ARLINGTON, Texas – Burning questions: Key plays, big plays, a go-ahead drive by the Detroit Lions and a winning drive by the Dallas Cowboys in their 26-24 win at AT&T Stadium Sunday:
Question: What made the difference?
Answer: The Lions had no answer for Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys' star running back. He ran through them for 152 yards. He caught passes in front of them and behind them for 88 yards.
He was the dominant player in the game. Running backs have hurt the Lions in all three losses – to the Jets, 49ers and now the Cowboys – and nobody did it better than Elliott.
Q. Key stat: Was there one?
A. Not really, but one that stood out and should be harped on is the disparity in penalties – eight for the Lions for 58 yards to two for the Cowboys for 20 yards. And it has nothing to do with the officials throwing flags on the Lions. It's something that hurt the Lions all game, and it has to be corrected.
View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Week 4 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Q. Stafford's magic: Matthew Stafford did his vanishing act again -- making the Cowboys' lead disappear by leading the Lions to two fourth-quarter touchdowns. A TD pass to Golden Tate gave the Lions a 24-23 lead late in the fourth quarter.
What failed the Lions?
A. Ultimately, the defense. They had chances to make plays in the clutch and didn't. The loss isn't all on the defense, but when there's an exchange of drives like there was late in the game, it's up to the defense to step up and put the clamps on the lead that the offense had given them to protect. That didn't happen.
Q. Lions' go-ahead drive: What was the key to the 75-yard drive that gave the Lions a 24-23 lead on Stafford's 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate?
A. The smart answer, and the real answer, is all six plays, but there was a big one in there that showed something about Stafford and his receivers.
Q. Which one was it?
A. On the third play of the possession, Stafford was sacked on a hard hit by Cowboys defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence. It was a five-yard loss. On the next play, Stafford stood in the pocket and waited for Tate to get open downfield. He took an extra second, at least, for Tate get clear.
For Stafford, it was like the sack had never happened. He didn't flinch. He wasn't worried about contact. He did what he had to do.
Q. Cowboys' winning drive: What was the key play?
A. It was a 34-yard catch by Elliott behind linebacker Jarrad Davis that got the Cowboys in position to kick the winning field goal as time ran out. Davis had good coverage, but Elliott is a great player who made a great play. Great beats good.
Q. Moral victory: Was there one for the Lions for the way they made a comeback?
A. No. No such thing in the NFL as moral victories – especially when a team is 1-3 and in last place in its division.
A lot of things happened in the game, but when it came to wining time, the Cowboys won and the Lions lost.
Q. Fourth and punt: The Lions punted instead of going for it or trying long field goals in Dallas' territory. Any problem with that?
A. None. It was fourth and seven at the 40 on the first one, then fourth and six at the 41. No reason to risk giving the Cowboys good field position early. Make them earn it.
Q. Any problem with the way the first two possessions ended?
A. Yes. Stafford was wide on two third-down throws, forcing the punts. He had to get sharper.
A. And he did. On the next possession Stafford was three-for-three on third down. He kept the chains going on third and 11 with a 15-yard pass to Kenny Golladay, on third and three with a four-yard pass to Tate, and on third and three with another pass to Tate that went 45 yards for a touchdown.
Q. Cowboys challenges: They won one and lost one in the first half when they challenged plays that the officials ruled were catches What was the difference in the two?
A. On the first one, Jones did not have control when the ball touched the turf. On the second one, Tate had control. That made it a catch.
Q. Zeke leads the way: Elliott started and finished the Cowboys' only TD drive of the first half. What did that say about him – and what he did to the Lions?
A. Really, it was nothing that wasn't already known. For the Cowboys, he's the driving force of the offense. And on the Lions' side, they've been hurt in three of the four games by big plays from running backs.
On the Cowboys' TD drive, he got it going with a 19-yard run around left end out to the 44-yard line. He finished it off with a 38-yard rumble around right end on a screen pass. Elliott had blockers in front of him, and no defender made contact with him until he was crossing the goal line.
It was a swift strike – 75 yards in four plays, plus one penalty on the Lions' defense – with a possession time of a minute and 11 seconds.
Q. Lions answer back: How important was it that the Lions got a touchdown on Kerryon Johnson's eight-yard run early in the fourth quarter to cut the Cowboys' lead to 20-17? The Cowboys had dominated the game through the third quarter.
A. It made it a game again, simple as that. The Lions needed to get something going to narrow the margin, and they did. They did it mostly throwing the ball, which is still the strength of the offense.
Stafford and his receivers kept the heat on the Cowboys, but the defense had no answer for Elliott.