How the Cowboys improved to 8-3 and scored 21 consecutive second-half points


ARLINGTON, Texas — The first half looked as if it was setting up for another Thanksgiving Day disappointment for the Cowboys.

Dak Prescott had thrown two interceptions to a New York Giants team that entered Thursday with only two interceptions in their previous 10 games.

But Dallas rallied in the second half, scoring 21 consecutive points to erase a six-point halftime deficit en route to a 28-20 win at AT&T Stadium. It’s the Cowboys’ first win on Thanksgiving in the last four years. They entered having won only three of their last 10 on the holiday.

The most surprising aspect of the game was that Dallas won despite committing 13 penalties for 86 yards. It’s the first game this season the Cowboys (8-3) have won despite having double-digit penalties. The Giants (7-4) committed seven penalties for 66 yards.

“To win a game when you have 2-to-1 penalties on your opponent, that’s obviously not where we want to be,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it speaks to our ability or our capability as a team.”

“I thought the halftime was good as far as the adjustments. I liked the way we came out of halftime. … We’ll take a hard look at (the penalties) as a staff, (but) excellent division win, a game we had to have. I love the fight of the team.”

Dallas set the tone out of the halftime locker room with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 15-yard Prescott touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz. Prescott was much better in the second half.

His first-half stats: 10 of 16 passing, 116 yards, two interceptions.

His second-half stats: 11 of 14 passing, 145 yards, two touchdowns.

Prescott said the first interception came after they thought they had a free play because a Giants defender jumped offsides.

“I tried to make a safer throw to the sideline, but the guy just made a great play,” he said. “I can’t necessarily put the team in that position.”

He said the second one was some bad luck with the way the ball bounced after the throw was a little behind intended receiver CeeDee Lamb.

“We didn’t turn the ball over and were able to get in that rhythm,” Prescott said of the second half. “Our standard and expectation, of scoring on almost every drive, except the last one and then going out there and kneeling is what we are capable of doing when we are high in our focus, executing between the whistle and just finishing.”

Prescott now has 153 career touchdown passes, tying him with Roger Staubach for the fourth-most passing TDs in franchise history.

Another key for the Cowboys in the second half was that Micah Parsons, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year front-runner, started making his presence felt.

On New York’s first offensive possession of the second half, Parsons sacked QB Daniel Jones on second-and-5 from the New York 41-yard line. A 5-yard Saquon Barkley run was followed by a Jones incomplete pass on fourth down. The Cowboys answered with a six-play, 44-yard touchdown drive. Parsons added another sack in the final minutes of the game, giving him his sixth two-sack game of the season. The Cowboys improved to 5-1 in those games.

Parsons now has 25 career sacks, tied with Derrick Thomas for the fifth-most in NFL history through a player’s first 27 career games. Thomas was a nine-time Pro Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

“I think the entire day, Micah was consistent,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I think he was consistently aggressive. He made himself felt. I could see that he was getting attention, even if he weren’t nearing the quarterback. And that’s a big deal. That’s what we’re getting the benefit of.”

Dallas’ final touchdown was scored by rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot with just under nine minutes left in the game. Arguably the most memorable moment of the day came after the 2-yard run as tight ends Schultz, who scored two touchdowns, Jake Ferguson and Sean McKeon all jumped into one of the Salvation Army Red Kettles behind the end zone. Hendershot then pretended to play Whac-A-Mole as the three took turns crouching down and popping back up.

“It was great,” Prescott said. “The guys told me about it earlier in the week. They were worried about getting fined or getting a penalty. We said make sure (we) are up two touchdowns. We have a couple of guys that can help with the fines, so go for it.”

While Odell Beckham Jr. speculation continues to be one of the most popular Cowboys topics, Lamb and Michael Gallup had their best game as a wide receiver duo this season. Gallup looked like his old, pre-knee-injury self, making several physical receptions. Lamb hauled in a one-handed catch off his helmet and nearly pulled down a one-handed grab in the back of the endzone. The two combined for 11 catches and 169 yards. Both were a big reason why Dallas was able to convert 7-of-11 third downs.

In regards to Beckham, Jones said after the game that he “had a good visit” over the phone with the three-time Pro Bowler on Thursday.

“Odell could help us,” Jones added. “I believe that right now. Now, we got to make it fit. That’s the challenge.”

Is the bigger concern health or financial?

“I think just the general how we make this fit,” he said. “All of that, availability is huge, but the financial part is really huge, too.”

For the second consecutive game, the Dallas defense held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing. Barkley managed only 39 yards on 11 carries as the Giants finished with 90 yards on 21 carries.

Ezekiel Elliott led all rushers with 92 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Tony Pollard rushed 18 times for 60 yards.

“I mean, that’s Zeke,” Prescott said. “That’s Zeke every week. He’s a guy that will do anything that he needs to do to help this team to win, whether it’s pass protection, running, the dirty work or being physical. I saw a quote, Zack Martin said that (Elliott) is the epitome of this team. I definitely believe that because he has a physical playstyle and his willingness to do anything.

“It’s no surprise when Zeke does Zeke things.”

Thursday’s effort isn’t going to get it done against the top teams in the league. The Giants have seven wins, but they were playing with an injury-depleted roster. There’s a reason the Cowboys were favored by 10. Thirteen penalties in a playoff game and Dallas’ season will likely come to an end. Probably the same can be said if they lose the turnover battle 2-0. But on the heels of their statement win last Sunday at Minnesota, getting a division win and staying within striking distance of the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles is all that really matters.

“I feel really good about where we are,” McCarthy said. “I think the one thing you do know here in this league, there’s so much football that’s left. I think to the earlier question about Green Bay, Minnesota and then here, the disappointment of not winning definitely is gut-wrenching, but you do know in one week’s time or in seven days or 11 days you know things can flip pretty quickly.

“There’s a lot of football to be played. The nice part about where we are is you know we control our own destiny.”

(Top photo of Dalton Schultz: Matthew Pearce / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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