FRISCO, Texas (AP)Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys were in the victory formation after a pair of game-sealing plays from the defense.
The quarterback took that moment to remind teammates of a rarity in a strange start to their season.
They finally played something that usually happens long before Week 6 in the NFL: a one-score game.
What the 20-17 victory at the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night means for the Cowboys as contenders remains to be seen.
Regardless, it was the answer they sought after the worst loss of Prescott’s eight seasons, 42-10 at San Francisco in a rematch with the team that knocked Dallas out of the playoffs the past two years.
A game that was tied three times before Brandon Aubrey’s go-ahead field goal with 2:19 remaining came after the Cowboys enjoyed a 95-point differential combined in their first three wins.
The other loss for Dallas (4-2), which is headed into its open week, was 28-16 at Arizona.
“That’s actually what I told the offense when we were taking that kneeldown there on that first knee down,” Prescott said. “These are the games that we’re going to be in. We haven’t had close games, but this is what the NFL is about.”
Prescott had several big throws, a touchdown pass and the longest TD run of his career (18 yards). But the offense still isn’t consistent and isn’t showing signs of being a high-scoring unit.
Micah Parsons sacked Justin Herbert on second-and-2 to set up Stephon Gilmore’s game-winning interception on third-and-10 with 1:22 remaining. But the defense had seven of Dallas’ 11 penalties.
“The game wasn’t clean,” said receiver CeeDee Lamb, who had his second 100-yard game of the season with 117 yards on seven catches. “As far as getting everything done that we wanted to, I’m glad we can come out with a win, but there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to work on and clean up.”
Prescott’s lone touchdown pass was a perfect throw to Brandin Cooks on a crossing route in the end zone. The 2-yard score was his first with the Cowboys for Cooks, an offseason trade acquisition.
Prescott should have had another TD on one of his best throws of the season, but Michael Gallup couldn’t hang on in the end zone.
The numbers weren’t remarkable – 21 of 30 for 272 yards – but Prescott didn’t have an interception a week after tying his career high with three against the Niners. He has three sub-80 passer ratings already this season, but has answered each with a triple-digit performance.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Cowboys finally have the offensive line they envisioned since the start of 2022 training camp. But there’s work to do for eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Tyler Smith, center Tyler Biadasz, six-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin and right tackle Terence Steele.
Prescott was sacked a season-high five times, and the running game struggled badly outside of Prescott’s 18-yarder on a zone read. Running backs Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle combined for 42 yards on 18 carries, a 2.3-yard average.
Defensive role players Markquese Bell and Osa Odighizuwa were stars against the Chargers.
With linebacker Leighton Vander Esch sidelined by a neck injury, Bell played a season-high 39 snaps in a hybrid safety/linebacker role and had seven tackles and a pass breakup.
Odighizuwa also played a season high in snaps with 45 and dropped running back Austin Ekeler for a 4-yard loss among his seven tackles.
The punt coverage unit put Dallas in an early bind by allowing a 26-yard return to the Cowboys 42-yard line. The Chargers went up 7-0 five plays later.
The punt return unit made what could have been a game-deciding mistake in the fourth quarter when Jalen Tolbert tried to recover a ball he thought KaVontae Turpin had touched when the returner hadn’t.
Tolbert touched the ball just before Josh Harris did, and LA recovered. The Chargers successfully challenged the ruling that they touched the ball first, and scored a tying touchdown after taking over at the Dallas 20.
The Cowboys put Vander Esch and special teams ace C.J. Goodwin on injured reserve before the game. Vander Esch is expected to return, but Goodwin could be out for the season with a pectoral injury. S Juanyeh Thomas was inactive with a hamstring injury.
16 – Aubrey has made all 16 field goals to start the 28-year-old rookie’s season. He is two from tying Travis Coons’ NFL record of 18 consecutive made field goals to start a career. Coons did that with Cleveland in 2015.
Win or lose against the Los Angeles Rams at home Oct. 29, the Cowboys will have plenty of questions about the dud in San Francisco as they prepare to visit defending NFC champion Philadelphia on Nov. 5.
Dallas is a game closer to its NFC East rival after the Eagles lost to the New York Jets. Same with the Niners, who lost to Cleveland. Philly and San Francisco were the last two unbeaten teams.
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