ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys played with their food to begin a Thanksgiving contest against the New York Giants before ultimately reaching a rhythm and piling on.
At meal’s end, the Cowboys had a 28-20 victory over their NFC East rival that wasn’t as close as a last-minute Giants touchdown made it seem.
Dallas rode another two-sack game from defensive player of the year favorite Micah Parsons, a two-headed rushing attack and a near-perfect passing game from quarterback Dak Prescott in the second half to win for the second time in five days.
At 8-3, the Cowboys have a firm grasp on second place in the division, sweeping the Giants in this season’s series.
Dallas entered the game as a heavy favorite for a reason: The Giants are ravaged by injuries, including across the offensive line, at receiver and in their secondary. Still, they played a tough first half and forced three de facto turnovers from the home team.
Dallas turned over the ball on downs when Giants (and former Cowboys) linebacker Jaylon Smith stuffed Ezekiel Elliott short on a fourth-and-2 attempt. Prescott and his receivers also appeared to twice miscommunicate on what became interceptions, the first by Giants cornerback Rodarius Williams on a sideline pass intended for Michael Gallup and soon after on an over-the-middle target of CeeDee Lamb instead grabbed by safety Julian Love.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s second INT, this one from Giants safety Julian Lovepic.twitter.com/dY6QazneEr
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 24, 2022
At halftime, the Cowboys were lucky they only trailed by 13-7, New York’s touchdown courtesy an impressive 44-yard grab by receiver Darius Slayton setting up the 1-yard touchdown punch by running back Saquon Barkley.
After halftime, though, the Cowboys seized control. They retook the lead with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in which third-down demons were exorcised and Lamb’s left hand was sufficient. Tight end Dalton Schultz scored his first of two touchdowns on a 15-yard dart from Prescott. And in an improvement on the complementary football philosophy, the Cowboys’ defense shut down the Giants in the second half to the tune of two turnovers on downs and a subsequent punt.
The game sent interesting mixed messages for the Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes. One one hand, Dallas showed why the veteran receiver returning from an ACL tear would be more likely to advance in the postseason with the Cowboys than his maiden team, the Giants. On another hand, the Cowboys passing game didn’t look to be deficient of targets. Lamb surpassed 100 yards (106) on just six catches, Gallup had his best post-ACL tear performance with a five-catch, 63-yard day, and the Cowboys’ deep tight end room scored three touchdowns while moving the ball 82 yards in addition to their blocking contributions.
Perhaps two moments best summarized the Cowboys’ performance.
There was Prescott’s 15-yard completion to Lamb despite a literal gut punch from Giants pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, an apt metaphor for how the Cowboys took (some self-inflicted) hits early but ultimately powered through toward victory.
Dak Prescott, receiving a literal gut punch and still hitting CeeDee 15 yards downfieldpic.twitter.com/i5PgP5R8EH
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 25, 2022
And then there was the celebration — yes, we are discussing a touchdown celebration — after undrafted rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot scored in the fourth quarter to top off Dallas’ eighth victory of the season.
Hendershot and the three other Cowboys tight ends lined up on the play — yes, Dallas ran a four-tight end package and it wasn’t even National Tight Ends Day — headed toward the Salvation Army Red Kettle past the end zone. Schultz, rookie Jake Ferguson and tight end Sean McKeon jumped into the Kettle, as Cowboys including Elliott had in the past.
Hendershot grabbed the football as his fellow position mates alternately popped up, in what was undoubtedly a delightful game of Whack-A-Mole.
Thankful for Red Kettle Tight End Whack-A-Mole cellyspic.twitter.com/YXMqykD8YC
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 25, 2022
Ultimately, that’s what this Thanksgiving Day division game became: a whack-a-mole contest in which six different Cowboys weapons became a collective problem the Giants’ battered defense could no longer handle, while Dallas’ pass rush played defensive whack-a-mole pressuring Giants quarterback Daniel Jones repeatedly, including seven hits and three sacks.
Jones finished the game going 21-of-35 with 228 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Slayton, with his 44-yard grab, led all Giants skill players with 63 yards as Dallas’ improving run defense held Barkley to 39 yards on 11 carries and 13 yards on six targets (four catches).
Prescott completed 21-of-30 attempts, including 11-of-14 second-half throws, for 261 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Elliott rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown.