Cow­boys lead­ing NFC East again but can’t shake slow starts

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon As­so­ci­ated Press

FRISCO, Texas — Sev­eral good things hap­pened to Dak Prescott and the Dal­las Cow­boys af­ter a black cat ran onto the field dur­ing a 37-18 vic­tory over the New York Gi­ants.

One of them was pretty lucky — a ques­tion­able pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty that kept a drive alive when Dal­las was lead­ing by five points early in the fourth quar­ter Mon­day night.

The call helped the NFC East-lead­ing Cow­boys (5-3) avoid an­other tight fin­ish at the site of their most in­ex­pli­ca­ble loss this sea­son, against an­other team they were ex­pected to han­dle eas­ily un­til a slug­gish start made things dif­fi­cult.

“We def­i­nitely have to fix that if we want to be a good team,” run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott said. “We did pick it up in the sec­ond half and fin­ished re­ally strong. But I’d like to see us go out there and take over that game early.”

Af­ter a 24-22 loss to the New York Jets in the sta­dium the Jets share with the Gi­ants, the Cow­boys played their most com­plete game, a dis­man­tling of Philadel­phia, the only other threat in the di­vi­sion for the NFC East’s de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons.

But af­ter the open week, Dal­las re­turned to the place where the Jets won their only game so far this sea­son and showed the in­con­sis­tency that marked a 3-3 start (three con­sec­u­tive wins fol­lowed by three straight losses).

Prescott threw an in­ter­cep­tion on the first play from scrim­mage af­ter rookie Tony Pol­lard botched the field­ing of the open­ing kick to pin Dal­las deep. As soon as they took con­trol with

a TD early in the fourth quar­ter, the Cow­boys gave up run­ning back Saquon Barkley’s 65-yard catch. Dal­las mit­i­gated that mis­take by forc­ing the Gi­ants to set­tle for one of their four field goals. And only af­ter the pass in­ter­fer­ence call that led to an­other touch­down drive were the Cow­boys fi­nally in con­trol again. The first half of the Dal­las sched­ule was heavy on al­so­rans. The sec­ond half isn’t. “In a lot of ways, it shows the abil­ity to han­dle ad­ver­sity as a group, but at the same time, you don’t have to start like that,” tight end Ja­son Wit­ten said. “You cer­tainly have to get that cleaned up. There’s still a lot of good things. But you’re right, we can’t do that as we move for­ward.” WHAT’S WORK­ING Sta­tis­ti­cally, Prescott has al­ways been an af­ter­thought in four sea­sons with El­liott, the two-time NFL rush­ing cham­pion. It’s been dif­fer­ent un­der first-year of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kellen Moore. Prescott is in the top 10 in yards pass­ing, touch­downs and com­ple­tion per­cent­age. Af­ter los­ing his first two games against the Gi­ants, Prescott has won six straight. He has 16 TD passes and one in­ter­cep­tion in that span. WHAT NEEDS HELP Kick­off cov­er­age and re­turns. Pol­lard’s quick mis­take set a bad tone, and the for­mer Mem­phis player hasn’t had much im­pact in the part of the game that got him the most at­ten­tion head­ing into the draft. On top of that, Gi­ants re­turn man Cody La­timer av­er­aged 30 yards on six re­turns, tak­ing two of them to roughly mid­field. STOCK UP

Sean Lee had his best game in a long time with sec­ond-year line­backer Leighton Vander Esch miss­ing the first game of his ca­reer be­cause of a neck in­jury suf­fered in the game against the Ea­gles. Ac­cord­ing to the NFL, Lee tied Jay­lon Smith for the team lead with 12 tack­les. His lone tackle for loss dropped Barkley 7 yards be­hind the line the first time the Gi­ants tried a screen pass af­ter their young back took one 65 yards.

STOCK DOWN

Re­ceiver Ran­dall Cobb had the sec­ond Dal­las turnover on a fum­ble, con­tribut­ing to the 12-3 deficit be­fore the Cow­boys scored 10 points in the fi­nal minute of the first half to take the lead for good. He also had a drop deep in New York ter­ri­tory the last time the Cow­boys had to set­tle for a field goal and a 16-12 lead.

IN­JURIES

Re­ceiver Amari Cooper re­turned af­ter ag­gra­vat­ing a knee in­jury suf­fered in prac­tice dur­ing the week, catch­ing a 45-yard touch­down. Safety Jeff Heath got 12 stitches for a cut near a knee.

KEY NUM­BER

7 — Take­aways for the Dal­las de­fense in the past two games af­ter get­ting just five through the first six. The Cow­boys are tied for 12th in take­aways af­ter be­ing as low as 27th.

NEXT STEPS

The first of two short weeks in Novem­ber ends with a third straight prime­time game, at home against Min­nesota on Sun­day. The other short week is the tra­di­tional Thanks­giv­ing game against Buf­falo, which fol­lows the only back-to-back road games, at Detroit and New Eng­land.

ADAM HUNGER/AP

New York Gi­ants line­backer Markus Golden, 44, tack­les Dal­las Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott, 21, dur­ing the first quar­ter of an NFL foot­ball game, Mon­day, Nov. 4, 2019, in East Ruther­ford, N.J.

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