Everybody needs a slumpbuster at some point, and the Dallas Cowboys got one Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1) and left with their fourth win of the season, a 30-7 decision that keeps them in the NFC East playoff race for at least one more week.
The Cowboys (4-9) could be just a game back in the division by the end of the day, but when the history of this 2020 NFL season is written, this game will not be featured.
Quarterback Andy Dalton won in his return to Cincinnati, where he played for the first nine years of his career, putting together an efficient performance. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards and threw touchdown passes to Amari Cooper in the second quarter and Tony Pollard in the fourth quarter. For the first time in his six starts, Dalton did not have a pass intercepted.
The Cowboys' defense contributed a touchdown with outside linebacker Aldon Smith returning a fumble 78 yards for a touchdown after Trayveon Williams ran into the back of his left tackle and lost the ball.
The Bengals fumbled on each of their first three possessions that the Cowboys turned into 17 points. The Cowboys entered the game with 28 points off turnovers all season.
After the game, Dalton was doused with water by his teammates upon entering the locker room, celebrating a win that meant as much to him as it did to the Cowboys' playoff chances.
"It feels good to come back where I was for a long time and to get a win," Dalton said.
Dalton was one of the Cowboys' three captains and made the final speech to the players before they came out for kickoff. After the game, he was presented with a game ball.
"This is definitely special for him, make no bones about it," McCarthy said. "He wanted to win this game, but more importantly for everybody in the locker room, they wanted to win it for him."
The win helped the Cowboys avoid going winless against the AFC North in 2020 (1-3) and stave off coach Mike McCarthy's first double-digit loss season since 2008 and the Cowboys' first double-digit loss season since 2015.
And as ridiculous as it sounds with their next two games at AT&T Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys might be able to extend their division possibilities all the way to Week 17.
They will need the Washington Football Team to lose three of their final four games because they were swept by their NFC East rival. They need the Eagles and Giants to lose some as well, but the Cowboys can help themselves by beating both in Weeks 16 and 17.
Maybe this win mattered more than most think at the moment.
Sell breakout performance: On Tuesday, Baltimore ran for 294 yards against the Cowboys. It was the third-most yards allowed in a game by a Dallas defense. On Sunday, the Bengals ran for 101 yards on 30 carries. The Bengals came into the game with the 30th-ranked run offense in the NFL, and they did not have their best rusher, Joe Mixon. Credit the Cowboys for forcing three fumbles on the first three possessions, but let's not confuse this performance with a solid showing. A tougher challenge awaits, at least scheme-wise, next week vs. San Francisco.
Promising trend: It's difficult to find anything promising in this season, but let's go with it. Cooper has a touchdown catch in three straight games. His 11-yard score against the Bengals came on a perfectly thrown slant low to the ground by Dalton in the second quarter to cap an 88-yard drive. It was the most efficient drive the Cowboys have had without Dak Prescott, including three third-down conversion. Cooper's three-game touchdown streak matches the longest of his career. He had a touchdown in the first three games of the 2019 season as well.