There is very little doubt that the Dallas Cowboys’ 35-30 triumph in Pittsburgh late Sunday afternoon was the best game of the NFL season thus far.
There were seven lead changes, including four in the fourth quarter, three in the final two minutes and two in the final minute. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was terrific for the Steelers, and nearly won the game with a memorable last-minute touchdown pass on a fake spike. But the Cowboys’ two prized rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott, again had the answers, and Elliott’s 32-yard touchdown sprint with nine seconds to play gave Dallas the pulsating victory.
“It was a crazy game,” Elliott said in an on-field postgame interview with Fox. “Another nail-biter, man. That’s how every game in the NFL is gonna be. So it was fun to come into this fun environment playing against a great team [and] come out with a win.”
Here are the ramifications:
–Elliott for MVP: Elliott is not merely a rookie of the year candidate. He is a league most valuable player candidate.
He ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He added another 95 receiving yards and a touchdown on two catches.
Elliott has run for 1,005 yards in the Cowboys’ nine games. He is on course for a 1,787-yard rushing season. The Cowboys again have what they had on offense two seasons ago with DeMarco Murray. They can control games with their offensive line and their running game and put their quarterback in a position to look very, very good. Then it was Tony Romo. Now it’s Prescott.
–Prescott and Romo: Prescott was very good again Sunday, throwing for 319 yards and two touchdowns on 22-for-32 passing. He didn’t throw an interception. When the Steelers retook the lead on Roethlisberger’s brilliant he’s-spiking-it, no-he’s-not touchdown throw to wide receiver Antonio Brown with 42 seconds to go, Prescott remained calm.
“I just know the kind of guys we have,” Prescott told Fox. “I just wanted to let them know, ‘We’ve got it. Take it one play at a time. Don’t worry about how much time’s left. We know how effective our offense is. Let’s go do it.’ “
Romo was on the inactive list Sunday. But he’s getting closer to being available to play as he works his way back from the compression fracture of a vertebra in his back that he suffered during the preseason.
The Cowboys are Prescott’s team. That has been evident throughout the eight-game winning streak that has pushed their record to 8-1 and made them the team to beat in the NFC. It was obvious again Sunday. It would be football-management malpractice for the Cowboys to tinker with what they currently have working for them. Not even Jerry Jones is going to do that.
Romo almost certainly won’t play again this season unless Prescott gets hurt or his and the team’s performances inexplicably drop off. Romo’s contract becomes a major factor in the offseason. Has he already played his final game for the Cowboys? It’s difficult to believe anything else at this point.
–Cowboys-Pats?: Dallas-New England would be a very, very compelling Super Bowl, just the sort of thing that might allow the NFL to make up for a season of sagging television ratings. The NFL should be hoping that it comes about.
–Roethlisberger is back: Roethlisberger returned to the Steelers lineup last Sunday in Baltimore after mending quickly from surgery for a torn meniscus in left knee.
But he wasn’t really back until this Sunday.
This was the Roethlisberger that the Steelers need. This was the next-to-unstoppable offense that they envision having whenever Roethlisberger, Brown and tailback Le’Veon Bell are on the field together.
Roethlisberger threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys. He didn’t throw an interception. His fake-spike touchdown was Marino-esque.
The Steelers are on a four-game losing streak and have a record of 4-5. They’re now a game behind the first-place Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. But it took great performances by Prescott and Elliott to beat them Sunday in a classic (at least for mid-November) game. If they continue to play like they played Sunday, the Steelers still will be a factor in the AFC.
–Two-point conversions: The Steelers love them. So do the football numbers crunchers. (That’s a much nicer term than stat geeks, right?) But the Steelers went zero for four on their two-point tries Sunday. It didn’t cost them the game. But it didn’t exactly help.