The Dallas Cowboys did it the hard way.
Yes, by Thursday night’s end, they had beaten the Tennessee Titans 27-13 to improve to 12-4 and keep their NFC East title hopes alive at least three more days.
But the Cowboys know: The recipe they rode to this victory will not carry them in the playoffs.
Three first-half turnovers kept this game dangerously close.
For those who appreciate diversity, the turnover scenarios indeed offered some.
Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz snapped a first-quarter ball that never reached quarterback Dak Prescott’s hand on the initial giveaway, a fumble. Prescott threw a 14-yard pass attempt to tight end Peyton Hendershot that was in the rookie’s grasp before it bobbled out, yet again–a recent trend for the Cowboys–bouncing into the hands of a defender for an interception that represented turnover No. 2.
And Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard wasn’t done, Byard eager to handle the ball again. He jumped a risky pass that Prescott intended for tight end Dalton Schultz but admittedly threw into traffic with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Suddenly, rather than the Cowboys positioning themselves for a field goal to extend their lead before halftime, Tennessee was driving and kicking.
Despite the Titans resting several starters and starting a quarterback signed just 8 days prior, the Cowboys led by just 4 points at the half.
Credit that Titans quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs, with keeping Tennessee competitive.
Dobbs was poised throughout the game, neutralizing the Cowboys pass rush with quick releases and pocket movement as he completed 20-of-39 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps Dobbs' most explosive stretch came in the second quarter. Drives resulting in two field goals and a fumble didn’t reflect the potential he showed. That period alone, Dobbs completed three passes of 30+ yards–each to a different teammate.
Dobbs found running back Julius Chestnut in the backfield on a savvy screen pass that Chestnut powered to a 33-yard gain before the Cowboys caught up.
Dobbs sailed a 39-yard completion downfield to wide receiver Racey McMath, a later strip-sack quashing the drive but not erasing the reality that Dobbs dropped the pass into the hands of a receiver sandwiched by two Cowboys defenders.
And the 30-yard ball to receiver Treylon Burks? Dobbs found the receiver 11 air yards down the right sideline on a ball that allowed Burks to rack up further yardage.
So while Dobbs’ stat line would ultimately include a lost fumble on a second-quarter strip sack as well as a fourth-quarter interception the Cowboys failed to capitalize, Dobbs mounted a compelling case for the Titans' lineup in next week’s AFC South title game. Third-round rookie quarterback Malik Willis had failed to reach 100 passing yards or a touchdown in any of three starts.
“I think there’s one question he’s ultimately answered,” Amazon play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said of Dobbs with 2:32 to play in the second quarter. “Who starts next week in Jacksonville.”