When the Patriots ran:
This wasn't a decided edge as the Patriots didn't have that much success on the ground, particularly in short-yardage situations, but early on when the offensive line was struggling the backs were able to find some space. Dion Lewis again was in the featured role and was his typically slippery self, picking up 34 yards on six carries early. His best effort came on a third-and-one in the red zone when he made a tackler miss in the backfield before picking up 13 yards down to the 1. LeGarrette Blount wasn't as fortunate on short-yardage plays, getting stuffed and third-and-one and fourth-and-one on separate series. Blount rumbled 34 yards untouched around right end after the outcome had been decided and that scamper made his numbers (13 carries, 74 yards) look better, but he was held largely in check. In the first half the Patriots ran it just nine times but were productive on eight of them, including a 1-yard Tom Brady sneak for a touchdown. Overall the 109 yards on 23 attempts were enough to earn the edge.
When the Patriots passed:
This was another area that was not a decided edge, despite some gaudy numbers that made it look that way. Brady completed 20 of 27 passes for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he was also sacked five times and hurried on several others, and Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were quiet for long stretches of the game. Both finished with just four catches but each made some big plays among them, most notably Edelman's 59-yard touchdown that came when Danny Amendola executed a perfect rub to free up the receiver. Edelman racked up 120 yards on those four grabs while Gronkowski added 67. The Cowboys pressure kept Brady from getting comfortable and forced him to check it down to Lewis (eight catches, 59 yards) several times and Dallas did a pretty good job of containing him as well. But again it was one play – a 10-yard touchdown in which Lewis made three Cowboys miss – that allowed the Patriots to succeed. The big plays gave the offense some life and allowed the visitors to produce just enough to stay in control.
When the Cowboys ran:
Dallas wants to run the ball and with Tony Romo out of the lineup the importance of producing on the ground is only magnified. That, coupled with the strong Cowboys offensive line, meant the Patriots needed to be prepared with some beefy fronts to keep Joseph Randle in check. Randle had some moments in picking up 60 yards on 15 carries but for the most part New England's front seven kept him in check. Nine of the Cowboys first 12 runs resulted in gains of 3 yards or less. So, when Dallas' defense was giving the team a chance to keep it on the ground the Patriots wouldn't let them. That resulted in six straight three-and-outs and backup quarterback Brandon Weeden was unable to convert without the ground game creating opportunities. Dallas finished with 100 yards on 24 carries for a 4.2-yard average, not nearly enough production to allow the Cowboys to dictate the tempo of the game and give the team the chance to pull off the upset.
When the Cowboys passed:
Weeden once again completed a high percentage of his throws but was also once again unable to make many plays. His longest pass went for just 21 yards and he managed only 188 yards while completing 26 of 39 attempts. Weeden also tossed a bad interception late when he hit Logan Ryan in the numbers while in desperation mode. The Cowboys were without Dez Bryant and Weeden checked it down most of the day, using Darren McFadden (nine catches, 62 yards) out of the backfield. The Patriots did a great job of taking away Jason Witten, who finished with just five catches for 33 yards while dealing with Devin McCourty and the Patriots linebackers most of the day. Malcolm Butler took care of the dangerous Terrance Williams, but he was beaten on a couple of occasions and bailed out when Weeden's throws were off target. Two such plays could have resulted in touchdowns and perhaps changed the complexion of the game, but overall the secondary turned in its best effort of the young season.
There weren't many flashy plays made on special teams but the Patriots combination of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen helped the team control field position. Gostkowski continued his torrid stretch by connecting on a 57-yard field goal to close the half, establishing a career high in the process. He made two other field goals and went 3-for-3 on PATs with six touchbacks. Allen averaged 43.8 yards on his four punts and consistently pinned the Cowboys deep with three ending up inside the 20. Field position was a huge factor in the game and allowed the Patriots to eventually take control despite some sluggishness on offense in the first half. Gostkowski and Allen were responsible for that. Amendola had a 25-yard punt return in the first half as well. There was nothing eye-popping about the Patriots work in the kicking game but a lot of little plays added up to a big advantage for the visitors.