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Sunday's NFL: Cowboys’ rally stuns Falcons 40-39 in McCarthy’s home debut

Schuyler Dixon
Associated Press

Arlington, Texas —  One gamble after another failed for coach Mike McCarthy in his home debut with the Dallas Cowboys.

A successful onside kick made them all moot.

Greg Zuerlein kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired, and the Cowboys overcame four fumbles and a 20-point deficit in the first quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons 40-39 on Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys' Chris Jones (6) and others celebrate with kicker Greg Zuerlein (2) after Zuerlein kicked a field goal to help the Cowboys to a 40-39 win against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

The Falcons were still up 15 in the fourth quarter before Dak Prescott became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards and rush for three touchdowns in the same game, the third TD getting Dallas (1-1) within two.

Zuerlein did not use a tee for his slow-rolling onside attempt, a rare tactic. But even more curious was Atlanta’s players surrounding the ball when they could have recovered it. As soon as it crossed the 10-yard mark, C.J. Goodwin pounced – and later emerged from the big pile with the ball and 1:48 on the clock.

Rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb’s 24-yard catch got the Cowboys in field goal position, and they ran down the clock before “Greg the Leg” touched off a wild celebration for the players and the socially distanced 21,708 fans who booed Dallas off the field with Atlanta up 29-10 at halftime. The crowd was 27% of AT&T Stadium’s 80,000-seat capacity.

“I don’t know if I’ve been in many games like this thing,” Prescott said. “But to be able to get the win, and in front of those fans that were there, stayed the whole game, they didn’t give up on us. That was a huge difference.”

Instead of lamenting just his second 0-2 start – his only one was his first season in Green Bay in 2006 – McCarthy celebrated his debut on the Dallas sideline of the venue that hosted his Super Bowl win with the Packers a decade ago.

In his final two appearances in the $1.2 billion retractable-roof stadium with the Packers, McCarthy watched as Aaron Rodgers beat the Cowboys twice in the final seconds, including a divisional playoff game when Prescott was a rookie.

“I had one on the other sideline, but not like this,” McCarthy said. “We dug ourselves such a big hole in the first quarter. We’re early in the process of our football team finding out about each other each and every day.”

Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes, two off the three lost fumbles from the Cowboys in the first quarter, which ended with Atlanta in front 20-0.

But the Falcons couldn’t avoid their first 0-2 start in six seasons under coach Dan Quinn in a performance reminiscent of their blown 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl loss to New England in Houston to finish the 2016 season.

In the past nine seasons, Atlanta now has two of the three instances in which a team lost after leading by at least 15 points with less than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“It’s tough to put a loss like that in place,” Quinn said. “I told the team there has to be a lesson in the pain of that loss. We’ll work into that as we put in preparation for next week, but definitely that one stings.”

The successful onside kick for Dallas came after two failed fake punts and another gamble that didn’t work when McCarthy went for the 2-point conversion before the final touchdown the Cowboys would have needed to get even.

Playing without both of his starting tackles, Prescott was 34 of 47 for 450 yards and a touchdown with one sack. It was his first game with multiple rushing TDs. The two-time Pro Bowler is the franchise leader for rushing scores from a QB.

Prescott’s first two TDs got Dallas within five in the third quarter. Ryan responded by converting a third down with a 22-yard pass to Hayden Hurst, who had a 42-yard touchdown on another first-quarter blunder from Dallas, a blown coverage.

After a 19-yard completion to Julio Jones on fourth-and-2, Russell Gage scored on an 8-yard throw for a 36-24 lead. Ryan had 273 yards passing a week after getting 450, second-most of his career.

The Falcons pushed the lead to 39-24 on Younghoe Koo’s fourth field goal with just under eight minutes left.

“We’re definitely a better finishing team than we showed today,” Jones said. “We’re still positive, a very positive team. We’re not going to let it define who we are, we’ve just got to keep getting better.”

More NFL games

(At) Seattle 35, New England 30: Cam Newton was stopped at the 1-yard line on the final play and the Seahawks held off the Patriots.

Newton led New England 80 yards in the closing moments, trying to spoil the performance of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who matched his career high with five touchdown passes.

Newton and the Patriots reached the 1 on a pass to N’Keal Harry with 3 seconds left. On the final play, Newton tried to run power to the left, but was upended by L.J. Collier in the biggest play of his young career. Newton, who had two rushing touchdowns in the game, never got close to the goal line and Seattle’s sideline erupted in celebration.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton dives with the ball but is stopped near the goal line as the clock expires in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday.

Newton was excellent in his first road game with the Patriots throwing for 397 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He ran for another 47 yards, but couldn’t get the last three feet to give New England a victory.

Wilson was masterful on the other side, completing 21 of 28 passes for 288 yards. It was his fourth career game with five touchdown passes. Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Freddie Swain and Chris Carson all took turns celebrating in the end zone. Carson was the last, running under a 18-yard rainbow toss from Wilson against the blitz with 4:32 left to give the Seahawks a 35-23 lead.

