ARLINGTON – Because the Dallas Cowboys added a few much-needed wrinkles to their offensive attack Sunday afternoon against Detroit, they were able to iron out some things that enabled them to get out of AT&T Stadium with a hard-fought 26-24 victory over the Lions.
Bogged down on offense while collectively scoring an anemic 41 points in their first three games, the Cowboys pried their offensive playbook against the Lions wide open. That novel concept included Ezekiel Elliott running the football an inordinate amount of times and Ezekiel Elliott catching the football – for him – an inordinate amount of times.
The lethal combination of Elliott running and catching the ball, along with a pressure-packed 38-yard field goal by rookie Brett Maher as time expired, helped the Cowboys square their record at 2-2.
Elliott rushed 25 times for 152 yards and had four receptions for an additional 88 yards and a touchdown. Thus, he is the first player since Oakland’s Michael Bush on Nov. 10, 2011, to rush for at least 150 yards and have at least 80 reception yards in the same game.
Elliott’s biggest catch occurred with 1:23 remaining in the game when he hauled in a 34-yard over-the-shoulder catch on a nicely thrown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott that carried to the Detroit 25-yard line.
“It was just a big-time play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Dak liked what he saw from the coverage, Zeke did a great job on the route. A big-time throw.
“Talk about a nut-cuttin’ time throw. Critical situation to make that throw, and for Zeke to be able to finish and put us in position for the game-winner was big-time.”
Now, about those wrinkles offensive coordinator Scott Linehan installed for the game? They obviously worked as the Cowboys piled up 183 yards rushing and Prescott passed for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns against an opportunistic Detroit team that beat New England, 26-10, last week while holding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to just 133 yards passing.
“Can I tell you what the wrinkles are?,” Garrett asked. “Yeah, I’m probably not going to go into much detail on the wrinkles that we use throughout our team, but certainly we try to attack the defense several different ways.
“Throughout the week we’ll have a plan that tries to get everyone involved. We want to be a team that’s balanced offensively — run and pass. I thought we achieved that (Sunday) and we do those things a lot of different ways.”
Overall, the 240 total yards Elliott accumulated from scrimmage were a career for him. Afterward, he expressed the need to get the ball more, but the toll that it took on his body.
“I’m beat up,” said Elliott, who had a 38-yard TD reception against the Lions. “I was already sore in the first quarter. I knew what type of game it was going to be.”
Elliott and his teammates also knew they could ill-afford to lose this game and fall to 1-3 going into Sunday’s 7:20 p.m. kickoff on the road against the Houston Texans.
“We needed (this win),” Elliott said. “Probably the most important one of the season.
“Just kind of getting back on track after a slow start.”
The win marked the first time this season and just the third time in the last 12 contests that Prescott has passed for at least 200 yards in a game. But he pushed aside thoughts of this being some sort of confidence builder.
“I know what I can do and I know what kind of player I am, and I never waiver and I’m never going to get down on myself,” Prescott said. “All of us have good days and bad days, and if all of us were judged by our bad days and our jobs, we’d all be in trouble.”
As far as the new wrinkles that gave him more options to operate with, Prescott said: “It doesn’t matter what plays coach Linehan calls. It’s on us to execute.
“We just did a better job (Sunday) executing than we have these three games before.”
Maher also did a good job executing in the clutch on a night when fans were probably thinking of former kicker Dan Bailey, who was surprisingly released prior to this season. With the game – and possibly the season – on the line, Maher squared up and promptly drilled the game-winner through the center of the uprights as mayhem ensued on the field.
Overall, Maher was 4-of-4 on field goal kicks and appeared oblivious to the pressure attached to a kick with the game’s final outcome at stake.
“It was a big kick for me, but again, like I said when I first got the job here, the kicks in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, are equally as important because we need those points,” Maher said. “Every time I step on the field I think I’m going to make it.
“It’s definitely nice to be able to come through in moments like that, because I understand that it gets viewed differently than a kick in the first quarter.”
For the Cowboys, it also was nice they were able to use Elliott early and often. Critics know a player of his ilk needs an inordinate amount of touches.
“Anyway you got him the ball, anyway he got the ball he was dominating the game and setting the tone,” Prescott said. “From the screen to the check bounds to the last play right there.
“He just showed how physical he was in the run game, and it was just a dominating performance for him.”