By Chad Conine, The Sports Xchange
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys entered their final regular-season home game with the NFC East title and home-field advantage in the playoffs in their back pocket.
Even so, Dallas showed no signs of slowing down as it raced past the Detroit Lions in the third quarter on the way to a 42-21 victory Monday night at AT&T Stadium.
The Lions (9-6) were the team trying to lock up a playoff berth, but they couldn’t keep up after halftime with Dallas (13-2), which had all of its stars on display.
Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott passed for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Dez Bryant caught a pair of TD passes and threw another, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 80 yards and two scores on 12 carries.
“It definitely makes it easier when everybody is out there with the same attitude and they’re having fun,” said Prescott, who completed 15 of 20 passes. “It makes for a game like tonight.”
The only sign that Dallas might have let its hair down a bit came in the third quarter when Bryant threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten.
On first-and-goal from the Detroit 10, Bryant took a pitch going to his left on a reverse and appeared headed upfield. Just before he reached the line of scrimmage, he tossed to a wide-open Witten in the end zone for the score.
“When I got in the huddle, I called it like any other play, didn’t give anybody a chance to think that coach really just called a trick play,” Prescott said. “Let’s go execute it. It was simple for me, just get Dez the ball. It was beautiful. The defense reacted, and Dez made a great throw.”
The Bryant-to-Witten connection put an exclamation point on the Cowboys’ domination of the third quarter.
After going to halftime tied at 21, Dallas won the third 14-0 by moving the ball efficiently and shutting down the Lions’ offense.
Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox ended Detroit’s second-half-opening possession by intercepting Matthew Stafford at the Lions 46-yard line.
Dallas stopped Detroit’s second series of the third quarter at the Lions 36, and Detroit kicker Matt Prater missed a 47-yard field goal on the Lions’ third and final offensive series of the period.
“The second half, I thought turnovers and penalties made a difference,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I just think we never really got back on track.”
The Cowboys responded to Prater’s miss by driving 63 yards in seven plays. Prescott hit Bryant for a 19-yard touchdown that put Dallas ahead 42-21 and in total command with 12:12 left.
Stafford finished 26 of 46 for 260 yards and the one interception. Detroit running back Zach Zenner produced two touchdowns and 67 yards on 12 carries, while tight end Eric Ebron had eight receptions for 93 yards.
The Lions, though, couldn’t stop the Cowboys’ momentum from the end of the second quarter through the middle of the fourth.
Detroit entered the game knowing that next week’s home contest against the Green Bay Packers, on “Sunday Night Football,” would be for the NFC North championship regardless of the outcome in Dallas.
“We didn’t have any big plays,” Stafford said. “It’s tough to beat a team that’s as talented as Dallas is if you’re not going to make any of those.”
Bryant made a juggling one-handed touchdown catch, despite being interfered with by Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi, to tie the game at 21 going into halftime. Prescott converted a third-and-7 by hitting Bryant for the 25-yard touchdown with 1:04 left in the second quarter.
Detroit scored on its first three possessions to take a 21-14 lead with 7:40 remaining in the half.
Zenner ran 7 yards for the Lions’ first touchdown and 5 yards for the third. Stafford plunged forward 1 yard to convert a fourth-and-goal and tie it at 14.
Dallas struggled for most of the first half to stop the Lions’ combination of Stafford and Zenner. Stafford finished the first half with 137 passing yards, and Zenner rushed for 64 on 10 carries before intermission.
“The first half, we played pretty solid,” Caldwell said. “I think we were just kind of trading blows there against a good football team. We ran the ball pretty well the first half. I thought we threw the ball decently the first half, not great.”
However, Prescott and Elliott helped the Cowboys keep pace.
Prescott hit wide receiver Brice Butler for a 21-yard touchdown to give Dallas a 7-0 lead after its first drive.
Elliott broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to put the Cowboys back in front 14-7. Elliott finished the first half with 74 yards on eight carries.