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'Couldn't stop them': Powerful Cowboys bury Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — It started out as a track meet. It ended up a slaughter.

The Lions defense, which hadn’t surrendered more than 20 points to an opponent over the previous eight games, got lit up in a 42-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

“I think a lot of that was self-inflicted, but let’s not take anything away from them — this is a really good football team,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

The loss drops the Lions to 9-6 and into a tie atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers. Those teams will meet at Ford Field next week to decide the division title.

BOX SCORE: Cowboys 42, Lions 21

The fireworks started early in Dallas, and for a half, Detroit was hanging tough with the NFC’s best team.

The Cowboys got the scoring started by taking the opening kickoff 66 yards in nine plays. The Lions were in position to force a field goal, but on 3rd-and-14 from the 21 receiver Brice Butler slipped behind rookie defender Miles Killebrew into a soft spot in the zone coverage where quarterback Dak Prescott delivered a scoring strike.

“The safety came down to grab (tight end Jason) Witten,” Prescott said. “He never gets truly back to the middle of the field, leaves Brice open and he made a great catch.”

The Lions responded with an 75-yard touchdown drive. Running back Zach Zenner, getting the start over Dwayne Washington, was the focal point on the series, racking up 63 yards from scrimmage. He finished the possession taking a handoff, cutting sharply to his left and coasting into the end zone for a 7-yard score.

Dallas kept up the pressure, thanks to a big play from the NFL’s leading rusher and top MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott. The rookie back burst through a lane untouched up the middle of the defense, rumbling 55 yards to put the Cowboys up, 14-7.

Not to be outdone, the Lions matched with another touchdown. Following a 42-yard kickoff return by Andre Roberts, quarterback Matthew Stafford steered the Lions to a fresh set of downs at the 1-yard line. It took four tries, but Stafford was finally able to plunge through the line on fourth-and-goal.

On the ensuing possession a defense finally scored a stop as the Cowboys went three-and-out, partially undone by a holding call and finished off by an Ezekiel Ansah sack.

After a poor punt gave the Lions a short field, their offense kept the foot on the gas, driving 53 yards in eight plays, with Zenner bursting 5 yards up the gut for his second touchdown.

Zenner finished with 67 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. He added two receptions for another 25 yards.

The scoring finally slowed as the teams traded punts, but Dallas managed to knot it up at 21 before the half. On 3rd-and-7 from the Lions 25, Prescott lobbed one up into the end zone for star receiver Dez Bryant. Despite excessive contact, which netted cornerback Johnson Bademosi a pass interference infraction, Bryant came down with the pass for the score.

The Lions came unraveled on both sides of the ball in the second half, starting with the opening possession. After a holding call and sack had the team facing a 2nd-and-31, Stafford couldn’t get enough on a cross-body throw while evading pressure. The badly underthrown ball was intercepted Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox.

Dallas quickly made Detroit pay for the mistake. Another pass interference penalty, committed by Nevin Lawson against Bryant, gave Dallas the ball first-and-goal at the 5 and Elliott punched it in from a yard out three plays later to give Dallas the lead, 28-21.

Following a Lions punt, the Cowboys opted to empty the playbook.

Starting from their own 5, they drove the length of the field and busted out a trick play to get into the end zone. Prescott took the snap and ran right, flipping the ball to Bryant running an end-around the opposite direction. As Lions defenders converged on the receiver, he flipped the ball to a wide open Witten for a 10-yard score, extending the lead to 35-21.

“We were just hoping to get it called,” Witten said.  “We knew we could execute it. To call that play in that situation, you really do have to give coach (Scott) Linehan a lot of credit."

Lions kicker Matt Prater missed a 47-yard field goal on the ensuing drive and the Cowboys and Bryant put the final nail in the coffin. The big receiver went up over Lawson for a 19-yard touchdown, his third of the day, to cap the scoring.

Bryant finished with four catches for 70 yards and the two scores. Prescott completed 15-20 for 212 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” Lawson said. “There isn’t anything to it, we just couldn’t stop them.”

Detroit can still make the playoffs as a division champ by beating Green Bay at home next week, or as a wild-card if Washington loses to the New York Giants.

“In the beginning of the year, if you would have told us Week 17, we’d have a chance to play Green Bay at home for the division, we would have taken that all day,” Stafford said.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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