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Cowboys Closing in on NFC East Lead After Win Against Falcons

Dallas sits at .500 after winning their last two games on the road, and the NFC East lead is now within striking range. Next week's Thanksgiving Day game against the Redskins now looks more important than ever.

ATLANTA — The Falcons and Cowboys are two of a handful of NFL teams this season that you can’t quite figure out, with both teams losing games they should win and vice versa. Coming into Sunday’s matchup, the Falcons were coming off an astounding loss in Cleveland while Dallas had inspired just enough hope against Philadelphia.

But the Cowboys may have finally made the turn. After Sunday’s 22–19 win against the Falcons, Dallas has, for the first time all season, won consecutive games and gone two straight without a turnover.

The win puts Dallas at 5–5 heading into Thanksgiving Day after 6-4 Washington in a contest that would give the Cowboys a share of the NFC East lead with a win.

“Now we have a big one in as big a rivalry as there is in sport, and we aren’t always playing for the title,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “But to some degree we’re playing for it on Thanksgiving Day.”

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Before we get to that, let’s revisit how Dallas got here. This was a toss-up between two 4–5 teams coming off unexpected outcomes with a more important divisional matchup coming on Thanksgiving Day. The game was destined to be both close and relatively boring, and for the first 45 minutes, this was a battle between kickers. Brett Maher and Matt Bryant traded field goals for the first three quarters, and the Falcons led 9–6 going into the fourth quarter.

Atlanta spent the first half doing a poor job of protecting Matt Ryan. He was sacked three times and hit a total of nine in the first half while being unable to penetrate the red zone. All four of Atlanta’s first-half possessions crossed into Dallas’ half of the field, and three of them got to at least the Cowboys’ 31-yard line. But the Falcons only had six points to show for it. Atlanta would get to the Dallas 35-yard line on six of its eight possessions.

This fell in line with what Dallas’s defense has done for most the season. The Cowboys entered Sunday third in scoring defense (19.0 points allowed/game) and sixth in red-zone defense (48.15%). But the Falcons knotted the game at 19-all after the two-minute warning when Ryan’s 34-yard bomb to Julio Jones connected in the end zone.

Then Dak Prescott, he of 11 game-winning drives in his young career, ordered a 12th when he engineered a 10-play, 51-yard drive that Maher capped with a 42-yarder for the win.

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Last year the Cowboys came here on a three-game win streak and a 5–3 record. Ezekiel Elliott was serving his first of a six-game suspension, but Dallas scored the first points of the game and then didn’t score in the final 51 minutes of the contest in its 27–7 loss. That started a three-game skid that sent them to 5–6, a hole from which they could not crawl out come December.

Prescott wasn’t keen on talking about last year’s thumping, opting to stay focused on the momentum these Cowboys are building now. As the walls collapsed around Jason Garrett and his team following a Monday night loss to Tennessee two weeks ago, it seemed as though Dallas would be missing the playoffs for a second straight year and Garrett was on his way to the land that will soon be occupied by Todd Bowles, Vance Joseph and Mike McCarthy.

Now the Cowboys get a Washington team playing its backup quarterback on a short week on the road for control of the division. Just like we were all expecting two weeks ago.

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