By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys came into their Monday Night Football game against the Detroit Lions with nothing left to play for. They already wrapped up the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lions, on the other hand, needed to win to keep their hopes of a first-round bye alive. With so much on the line for Detroit and nothing to play for by Dallas, the Cowboys came out and beat up the Lions, 42-21. Here is a look at the team grades for the Dallas Cowboys.
There was a point in the first half where Dallas was making way too many penalties on offense, but they ended up working things out and finished with a very strong game. The big question was whether the Cowboys would rest their stars in this game, and they didn’t. Dak Prescott played the entire game, completing 15-of-20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Matthew Stafford threw more passes and had more yards, but Prescott was more effective, and he proved why he was selected for the Pro Bowl this year.
Ezekiel Elliott was used much less than usual but played for the first three quarters. He only had 12 carries in the game but gained 80 yards on those carries and ran for two touchdowns. Darren McFadden immediately stepped in as his immediate backup over Alfred Morris and ran 14 times for 49 yards, giving Elliott lots of rest.
The huge revival in this game was that of Dez Bryant. The Cowboys star wide receiver hasn’t played up to expectations this year, but that all changed in this game. Bryant caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns, including an acrobatic catch as he dove into the end zone. On a trick play, Bryant also threw the first pass of his NFL career, a touchdown toss to Jason Witten. If Bryant is truly back to form, this Cowboys team just got more dangerous.
The first half saw the Detroit Lions keeping up with the Dallas Cowboys, score-for-score. The Lions had three touchdowns on their first three drives and took the lead, 21-14. It looked like it was going to be a tough game where the last team to score wins. However, that isn’t what happened. After that third touchdown, the Cowboys shut down Matthew Stafford and the Lions defense and didn’t let them score again.
J.J. Wilcox intercepted Stafford once and a Cowboys defense that has has trouble rushing the quarterback finished with four sacks. That was even more impressive since two of the Cowboys’ pass rushers were out with injury. David Irving continues to come into his own this season, with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Randy Gregory played in his first game in over a year and finished with two tackles and a quarterback hit.
Special Teams: B
It was a rare game where Dan Bailey never had to attempt a field goal, though he hit all six PATs. Chris Jones only attempted four punts, leaving only one inside the 20. It was special teams returns that hurt Dallas. Andre Roberts brought a kickoff 42 yards at one point and a punt return 23 yards. Luckily, only one of those big returns led to a Lions touchdown drive.
Jason Garrett gets all the credit in the world for this big win. He was smart and played Darren McFadden a lot in order to rest the legs of Ezekiel Elliott. However, playing Dak Prescott the entire game seems risky on a weekend where both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota were lost to broken bones. Jason Garrett will need to consider playing Tony Romo next week to protect Prescott from a freak accident.
Up Next: That game next week is on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. It is a rivalry game and one that could prove dangerous for stars like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The Eagles have nothing to play for but pride, and the Cowboys might protect starters like Elliott and Prescott as well as rest injured players like Tyron Smith. The game is at noon on New Year’s Day.