For a half, the Detroit Lions proved they could hang with the NFL’s best. For the other half, they looked to be miles behind. Detroit had a 21-14 lead early in this game, but the Dallas Cowboys would score the next 28 points and comfortably ride to a 42-21 win.
The Cowboys got off to a fast start. Despite a few penalties that pushed them back, Dak Prescott led Dallas on a nine-play, 66-yard drive for an quick touchdown. The Lions had the Cowboys backed up on third-and-14, but a perfect needle from Prescott to Brice Butler put Dallas up 7-0 early.
The Lions responded with an extremely impressive drive of their own. It was Zach Zenner of all players who drove the Lions for a touchdown. Zenner caught two passes for 25 yards and added three rushes for 38 yards and a score as the Lions tied the game up with ease on their first drive of the game. Zenner’s cutback touchdown run was aided by a huge running lane. Take a look:
"What an impressive answer by the @Lions" - Gruden pic.twitter.com/nTfUW4dz2V— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 27, 2016
The shootout was on and the Cowboys were game. Just four plays later Ezekiel Elliott would break out a 55-yard touchdown on an ill-timed blitz from Detroit. Dallas was back up by a touchdown just 2:34 after the Lions had tied it up.
Andre Roberts helped the Lions keep pace. He took the ensuing kickoff to the Detroit’s 42-yard line, giving Matthew Stafford excellent field position to answer. This time it was Eric Ebron who gained the bulk of yardage. Ebron caught passes of 21 and six yards to put the Lions into striking distance. The Lions got held up in the red zone, but decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Stafford sneaked the ball in and was initially denied, but a second push crossed the goal line and tied the game up.
The Lions defense finally showed up as pass rush got to Prescott on three straight downs. Ezekiel Ansah picked up a sack on second down, eventually forcing Dallas to go three-and-out. The quick possession ended up giving the Lions great field position.
Detroit took advantage. With the short field, Stafford methodically drove the team into a goal-to-go situation and Zenner punched it in for his second rushing touchdown of the game. The Lions took their first lead of the game, 21-14.
The Lions defense continued to hold strong as the Cowboys went three-and-out yet again. Detroit was then backed up in at their own 10-yard line thanks to TJ Jones, who was in for an injured Andre Roberts. Jones allowed a punt to bounce in front of him and it found its way deep into Lions territory. The Lions responded by going three-and-out as well and handing good field position right back to the Cowboys with just 3:14 left in the half.
Dallas drove into the red zone and faced a third-and-7. Kerry Hyder initially tripped up Prescott short of the sticks, but offsetting holding penalties gave the Cowboys another chance. Prescott took advantage, finding Dez Bryant in single coverage against Johnson Bademosi for the game-tying score.
The Lions had a chance to take a lead into the half, but Stafford couldn’t lead the offense to a first down and Detroit punted away the ball. The Cowboys ran one play and the clock ran down, ending the half 21-21.
The Lions came out of the second half with just about as poor of a start as you can imagine. After a holding penalty and a sack moved Detroit to a second-and-31 situation, Stafford made a horrible decision forcing a ball into coverage while on the run and was picked off. Two plays later Prescott went deep to Bryant, who drew a pass interference flag against Nevin Lawson. That set up Dallas first-and-goal. Two plays and another Lions penalty later, Elliott punched it in, giving Dallas a 28-21 lead.
Detroit came out on the next drive in no-huddle mode, but could only manage one first down before punting back to Dallas.
The Cowboys were pinned deep, but it didn’t stop them from driving all over a weak Lions defense. Dallas went 95 yards in just eight plays to go up two scores. They were aided by a strange personal foul penalty on A’Shawn Robinson.
The Lions got a penalty for tackling Ezekiel Elliott before any whistle was blown: https://t.co/GX4naVc0LU pic.twitter.com/p1zGVSRGBR— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) December 27, 2016
A few plays later, the Cowboys pulled off a reverse-pass. Dez Bryant found Jason Witten and just like that the Cowboys were up 35-21.
Detroit, desperate for some points as the third quarter came to a close, moved the ball down to Cowboys territory. However, a few off-target passes from Stafford stalled the drive and Matt Prater was unable to tack on a 48-yard field goal to draw the Lions closer. Detroit entered the fourth quarter—yet again—down two scores.
But the Lions didn’t have a comeback in them on this day. The Cowboys added another touchdown to Bryant to kick off the final quarter and couldn’t muster up anything resembling a comeback.
Detroit drops to 9-6 and could potentially be in a do-or-die situation on Sunday. If Washington defeats the Giants Sunday afternoon, Detroit and Green Bay will be in a win-or-go-home situation on “Sunday Night Football,” with the loser being eliminated from playoff contention.