FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Very rarely do the Cowboys and Patriots face one another on the football field. They're only scheduled to do so every four regular seasons. Even more rare? A game featuring the NFL's top defense squaring off against its No. 1 offense.
Both happened Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, when two teams with stars on their helmets – and plenty of star power on each sideline – renewed acquaintances.
Throughout the evening, the league's best defense (New England's) had the advantage for the most part, and the heavy winds and rain certainly played a supporting role in that regard.
"It was a bad-weather game, so, it was tough to make catches today," CB Stephon Gilmore acknowledged later. "But we practice in it every day, so, we're used to it. I don't think they practice in that type of stuff. I think we had an advantage in that way."
"It goes into that category of playing someone you don't know, really good football team that came in here and played us tough," WR Julian Edelman observed. "We both had to play against elements. We played Dallas; we didn't play against the rain, but it was good to go out and get a win."
The Cowboys had the ball first, but only for three plays, thanks to a great pass breakup on 4th down by CB Jonathan Jones. Dallas punted.
RB Sony Michel had his number called on four consecutive plays to start the ensuing drive, but New England could only get to midfield before rookie Jake Bailey was brought in to punt the ball back to Dallas.
QB Dak Prescott and his Cowboys moved the ball into Patriots territory, but Brett Maher's 46-yard field goal effort clanked off the left upright, keeping the game scoreless midway through the first quarter.
Michel continued to run well on the second Patriots possession, but it, too, ended with a Bailey punt. This time, a touchback, and the Cowboys took over at their 20. Once again, New England's D made Big D punt, but special teams co-captain Matthew Slater got a hand on Chris Jones' kick, giving QB Tom Brady and the O a short field with which to work.
Two plays later, Brady threw a fantastic back-shoulder TD pass to rookie WR N'Keal Harry, who held onto the rain-soaked ball and kept both feet in bounds while being tightly defended by CB Byron Jones.
"It was a great feeling, a great throw. I'm just happy I could come up and make a play," Harry told reporters around his locker afterward. "Obviously, those are tough conditions to play in. I felt like I could have handled it better. I'm definitely not satisfied."
"That was big for him," Edelman remarked about Harry's first-ever NFL scoring grab, "to go out and make a play in front of the home crowd. And we needed it. I'm happy for him and we've got to continue to have that."
Early in the second quarter, on the next Cowboys drive, Prescott nearly lost the ball on a high snap in his own end. He managed to hang on, but proceeded to throw an interception to CB Stephon Gilmore at the Dallas 29-yard line. The pass was intended for WR Amari Cooper, whom Gilmore was guarding most of the game.
"Yeah, he ran crossing routes a lot today," Gilmore explained. "I kind of just undercut it at the last second and was able to make a play."
Once again, Brady and Co. had a short field. This time, though, they had to settle for three points, as kicker Nick Folk delivered on a 44-yard field goal attempt. Maher later atoned for his earlier 46-yard miss by making one from the same distance, cutting the score to 10-3 halfway through the second quarter.
It looked like the Patriots would strike back when rookie WR Jakobi Meyers made an exciting 32-yard catch-and-run, eluding a couple of would-be Dallas tacklers along the way.
"Being an undrafted player," he told reporters in post-game comments, "I feel like every ball that comes my way, I've got to go make it, or I'll be forgotten about. Every opportunity I get, I try to do the best with it.
"It was definitely wet and slippery. The ball was kind of hard to hold onto, so, you really had to focus on it today. I mean, that's New England, though. That's what they told me when I first got here."
New England crossed the 50 again on that drive, but wound up with no points. Folk lined up for a 41-yard field goal, but a false start by Danny Shelton on the o-line made it a 46-yarder, which Folk pushed wide right.
When Dallas got the ball back, a big throw from Prescott to WR Michael Gallup, combined with a roughing-the-passer penalty by DE Deatrich Wise, set the Cowboys up with field position inside the Patriots red zone. Maher drilled a short field goal.
New England managed to get in position for a 48-yard Folk attempt as time expired in the first half, but once again, his kick sailed wide right. The Patriots went into the halftime locker room with a 10-6 lead.
The opening drive of the third quarter saw New England's O get only up to their own 42 before Bailey had to punt. His kick sailed into Dallas' end zone for another touchback. The Cowboys could do no better, though, and booted the ball right back three plays later.
Brady and the offense just couldn't put anything substantial together, however, and the 10-6 score remained intact as the fourth quarter got underway.
A couple of nice Meyers catches and more solid running from Michel – perhaps his best effort of 2019 thus far – put the Patriots in position to score again. Folk converted a 42-yard field goal to up New England's lead to seven points, 13-6, with nine-and-a-half minutes to play.
"It's always good when we can move the ball, running or passing," said Michel. "Guys were just executing. The offensive line took pride, like they always do… we worked all week on it, and it translated over to the game. That's the goal, to start fast. We were able to, but we've just got to finish a little better."
WR Randall Cobb came through for Dallas with a 47-yard catch-and-run, but the Cowboys could manage nothing more than a short Maher field goal to make the score 13-9 with six minutes to go.
"That's our goal – play tight coverage, stop the run, and make it hard on them in the red zone. I think we did a good job in that," added Gilmore.
A short time later, Bailey finally got off a great punt just when the Patriots needed it most, pinning the Cowboys deep in their own end. Facing 4th-and-11 from their 25, the Cowboys looked as if they converted a Prescott-to-Cobb pass near midfield, but replay review showed the ball hitting the ground.
New England took over on downs with under two minutes to go, effectively ending the game. Yet, Brady and the offense still had to run out the clock. Easier said than done, though, as a bizarre situation unfolded at the very end.
With five seconds to go and the Patriots at the Dallas 15, Brady intentionally floated a 4th-down pass high and out of the back corner of the end zone, in the direction of Edelman. That should have allowed the clock to hit all zeroes, but referee Scott Novak's officiating crew stopped the game clock before the ball hit the ground, leaving one second remaining.
The Cowboys took over for one final play, but New England's defense was more than up for the challenge of defending it to preserve the victory. The 10-1 Patriots own the best record in the American Football Conference, with a Thanksgiving Weekend trip to the AFC South-leading Texans up next on the schedule.
"We'll get back to work this week and get ready for the next one," Edelman stated matter-of-factly. "We have to roll it over and have a great week of practice and get ready for Houston."
The New England Patriots take on the Dallas Cowboys in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 24, 2019