ARLINGTON — The Cowboys opened the game with a fourth-down failure in their own territory. Dak Prescott was intercepted twice before halftime. The team collected 13 penalties for 86 yards over the course of the afternoon.
That’s how it went for Dallas in an imperfect 28-20 victory over the New York Giants. They won the battle for second place in the NFC East, a spot the Cowboys want no part of. They won the Unofficial Battle for Odell Beckham Jr., or at least I suppose they did. Maybe Beckham, deciding between Dallas and New York, is supposed to join the team that needs him more (clearly the Giants) rather than the team with realistic Super Bowl hopes (clearly the Cowboys).
Regardless, Beckham is coming to visit Monday, Dec. 5, and who knows what that means and how much money he wants or how he fitsionto a club that has scored 49, 28, 40 and 28 in its last four games. That can sort itself out. Thursday was a time for Cowboys fans to be thankful for a roster filled with tight ends, who scored the team’s last three touchdowns (two by Dalton Schultz, one by rookie Peyton Hendershot) and who played Whac-a-Mole in a Salvation Army kettle, which became the highlight of the day, just barely eclipsing rookie Jake Ferguson’s leap over safety Jason Pinnock in the open field.
Schultz, who made a nice back-of-the-end-zone grab for the 15-yard score that put Dallas up 14-13 in the third quarter, said he doesn’t recommend those leaping moments to Ferguson.
“I say, ’Don’t do it’ but the film says something else,” Schultz said.
”That will probably be the last time I jump this year," Ferguson said. “I don’t really know how to explain that one."
Schultz also said he wasn’t sure they could fit three tight ends in the kettle, all popping up intermittently until Hendershot, who had scored the final touchdown on a 2-yard run, bopped Ferguson over the head.
“I didn’t know it was squishy in there, either," Schultz said.
Prescott, who was lifted into a kettle by Ezekiel Elliott during a spontaneous touchdown celebration four years ago, said the tight ends came up with the Whac-a-Mole plan during the week but were concerned about possible fines or penalties.
”We said to just make sure we’re up two touchdowns when you do it and that we have some guys who can help with the fines," Prescott said.
Said Elliott, “They topped my kettle celebrations. I‘m a little jealous, but we’ve got a great tight end room."
On a more significant front, the Cowboys use multiple tight end sets with greater frequency than almost any other team in the NFL. And with remarkable success. They had three on the field when Elliott scored the team’s only rushing touchdown Sunday. The tight ends provided the rest of the scoring even though CeeDee Lamb had his second 100-yard receiving game in 11 days and Michael Gallup — making sure no one forgets his name in case Beckham does find his way to Dallas — caught passes for 63 yards in the first half.
”I feel like we’re just starting to get the ball rolling," said Schultz, who missed two games and barely played in two others due to injury.
“Nobody cares who gets the credit right now. You’ve got a dangerous football team when that happens."
Fans might be upset that this performance did not approach the 40-3 perfection displayed in Minnesota. The Cowboys might not play another game quite that pure all season. But for the second time in a handful of days, Dallas disposed of an NFC rival with as good a record or better. The Cowboys are making their move heading into December, and they have made themselves as challenging to defensive coordinators as any team in the league.
The Giants can be happy they held Tony Pollard to 60 yards rushing on 3.3 yards per carry, barely half of his season average per attempts. But Zeke ran for 92 yards, Lamb and Gallup racked up 169 more receiving and the tight ends made the end zone their private celebration space for three consecutive touchdowns that put the game out of reach. So how much did New York really achieve by slowing down Pollard and winning the turnover battle?
You pick your poison against Dallas right now, and on this particular afternoon, the tight ends, producing 90 yards, three touchdowns and a ton of blocks for a 169-yard rushing attack, came up huge.
”I love the multiple tight end sets, it allows you to play two backs or one back or no backs," coach Mike McCarthy said. “It gives you flexibility. And you can’t have enough 6-4, 250-pound men on your football team."
The Cowboys have their fill, as they showcased on Thanksgiving. Maybe they need another wide receiver and maybe they don’t. Either way Dallas has three AFC South defensive coordinators working overtime to figure out which tight end runs perfect corner routes and which one is more likely to leap over safeties the next three weeks.