The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the second half against the 7-1 Cowboys looking more or less as though they are in control, holding a 15-13 lead and getting the ball to start the third quarter. While they scored touchdowns on their first two drives–including one that started from Dallas’ 30 due to a strip sack–they have only scored on one subsequent drive, but overall, the offense has been moving the ball, which bodes well for more second-half success.
The Cowboys have looked good in spurts, but the bulk of their damage came on a second-and-18 screen pass that rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot took for 83 yards and a touchdown. They added two more field goals as well and briefly held a 13-12 lead due to the Steelers missing on two two-point attempts, but Pittsburgh responded with a field goal. They ended the half missing a 55-yard field goal attempt.
Le’Veon Bell picked up his first touchdown of the season, a reception. He has run the ball well and caught the ball well, but he did put the ball on the ground again. Including the preseason, he has fumbled three times this year, though neither of his regular season fumbles were recovered by the defense.
Predictably, the opening kickoff went for a touchback. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense opened with three receivers, and Xavier Grimble at tight end. Roethlisberger looked down the field for Cobi Hamilton on an underthrow, who used his size and speed to make the contested catch for an explosive play to the Cowboys’ 36 for 39 yards. Off play action, something in the play clearly went wrong, as Roethlisberger just took off running for a one-yard gain. He looked to the end zone for Antonio Brown on second down, but he could not secure the ball inbounds. Now on third and nine, he looked for Hamilton again against rookie Anthony Brown, who never turned his body and blocked Hamilton’s path to the ball. The officials threw a pass interference flag on the play.
The 28-yard penalty put the ball on the eight-yard line on first and goal. Roethlisberger went to Brown on first down, but incomplete. On second and goal, the ball was off the hands of Eli Rogers, bouncing for a tantalizing interception attempt. Rogers dropped the ball over the middle, his second drop of the year. On third and goal from the eight now, with five wide, Roethlisberger threw quick to Brown incomplete. The safety Byron Jones was not flagged for pass interference after turning Brown. Boswell’s field goal did give the Steelers an 18-13 lead.
After a return to the 26, the Cowboys started the half with an Ezekiel Elliot run of six yards, as they started the game. Elliot was forced out of bounds short of the first down on a run wide left to set up third and short. Ryan Shazier looked to rush a gap and Elliot took the one to the right for a few yards, but Lawrence Timmons was there to limit him to that.
From the 38, Dak Prescott scrambled and tossed to Jason Witten for another first down near midfield. Elliot spun out of initial contact to pick up six on first down to cross into Steelers territory. Adding another three, the Cowboys set up for another third and one. He picked up his third third-down conversion of the game by sidestepping Timmons in the hole.
With Dallas at the 36, Prescott took a shot or two as he threw deep to Dez Bryant, over his head. Shazier and James Harrison both got to Prescott. Artie Burns put Bryant on the ground. On second down, Alfred Morris was limited to three. Facing a third and seven, the Steelers called a timeout before the snap, showing a lot of movement pre-snap before that. Prescott beat the blitz up the middle and hit Bryant in front of Burns for the conversion.
Cole Beasley had a ball go off his hands on a screen. On second down from the 21, Burns brought Bryant down after a catch for six yards to the 15. On third and four, Harrison and Stephon Tuitt converged for the sack, but the official scorers evidently credit Tuitt with a full sack. That set Dan Bailey up for a 46-yard try, which he made comfortably, to re-establish a two-point difference at 18-16.
Fitzgerald Toussaint returned the kick from the shallow end of the end zone, making a defender miss and getting to the right edge and out just beyond the 30-yard line to give the offense good starting field position.
Bell was under pressure early and forced him to kick on the jets behind the line of scrimmage, able to gain four. He took a shot at the end of his second run for three yards, but that play could have been a loss. On third and three, Roethlisberger was sacked after pressure from the front pushed him into pressure coming in behind him, forcing the Steelers to go three and out. Berry got off a deep punt, but the returner got all the way to midfield for 39 yards, with Roosevelt Nix making the tackle.
From the Steelers’ 49, Elliot squeezed through a couple of defenders for about seven yards on first down. Morris added two on second down for yet another third and one. And yet again, Elliot converted. But this time, Ronald Leary was called for a hold on Daniel McCullers. Now on third and 11, Prescot was blitzed heavily early on, but was able to re-establish his base and look down the field for Bryant, who got behind Burns for the long touchdown, with no flags. Dallas suddenly took a 23-18 lead.
