However, that was nothing compared to the slew of players in street clothes for Tennessee, which included running back Derek Henry and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, two of the NFL’s best. Throw in Titans quarterback Joshua Dobbs making his first career start and this had the makings of a Dallas blowout.
Instead, the Cowboys continued a disturbing trend of seemingly playing down to their competition’s level at times. Turnovers, dropped passes and lapses in the defensive secondary kept the shorthanded Titans within reach until the final quarter.
Still, all that matters is the Cowboys moved to 12-4 on the season, keeping the pressure on the Philadelphia Eagles in the race for the NFC East crown.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had three turnovers in the second quarter and a first half that saw him complete 17 of 25 pass attempts for 145 yards and a passer rating of just 49.6. In the game’s final two quarters, though, he was good on 12 of 16 attempts for 137 yards with two touchdowns, nearly doubling his final rating to 85.6.
CeeDee Lamb would lead the air attack with 11 catches for 100 receiving yards, his third straight game and fifth time this season reaching the century mark. Dalton Schultz and TY Hilton would add 56 and 50 yards, respectively, the tight end hauling in the two scores.
With Pollard out, Malik Davis joined Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. But while the pair combined for 32 runs, the sledding was tough against the Titans front, Dallas averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys allowed only one touchdown on the night and limited Dobbs to 232 yards off of 20 for 39 passing for a 67.5 rating. Overall, Dallas outgained the Titans, 361 to 317, and held the time of possession, 33:26 to 26:34.
The Cowboys got things going on their second possession when they took over at their own 29-yard line. Tight end Dalton Schultz provided the biggest gain of the drive with a 13-yard reception with the Titans providing another 14 yards on a pass interference call. But it would be Elliot earning the touchdown on a 1-yard run, which extended his streak of rushing scores to nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. He also joined Emmitt Smith (11 in 1985) as the only player in Cowboys history with a rushing touchdown in at least nine straight outings.
Just four seconds into the second frame, Dallas had a 10-0 advantage. Brett Maher came into the night leading the NFL with 128 points and opened the quarter by adding to his total with a 36-yard field goal. To get there, the Cowboys went 47 yards in eight plays, Prescott connecting on all four of his pass attempts for 28 yards.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys offense would be its own worst enemy over the remainder of the half. A botched snap led to a fumble recovery on the team’s next drive with an interception coming on the following series. No fault of Prescott’s, the perfectly thrown pass bounced off the chest and hands of rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot and into the arms of safety Kevin Byard.
While the Dallas defense forced a three-and-out after the first turnover, Tennessee was able to get on the board after the second miscue. A dump-off to running back Julius Chestnut picked up 33 yards, which eventually led to a 37-yard field goal.
But the offensive errors continued. The Cowboys got a scare when Prescott appeared to have tweaked his right knee after a tackle. He stayed in the game, but later in the same series a pass thrown slightly behind Schultz brought Byard his second interception of the night.
His return of 28 yards, followed by a pass to Treylon Burks that provided 30 more, allowed kicker Randy Bullock to boot a 29-yard field goal with two seconds left to narrow the Cowboys’ advantage to just four at the break, 10-6. .
The three turnovers attributed to Prescott were the most in one half for the quarterback in his career.
The Cowboys offense righted the ship as the second half got under way, although they got a little – OK, a lot – of help. Facing a third-and-19 at his own 43-yard line, Prescott basically just heaved a pass as far as he could to wideout Michael Gallup downfield. While the ball fell incomplete, Tennessee was called for pass interference, the result was a whopping 51-yard penalty to the Titans’ 6-yard line.
On the very next snap, Prescott found a wide open Schultz on the left side for the walk-in touchdown.
Tennessee, though, would answer with a 14-play, 71-yard drive that took 6:44 off the clock. Dobbs completed 5-of-7 passes for 45 yards, the last of which was a 7-yard toss to Robert Woods, the score now 17-13.
The Cowboys would enter the final quarter without their starting center after Tyler Biadasz had his right leg rolled up during the last snap of the third quarter. In his absence, Connor McGovern moved to center, Tyler Smith moved to left guard with Jason Peters taking Smith’s place at left tackle.
Despite the line shuffling, Dallas didn’t skip a beat, completing a 10-play, 75-yard drive of its own to pay dirt. Prescott’s first completion of the series was a strike to Hilton, who turned upfield to pick up a total of 28 yards. The quarterback than capped the possession with a connection to Schultz, the tight end making a nice leaping catch in the back, left corner of the end zone for the score.
That marked Prescott’s 165th passing touchdown, tying him with Troy Aikman for the second most in franchise history.
When Maher then added a 45-yard field goal and cornerback Nahshon Wright recorded his first career interception on Tennessee’s ensuing drive, there was nothing left to do but play out the clock, the outcome essentially decided.
The Cowboys will now await the results of Philadelphia’s game on Sunday, hoping they’ll head into their regular-season finale at Washington next week with a division title on the line.