Elliott, Defense Lead 24-17 Comeback Win For Cowboys, But Give Credit To 49ers Too
The game-clock had dipped toward the downhill side of the second quarter, and the Dallas Cowboys found themselves reeling on the green, chewed-up mat in Santa Clara, seemingly punch-drunk at the hands of an inferior foe. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, that noted maker of miracles coming into the game, found himself laying on the ground again after being thrown down behind the line of scrimmage for the second time. The punt team prepared to come onto the field, and Dallas head coach Jason Garrett was forced to momentarily contemplate the imminent reality of a 14-0 deficit growing even larger for his team. The Cowboys, with 4:41 remaining in the opening half, appeared to be on the verge of getting steamrolled by the San Francisco 49ers.
But then a yellow hankie of good fortune dropped from the sky, signaling a 49er boo-boo. Second-year safety Jaquiski Tartt, who at 221-pounds is the largest member of the San Francisco secondary, put his imprint upon the game by making its biggest mistake. By shoving Prescott in the back after the whistle had signaled the play dead a full second before, Tartt gave the Cowboys offense new life and changed the game’s complexion in the process.
A contest which, to that point, had been comprised solely of long San Francisco drives and uncharacteristic overthrows from Prescott, turned suddenly on a dime, leading to an inspiring comeback victory for the Cowboys. After trailing 14-0, Dallas outscored the 49ers by a 24-3 margin over the final 34 minutes to claim a 24-17 win and move to 3-1 on the season.
The morning headlines in Dallas will heap an abundance of praise on the Cowboys’ vaunted pair of rookies, Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. But the play of the game belonged to Tartt. Without his mistake, the Cowboys don’t march down for their first score of the afternoon. And they certainly don’t tie the game before intermission.
Instead of another Chris Jones punt, Tartt’s ill-advised shove pushed the ball all the way to the San Francisco 39-yard line. Three plays later, Terrance Williams caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Finally given a chance to collect their breath, the Dallas defense held and forced a 49er punt after just three plays. A shank off the foot of punter Bradley Pinion gifted the Cowboys with the ball at their own 42. Eleven plays and 58 yards later, Prescott and wide receiver Brice Butler combined to tie the game with a 4-yard scoring connection in the back left corner of the end-zone.
When All-Pro linebacker Navarro Bowman left the game in the third quarter with a lower leg injury, it left a hole in the San Francisco run defense that Elliott was only too willing to run through. On the very first play after Bowman’s injury, Elliott broke free for a 23-yard gain. Later in the drive, Elliott took the handoff on a first-and-10 play and went to the right again, this time for 17-yards. His 1-yard scoring plunge on the next play capped a 10-play, 78-yard scoring drive that provided Dallas with its first lead of the game at 21-17.
Elliott didn’t stop there. His 26-yard burst early in the fourth quarter was the key play on a drive which resulted in a short Dan Bailey field goal that extended the Dallas advantage to seven points. Elliott finished his day with 138 yards on 23 carries, good for a healthy 6.0 per-carry average.
What Dallas’ young guns started, the defense was there to finish.
Just moments after making his first interception in more than two years, Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne snuffed out San Francisco’s final rally with a sideline tackle of Torrey Smith on a fourth-and-6 play. What has been a bounce-back season thus far for Claiborne after four frustrating years to start his career in Dallas paralleled that of a bounce-back second-half for the Cowboy defense.
Coming into this game, the Cowboys knew that San Francisco would try to pound the rock. That’s what any team would do that has Blaine Gabbert as its quarterback.
But though they came prepared, Rod Marinelli’s unit still could not stop it in the early going. Whether it was the legs of Carlos Hyde or Gabbert himself doing the running, the 49ers waltzed through, over, and around the Cowboys defense to start the game, converting on their first seven third-down plays to begin the game. After two drives, San Francisco led by a pair of touchdowns.
A more aggressive style up front and better coverage on the backend changed things for Dallas in a big way. After being bludgeoned to start the game, Dallas allowed San Francisco to convert just one of its final seven third-down plays, and for the first time all season did not allow an opponent to score a second-half touchdown.
Sometimes even the better team needs a push in the right direction. You don’t expect it from the opponent, but never complain when you do.
But that’s the reality the Cowboys will wake up to on Monday morning. They are 3-1 and only one-half game behind Philadelphia for the NFC East lead, thanks to their Young Guns, thanks to their defense, but most of all, thanks to a Jaquiski named Tartt who helped to flip the switch with one mindless play.