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Cowboys 20, Chargers 17: Top 10 Whitty Observations

On a sloppy-but-successful Sunday in L.A., Greg Zuerlein nails the long-distance walk-off

It's a 20-17 win at the Chargers. And here - 10 Whitty Observations - to explain how the Dallas Cowboys did it ...

10. NFC LEAST - Good News: Thanks to kicker Greg Zuerlein bailing out head coach Mike McCarthy's confounding clock management in the final 30 seconds with a walk-off, 56-yard field goal, the Dallas Cowboys avoid the death sentence of an 0-2 start. Better news: They still play in football's worst division. Thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles' home defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, through two weeks of the season all four NFC East teams have already suffered a loss. The Cowboys are tied for the division lead.

9. FURIOUS FINISHES - At the two-minute warning in their opener at Tampa, the Cowboys had the ball but trailed, 28-26. Sunday in L.A. at the two-minute warning, they had the ball and were tied at 17. In both games, they forged fourth-quarter leads on the road against playoff-caliber opponents. You win some; you lose some. A split in those situations feels like a win.

8. ZACK ATTACK - With right tackle La'el Collins serving the first of his five-game suspension, the Cowboys funneled their running game behind the return of All-Pro right guard Zack Martin. With productive results. Their first two touchdowns were runs to the right, scored by Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliott. Martin also bailed out tackle Tyron Smith in the fourth quarter, with an alert fumble recovery that salvaged a field goal after the tackle was beaten on a rush that resulted in a strip-sack of Dak Prescott.

7. MOVIN' MICAH - Down his best two pass rushers with Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence injured, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn had to get creative. Or, he merely turned to a talented defender playing in his second NFL game. A linebacker by trade, Micah Parsons spent the entire afternoon as Dallas' edge rusher. Either standing up or with his hand on the ground, Parsons produced decent pressure on Chargers' quarterback Justin Herbert and was credited with a huge sack late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys, who failed to sack Tom Brady on 50 dropbacks in Week 1, finally got one by Leighton Vander Esch in the second quarter. The pressure and various look failed to ruffle Herbert, who at one point in the first half completed 16 consecutive passes and threw for 338 yards.

READ MORE: Cowboys break ugly streak by scoring early TD

6. CALIFORNIA COWBOYS - Sure sounded like at least half of the sellout crowd for this Chargers' home game was cheering for the boys in blue. That's a result, of course, of the Cowboys holding training camp in southern California (Thousand Oaks and Oxnard) for decades. If the Cowboys can somehow make it to Super Bowl LVI back at SoFi Stadium in 21 weeks, they could have a home-field advantage. If, we said. If.

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5. McMOJO MOMENT – McCarthy sent a loud, aggressive message when he went for fourth-and-one at Dallas' 48 on the opening possession. In training camp, the head coach constantly talked about spontaneous momentum plays, labeling them 'Mojo Moments." The Cowboys were lucky to convert the fourth-down gamble, getting bailed out on an accidental pass interference by the Chargers. They finished off the 15-play, 78-march by converting three third downs and taking a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard sweep by Pollard. The touchdown snapped a 20-game streak of not finding the end zone on the opening drive, dating back to Dec. 5, 2019. The Cowboys have scored points in a franchise-record 12 consecutive first quarters.

4. EXCHANGING ERRORS - Though entertaining and good to the last drop, this wasn't a well-played game. In fact, at times it was as disjointed and mind-boggling as CBS trying to convince us that Queen Latifah is properly cast as The Equalizer. There were 20 combined penalties, including two on the Chargers that wiped out touchdown passes. The Cowboys attempted high-risk fourth downs and inexplicably rushed - and roughed - the punter at midfield two minutes before halftime. San Diego fielded a punt at its own 2-yard line. And there was almost a colossal botch of time management in the final seconds. There have been almost 17,000 games in NFL history and, fittingly, this weird one was the first to have a score of 14-11 at halftime.

3. STRANGE 'SACK' - On an afternoon littered with yellow flags, the Cowboys shouldn't complain. The Chargers had two touchdown passes deleted in the second half, and were forced to kick a game-tying field goal after a ridiculously bad 'sack' ruling when Parsons kinda, sorta had control of a back-pedaling Herbert. If not a sack, however, the play should've been called intentional grounding. So call it a wash?

READ MORE: To Combat Injuries Along DL, Cowboys Move Rookie Parsons to DE

2. COOPER IN THE CLUTCH - After exploding for 13 catches, two touchdowns and 139 against the Buccaneers, Amari Cooper was relatively invisible in L.A. Until, that is, Dallas needed him most. Held to two catches for 12 yards, Cooper caught a gutsy, diving 12-yard crossing route on Dallas' last dive, helping set up Zuerlein's dramatics.

1. ZUERLEIN SAVES MCCARTHY - As good as Zuerlin's game-winning kick was - the 56-yarder split the uprights and would've been good from 62 - it was made necessary by some irrational time management by his head coach. Driving in the final minute of a tie game, the Cowboys gave a second-down hand-off to Pollard who gained three yards to the Chargers' 38 before being tackled with :29 remaining. But instead of using his final timeout and running a third-down play to get his kicker closer, McCarthy let the clock melt to :04. 

A miss there and we're all calling for the coach's cockamamy scalp. Instead, Zuerlein delivered. Again. In Tampa, he made a 48-yard field goal with 1:29 remaining. In L.A., he drilled the 56-yarder that changed the scoreboard, saved a coach and re-calculated the tenor of the Cowboys' early season.