Todd Archer and Chris Rim6 minutes of reading
ENGLEWOOD, Calif. — After a game full of fouls and penalty flags, The Dallas Cowboys defense came up big in the final two minutes of a 20-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on “Monday Night Football.”
The Chargers fell to 2-3 after quarterback Justin Herbert broke the middle finger on his non-throwing hand. The Cowboys moved to 4-2 on the season.
After last week’s incident against the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys needed any kind of win.
Monday’s win certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys enter their bye week with a 4-2 record and are still within striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles and 49ers, who suffered surprising losses on Sunday.
After last week everything is in question. Mike McCarthy’s play calling, Dak Prescott’s ability, the toughness of the defense. Nothing was perfect — too many penalties, too many big plays allowed, not enough big plays made, special teams turnovers — but when it mattered, they made the plays they needed to.
It started with three key third-down conversions on the game-winning drive that ended with a Brandon Aubrey field goal, a sack — the first of the game for the Cowboys — Micah Parsons and a Seal interception by Stephen Gilmore.
The Cowboys are now 10-1 after losing the past two seasons.
Maybe they don’t die.
QB Breakdown: Let’s forget the passing numbers for Prescott. Let’s talk about his urgency. He had the longest touchdown run (18 yards) in the first quarter of his career and the longest by a Cowboys QB since 2010. Prescott hasn’t used his legs much in recent years. He had 18 rushing touchdowns in his first three years and now has nine in his last five. He rushed for 45 yards in the first five games and scored 33 in the first half against the Chargers. He’s not a running quarterback, but he can be effective with his feet and may need to be.
Promising Trend: Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb had 84 receiving yards in the first half — more than he had in four of the first five games. He admitted later in the week that his body language needed to be better after being salty in the San Francisco game. All five of his catches in the first two quarters covered 10 or more air yards. In the New England game, he had eight completions of 10 or more air yards.
The silver lining: Maybe it’s not a trend because it’s only one game, but the Cowboys were solid in their first outing without linebacker Leiden Vander Esch. After DeMarvion Overshon was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Markquese Bell moved from safety to linebacker late in training camp. While the Cowboys had two linebackers in their personnel group, he managed to come up with 17 snaps for a loss and one pass breakup in the first half. When the Cowboys lost Vander Esch late last season, the run defense suffered. On Monday, the Chargers had just 50 yards on 22 carries in Austin Ekeler’s return from injury.
Next game: vs. Rams (Oct. 29, 1 p.m. ET)
Los Angeles Chargers
Monday night’s game between the Chargers and Cowboys seemed to have all the ingredients needed to be high-scoring: two of the best offenses in the league, a former coordinator facing his old team and a struggling Chargers secondary. Instead, it was another Chargers loss that came down to the final moments. All of their games this season have been decided by 7 points or less.
Eye-popping NextGen Stats: Herbert was pressured on 42% of his dropbacks, his highest in any game this season (he had the fifth-lowest pressure rate at 25% entering the game). He took several big hits from defenders while running and playing with a broken finger on his left hand.
Major play The Chargers’ pass rush got to Herbert, and in the fourth quarter, they forced a game-deciding fumble. With the Chargers down by three and less than two minutes left, Herbert’s errant pass on the rush landed in Gilmore’s hands, effectively ending the game.
Problematic trend: The Chargers are still struggling to run the ball. Even with Ekeler returning from a sprained right ankle in Week 1, the Chargers running backs struggled to get any success, amassing just 35 yards. Outside of a 233-yard rushing performance in Week 1, the Chargers have rushed for more than 100 yards once this year and combined for just 91 yards in Weeks 2 and 3.
Next game: In Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)