ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys were 98 yards away from suffering their biggest upset loss since 1995.
With 3:20 remaining, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave them just a 34% chance of winning, up from the 13% they had after Dak Prescott‘s second interception of the game gave the Texans the ball at the Dallas 4 with 5:37 remaining and Houston up 23-20.
And yet somehow the Cowboys left AT&T Stadium on Sunday with a 27-23 win against the Texans.
On Nov. 20, the Cowboys had their largest road win in franchise history, beating the Minnesota Vikings 40-3. Last week, they scored a franchise-record 33 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Indianapolis Colts.
Facing Houston was not supposed to be this difficult.
“I think anytime you can live through that and have a positive result, you’re better for it,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
Prescott also believes this win, against the now 1-11-1 Texans, could end up being important.
“This will serve us more than I think the Minnesota game or even the way we finished the last game when it comes down to it because we’re going to play some tough games as we get going,” he said. “You got to play games like [this], one-score games here in the back end against our division or whether it be the playoffs. Just for us to have that confidence and trust in one another and continue to tighten our bond is something that we’re going to need.”
Not that they want to be in position to suffer such a defeat. In 1995, the Cowboys were 17.5-point favorites over 3-9 Washington and lost, but that team at least had a Super Bowl pedigree. This Cowboys team was a 17-point favorite against the Texans, the largest spread in the NFL this season, and nearly had a debilitating loss.
“We can sit here and talk about all the things that didn’t go right, and I get it,” coach Mike McCarthy said, alluding to the two turnovers that led to 14 Houston points, a pass rush that didn’t record a sack for the first time this season, injuries and a general malaise. “But at the end of the day you have to — you have to — win the game in the fourth quarter, and we did that today.”
To pull out the win, Prescott (24-of-39, 284 yards, one touchdown) found a rhythm that escaped him for most of the game.
He completed his first six passes on the game-winning drive, and the only incompletion was a drop by Michael Gallup in the end zone. He opened with a 21-yard completion to Dalton Schultz and hit the tight end two more times on the drive. He ran twice for 12 yards.
On the 11th play of the drive, Ezekiel Elliott burrowed his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 41 seconds to play.
Prescott said he told the offense they were going to win the game after his interception because he believed in the defense. DeMarcus Lawrence dropped Rex Burkhead for a 2-yard loss at the Dallas 1 and Neville Gallimore and Anthony Barr swallowed up Jeff Driskel on fourth down after it looked like the quarterback turned the wrong away on the snap.
Then the offense took over.
“I told them, ‘One play at a time, heighten the focus,’ and that’s something that I’m always reminding the guys,” Prescott said. “Just, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this game. Don’t blink,’ and none of those guys did. You could tell it in their eyes that they believed it.”
It was the Cowboys’ first 98-yard touchdown drive since Week 5 last season against the New York Giants.
Now 10-3, the Cowboys have won double-digit games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1995-96. They still have a chance to win the NFC East, although they would need to beat the Philadelphia Eagles (11-1) on Christmas Eve and have the Eagles lose at least one more game.
Yet as much as they relish the win, they know they can’t survive this way.
“I think everyone in here would say that,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “But at the same token, I think these games are great learning experiences. When your back is against the wall and you have to make a game-winning drive at the end of the game, that stuff pays off down the road. So definitely don’t want to be in that situation again, but the fact we were and got it done is big for our football team.”
Despite the win, the Cowboys fear right tackle Terence Steele sustained a serious injury to his left knee, according to multiple sources. Steele will undergo more tests on Monday for an exact diagnosis; Jason Peters and Josh Ball will be counted on if Steele is out for an extended period of time.
Dallas Cowboys look to grow from comeback win vs. Texans