now when Dallas hosts the rival Washington Redskins in a prime-time Thursday night matchup.