But Newton wasn’t done. His second TD run pulled New England to 35-30 with 2:16 left. It was his eighth career game with at least two rushing TDs, setting an NFL record.

New England held the Seahawks to a three-and-out after Seattle threw on third-and-1 and Wilson couldn’t connect with Lockett on a deep shot.

Newton needed just five plays to move New England from its 19 to the Seattle 36 with 41 seconds left. After a penalty, Newton hit Edelman for 18 yards to the Seattle 13 with 20 seconds left and the pair nearly connected again in the end zone but Newton’s pass was high with 9 seconds remaining. Newton found Harry, but he was stopped at the 1 and New England used its final timeout, setting the stage for the final play.

Edelman finished with eight catches for 179 yards.

Kansas City 23, L.A. Chargers 20, OT: Harrison Butker kicked a 58-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining in overtime, and the Chiefs survived a superlative first start by rookie Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

Butker’s winner was his third field goal of the day and his second from 58 yards, which tied a Chiefs record for distance. He nailed a 30-yarder on the final play of regulation.

In overtime, Butker sent the ball through the uprights from 53 yards, but KC was called for a false start. Then the Chargers called timeout, giving him a rehearsal kick from 58 that he also made before the one that counted.

Patrick Mahomes completed less than half of his passes in the first half for only the third time in his career but rallied to finish 27 of 47 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Tyreek Hill (five catches, 99 yards) and Travis Kelce (nine receptions, 90 yards) each had TD receptions.

Playing their first game at SoFi Stadium, the Chargers (1-1) won the coin toss in overtime but went three-and-out. The Chiefs (2-0) got the ball at their 21 and went 39 yards in 13 plays.

Herbert was 22 of 33 for 311 yards with a touchdown and interception, becoming the ninth quarterback since the merger to have a 300-yard game in his NFL debut.

Baltimore 33, (at) Houston 16: Lamar Jackson threw a touchdown pass, Mark Ingram ran for a TD and the Ravens added a score on defense.

The victory is Baltimore’s 14th straight in the regular season, the longest streak in the NFL since since Carolina won 18 in a row in 2014-15.

The Ravens (2-0) were up by 10 early in the fourth quarter when Ingram took a direct snap on fourth-and-1 and dashed 30 yards to make it 30-13. Ingram punched and roundhouse-kicked a picture of Houston’s mascot on the wall in the end zone to celebrate the score that was the knockout blow.

The Ravens built a 20-10 halftime lead with the help of a fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter by L.J. Fort.

Deshaun Watson threw for 275 yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception and was sacked four times and hit 13 other times for the Texans (0-2), who played their home opener without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

L.A. Rams 37, (at) Philadelphia 19: Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee. Goff completed his first 13 passes, including a pair of TDs to Higbee, and the Rams jumped to a 21-3 lead minutes into the second quarter.

After the Eagles (0-2) pulled within one score, Goff’s 28-yard TD pass to Higbee in the fourth period iced it for Los Angeles (2-0).

Goff and Carson Wentz were selected Nos. 1-2 in the 2016 draft, one of seven times since 1967 that quarterbacks were the first two picks. In their only other head-to-head meeting in December 2017, Wentz tore two knee ligaments. Nick Foles stepped in and eventually led Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl title.

Rams coach Sean McVay got his first win over Doug Pederson and the Eagles in three tries. McVay outcoached defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz early as Los Angeles scored TDs on its first three possessions.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) congratulates wide receiver John Brown (15) after Brown scored a touchdown, during the second half.

Buffalo 31, (at) Miami 28: Josh Allen threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs. Allen reached a career high in yards passing for the second week in a row, and became the first Buffalo quarterback to have back-to-back 300-yard games since Drew Bledsoe in 2002.

Trailing 20-17, the Bills (2-0) reclaimed the lead with 5:55 left on a 6-yard pass from Allen to rookie Gabriel Davis, who made a diving catch in the end zone. Allen’s 46-yard pass to John Brown stretched the lead to 31-20 with 3:09 left. The Bills totaled 524 yards, with 342 in the first half, the most by the team since 2000.

The Dolphins (0-2) closed to 31-28 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Mike Gesicki and a successful 2-point conversion with 49 seconds left. The onside kick was recovered by the Bills’ Micah Hyde.

Masked fans were scattered throughout the stadium, and the announced crowd of 11,075 was smaller than the maximum of 13,000 being allowed to attend the home opener. Almost half of the spectators wore Bills colors.

(At) Pittsburgh 26, Denver 21: Ben Roethlisberger threw for 311 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and the Steelers fended off a spirited comeback by Denver.

The Steelers (2-0) knocked out Denver starting quarterback Drew Lock in the first quarter with a right shoulder injury. They didn’t secure the win until safety Terrell Edmunds sacked Broncos backup Jeff Driskel on fourth-and-2 with less than two minutes to go.

