ARLINGTON, Texas — Congratulations to the Dallas Cowboys, who at last emerged from their slow-start slump.
Dallas scored a first-quarter touchdown for just the second time in eight games — the first starting in their own territory — to take a rare early lead against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving Day. Their defense sacked Josh Allen and sent the Bills off the field quickly during Buffalo’s first drive.
Then the Cowboys fell apart in all three phases of the game.
Dak Prescott threw an interception and lost a fumble. The Cowboys defense was thoroughly outwitted on a double-reverse trick play as a Bills receiver found a Bills running back for a touchdown. Cowboys kicker Brett Maher had a field goal blocked wide right before halftime, and then missed wide left after the half. Errors were rampant.
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The 26-15 loss drops the Cowboys to .500, just half a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Buffalo improves to 9-3 on the season.
Here are three more things we learned in the game:
1. Welcome back, Cole Beasley
Beasley grew up in Dallas, starred in college at SMU in Dallas, and spent seven seasons as a Cowboys slot receiver before the team let him walk in free agency this spring. Beasley showcased his speed and shiftiness returning with the Bills as he raced to a season-high 110 yards receiving — the second-highest production of his eight-year career.
Beasley scored on a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 8:09 to play in the second quarter as Josh Allen escaped the pocket to find his slot man up the middle. Beasley was, weirdly, the only receiver to catch a touchdown in the game. That’s in part because the Bills duped the Cowboys on a trick play for their second score. The handoff reverse set up receiver John Brown to find running back Devin Singletary wide open down the right sideline.
2. Fourth downs everywhere
Dak Prescott broke tackles and a near sack to scramble for 7 yards on third-and-8 at the end of the first quarter, back when the Cowboys led 7-0 and the Bills hadn’t yet run off. Despite risky field position at their own 19, the Cowboys opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 to start the second quarter. Prescott validated the decision with a quarterback keeper to convert. The drive ended in a punt, but the decision was still notable for Garrett, who just this week dismissed the importance of in-game analytics that would espouse decisions like the fourth down call. The Cowboys’ fourth-down attempt later in the game, from the 6-yard line on fourth and goal went far worse as Prescott missed Ezekiel Elliott substantially.
Allen, on the other hand, transformed into a basketball post player for an improbable first down on fourth-and-1 with 2:17 to play in the first half. The successful conversion immediately preceded the trick play that gave the Bills a 13-7 lead. They never relinquished it.
3. Another day of offense, another loss
Yet again, the league’s top offense piled on yards as Dallas outgained Buffalo 426 to 357 yards on the ground. Yet again, it didn’t translate to a win. Prescott’s two turnovers and a series of other passes his receivers just missed kept Dallas’ scoring production from correlating with its yardage. The offensive line was no match for the Bills defense, particularly Buffalo's 2019 first-round draft pick Ed Oliver, who finished with two sacks, four tackles, a deflection and a forced fumble. Dallas went just two of four in the red zone, paired with two missed field goals, in a game it lost by 11. No matter that Michael Gallup made an athletic play in the end zone in the fourth quarter, because he had just one foot in bounds. It was fitting: For nearly the entire game, the Cowboys struggled to find their footing.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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