After a touchback, Roethlisberger began the drive with a bad throw on a screen to Bell that went for three yards. The concussion spotter apparently flagged David DeCastro to be checked out after that play, so B.J. Finney checked in. Bell made the catch on second down and fought forward for six. On third and one, with DeCastro back in, Bell got the handoff from a deep set with three receivers on the field. He had to fight for that too, but he got it.
The Cowboys completely blew up the end around for Brown on the following play, making the tackle for a huge loss of 10. On second and 20, Roethlisberger connected with Ladarius Green for 11 to make it third and nine. He checked down to Bell short, but a flag was thrown against Gilbert anyway. The Steelers were forced to punt. Berry’s punt was better this time, 45 yards fair caught inside the 15.
After Elliot ran for a short gain on first down, Witten was tackled by Timmons a yard shy of the first. On third and one, the defense finally made the stop, with Sean Davis staying true on the edge as Elliot looked to bounce it to the left. The back cut back in and Davis attacked, making the stop. The punt only reached about the 35, and Brown returned it 22 yards to set up the offense with excellent field position.
The Cowboys bottled up Bell on first down after a yard. Brown found some space on a screen for a first down inside the 35. A screen the opposite way to Brown was held to two yards. But Roethlisberger found Brown down the field near the 10-yard line, settling into the zone. From the 11, a quick hitter to Jesse James added 10 yards to the Steelers’ efforts, first and goal at the one. The Steelers put in the jumbo package with a fullback and extra lineman, but Bell took it wide and stretched over the goal line for the lead. It was his second touchdown of the game, first rushing touchdown. The offense went for the two-point conversion looking for a three-point lead, with Roethlisberger flipping it, but Toussaint undercut the ball with James looking like he could have gotten it, falling incomplete.
After a touchback, Cockrell levelled the receiver as he was going out of bounds, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty, which put Dallas near midfield. Elliot was stopped after two yards from the 45 after the penalty. With the blitz, Prescott got the ball out to Elliot for 12 yards. After the first down, Davis was in coverage to cut down Beasley at the line of scrimmage on a screen pass. From the 47, Witten was able to wrestle out of Cockrell’s grasp for about nine. As always, except for one time, Elliot once again pounded forward to convert on third and short.
From the 30, Prescott found Beasley for seven. Shazier had his first real impact of the day, blowing the gap and hitting Elliot for a loss in the backfield, a loss of five. On third and eight, however, Prescott found Witten for the first down over Shazier on the next play. On the other side of the two-minute warning, Elliot took the handoff and went straight into the end zone for the score, taking a seven-point lead. Dallas went for two and did not convert, meaning that a touchdown to win the game. They now lead 29-24.
Following a touchback, Roethlisberger entered the no huddle with Green on the field, the first play a short pass to Brown in the middle of the field for three. Green was open in the middle of the field for eight, the clock running. From the 37, Roethlisberger found Bell making another excellent stabbing reception and running away from the defenders across midfield for an explosive play. From Dallas’s 39, Roethlisberger found James, who hurdled a defender for another big gain to the 15. Roethlisberger pulled off the fake spike and hit Brown for the 15-yard go-ahead touchdown. Once again, the offense went for two to try to take a three point lead, but the pass was intercepted.
Holding a 30-29 lead with 42 seconds to play, the Cowboys looked to come back to score with three timeouts on hand. The drive began with a touchback, and Prescott was pressured into a low throw on first down. Beasley was good for about 10 on second down and a quick timeout. From the 35, with 31 seconds, Prescott found Witten for 12, and Dallas took its second timeout with 23 seconds.
Under pressure, a short throw to Witten went for about six, but Davis was flagged for a facemask penalty, a huge momentum swinger that also saved Dallas’ last timeout. Now at the 37 already, Elliot took the handoff right up the middle and ripped off yet another long run for a score to end the game in truly embarrassing and aggravating fashion for a Pittsburgh team that was in the game all day and easily could have won if they just played smarter. Burns got in front of the two-point try for Bryant.
With nine seconds remaining, the squib kick squirted into the end zone for a touchback. A quick 21-yard pass to Brown led the Steelers use their final timeout with two seconds remaining. The Cowboys played far back on the second play and let Brown rack up more garbage yards before chasing him out of bounds well short of the end zone to finish off the fourth straight loss.