It was a meaningless game, effectively, for Dallas. It meant everything to Detroit.
So, of course Detroit loses. What else do the Detroit Lions ever do, after all?
Going in, some thought it would be wise for Dallas to rest their starters. After the apparent injury to rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot, it might have reinforced this message that this is what would have been wisest.
But Dallas had all of their starters in, and as it turned out, they had themselves an incredible game. Rookie Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had perhaps the best game of his young career. He completed 15 of 20 pass attempts for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, Prescott earned a 152.7 passer rating for this game, which is as close to perfect as you can get. In a losing effort, Stafford completed 26 of 46 yards for 260 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception, although Stafford ran for one touchdown in the first half, when Detroit looked capable of pulling off what could have been a huge win for them.
Yes, for a while there in the second quarter, the Lions looked good, and seemed to want the game more than the Dallas Cowboys did. Dallas kept scoring touchdowns, and Detroit just kept answering, and even took the initiative by taking a short-lived, 21-14 lead. At that point, it was entirely possible to see the Lions at least lock up a playoff spot, and putting themselves in position to at least contend for the number two seed, with a win over Green Bay, and a Falcons loss.
That, however, was as far as Detroit's hopes would go, as it all began to fall apart for them very shortly thereafter.
It began with a Dallas drive that culminated in a brilliant touchdown catch by Dez Bryant. He juggled the ball initially in the corner of the end zone with one hand - with a defender draped all over him, to boot, - before bringing it in for the score. That was Bryant's 7th touchdown catch of the season, a new Cowboys record, and it tied the game up for halftime.
It did not take too long for Dallas to take control with a dominant third quarter. It began with a Detroit mistake. Matthew Stafford, who has been enjoying a brilliant season, made one of his rare mistakes, but it was costly. He threw a bad interception, giving Dallas the ball and great field positioning. Not too much later, Ezekiel Elliot, the young running back phenom for Dallas who had some impressive runs last night, wound up running it in a for a second touchdown to give Dallas the 28-21 lead.
Not long after that, after the Big D defense stopped the Lions suddenly sputtering offense, Prescott ran after faking a hand off to Elliot, and took the Detroit defense by surprise, picking up solid yardage. Another trick play shortly after that saw Prescott hand the ball to wide receiver Bryant, who then threw the ball to tight end Jason Witten in the end zone, providing Dallas with a 35-21 lead.
In the fourth quarter, another brilliant pass by Prescott was followed by another brilliant catch by Bryant gave Dallas a 42-21 lead.
The Lions still were fighting to stay alive in this game, and with under five minutes, they were in position to score, and at least close the margin a bit. Dallas defensive lineman David Irving had other ideas, though, as he hit Stafford and stripped the ball very close to the end zone. The ball was recovered by the Cowboys, ending the threat, and also effectively ending any remaining suspense in the game.
So, the Cowboys move to 13-2 on the season, and tie a franchise record for wins in one season, tying the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, who finished with a 13-3 record. They would end up going to the Super Bowl, and beating the Buffalo Bills for the first of three titles in the 1990's, when this franchise won "Team of the Decade" honors. Dallas already had the top seed locked up going into this game against Detroit.
As for Detroit, this was a huge disappointment, and they now face a winner takes all showdown with the Green Bay Packers, although at least for the Lions, they will be hosting it. Still, a win in Dallas could have secured a playoff spot, although the loss puts them in position of missing out on the playoffs should they lose the game next week, if Washington also wins. By virtue of this loss, the Lions lost the ability to control their own destiny.