Driskel completed 18 of 34 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and a pick, and absorbed a serious pounding at the hands of Pittsburgh’s defense. The Steelers had seven sacks in all – six of them on Driskel – and were credited with 19 quarterback hits.

Still, Denver (0-2) had a chance when Driskel hit Noah Fant for a 22-yard gain that gave the Broncos a first down at the Pittsburgh 23. Three plays gained 8 yards. Facing a potentially staggering upset, the Steelers escaped when Edmunds raced in untouched to drop Driskel. A 59-yard sprint by Pittsburgh’s James Conner allowed the Steelers to run out the clock.

(At) Indianapolis 28, Minnesota 11: Jonathan Taylor, a 21-year-old rookie running back, rushed 26 times for 101 yards and scored a touchdown in his first NFL start. Taylor celebrated his first win inside Lucas Oil Stadium, after losing three Big Ten championship games with Wisconsin in the stadium, in front of about 2,500 fans. He became the first Colts rookie in eight years to top the 100-yard mark, and it helped Philip Rivers win his first game with Indy (1-1).

Taylor wasn’t Indy’s only impressive rookie. Michael Pittman Jr. caught four passes for 37 yards, Julian Blackmon tipped the ball to Khari Willis for an interception, and Rodrigo Blankenship made all four of his field-goal attempts.

The Colts had a nearly 17-minute edge in time of possession, too, as they improved to 12-0 all-time against the Vikings (0-2) in home games.

It was another ugly day for Minnesota. Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) had a 0.0 passer rating late into the third quarter, thanks in part to drops, one of which sailed through the hands of Bisi Johnson and into the arms of Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II.

San Francisco 31, (at) N.Y. Jets 13: Raheem Mostert ran for an 80-yard touchdown on San Francisco’s first play from scrimmage and Jimmy Garoppolo threw two TD passes – before both players sat out the second half with injuries.

It was a costly victory for San Francisco, which was already short-handed before losing Garoppolo to an ankle injury and Mostert to an injured knee. Defensive end Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas were both carted off the field two plays apart with left knee injuries in the first quarter.

The 49ers (1-1) also came in without star tight end George Kittle (knee), wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot), cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) and defensive end Dee Ford (neck).

It didn’t matter against the Jets (0-2), who have also been hit hard by injuries and couldn’t muster much.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) takes down Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson (11) during the second half.

(At) Tampa Bay 31, Carolina 13: Tom Brady got his first win with the Buccaneers, throwing for 217 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

With another recent acquisition, Leonard Fournette, rushing for 103 yards and two TDs, Brady rebounded from a less-than-stellar debut for his new team to avoid starting a season with consecutive losses for the first time in a 21-year career.

Brady tossed a 23-yard TD pass to Mike Evans in the first quarter. Fournette scored on runs of 1 and 46 yards, the latter coming after Carolina stormed back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to 24-17 on a pair of TD runs by Christian McCaffrey and Joey Slye’s 23-yard field goal.

Brady completed 23 of 35 passes, and Evans finished with seven receptions for 104 yards. Fournette averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 12 rushing attempts.

Teddy Bridgewater was 33 of 42 for 367 yards and two interceptions for the Panthers (0-2), who had four turnovers.

McCaffrey spent most of the fourth quarter on the sideline with an apparent ankle injury.

(At) Tennessee 33, Jacksonville 30: Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 49-yard field goal with 1:36 left. Gostkowski, who hit the left upright on an extra point, also made a 51-yarder at the end of the first half after an ugly performance in the opener.

Jeffery Simmons batted a pass by Gardner Minshew, and Harold Landry III grabbed the ball out of the air with 47 seconds left to seal the victory.

This is the Titans’ first 2-0 start since 2008, the most recent season this franchise won the AFC South. The Titans also won their seventh straight against division rival Jacksonville (1-1) in Nashville after nearly blowing a 24-10 halftime lead.

Ryan Tannehill threw for 239 yards and four touchdowns. The Titans sacked Minshew twice and picked him off twice.

Jaguars undrafted rookie James Robinson ran for a TD and 102 yards.

(At) Chicago 17, N.Y. Giants 13: Mitchell Trubisky threw two touchdown passes and the Bears hung on against the banged-up Giants. The Bears (2-0) grabbed a 17-0 halftime lead and withstood a big push a week after rallying from 17 down at Detroit for their first season-opening win in seven years.

The Giants (0-2) refused to go quietly even though they lost star running back Saquon Barkley to a right knee injury on the opening play of the second quarter.

New York’s Dion Lewis made it a seven-point game when he plowed in from the 1 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. James Bradberry then intercepted Trubisky when he ripped the ball out of Allen Robinson’s hands, leading to a 37-yard field goal by Graham Gano that cut it to 17-13 with 7:43 remaining.

The Giants drove to the 10 before Golden Tate got flagged for pushing off against Eddie Jackson near the goal line on an incomplete pass as time expired.