SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and two starting offensive linemen out injured, Dallas turned things over to a pair of talented rookies who have the Cowboys playing mistake-free football.
Ezekiel Elliott ran for 138 yards and a touchdown and Dak Prescott threw for two scores to help the Dallas Cowboys overcome an early 14-point deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-17 on Sunday.
“This is a great team,” Prescott said. “I think the win just shows the character. We had more guys go down last week and guys had to step in. They got the job done. I guess the theme I guess you could say is if somebody goes down, just step up and do your job, and we’ve done a good job.”
The Cowboys (3-1) fell in a 14-point hole early in the second quarter before taking over the game behind a pair of rookies who have helped the team get off to a fast start this season with Romo sidelined by a back injury. Making things even harder this week were the absences of star receiver Bryant and offensive linemen Tryon Smith and La’el Collins.
Prescott threw for 245 yards and had a 20-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams and a 4-yarder to Brice Butler to tie the game at the half.
Elliott then took over with 96 yards rushing in the second half, including a 1-yard run that gave Dallas the lead for good late in the third quarter.
“We just all came together, that’s what it was,” Elliott said. “We have a lot of faith in each other and there wasn’t any point in that game where any of us worried on that sideline. We knew what we could do and we knew we were beating ourselves.”
Blaine Gabbert got off to a fast start to help San Francisco (1-3) take the early lead but struggled to generate any offense after that. Gabbert finished 16 for 23 for 196 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
He had a chance to lead a late tying drive but he threw a 3-yard pass to Torrey Smith on fourth-and-6 from the Dallas 35 to end hopes at a comeback.
“We were moving the ball. We have to make a play there on third-and-6 and fourth-and-6,” coach Chip Kelly said. “It was 6 yards. We have to be able to covert.”
BIG MISTAKE: Gabbert doesn’t throw the ball deep often but he had one shot at a big play in the fourth quarter when Torrey Smith got open down the middle of the field. But Gabbert didn’t lead him with the pass, allowing Morris Claiborne to intercept it .
“Every game in the league comes down to one or two plays that change the outcome and that definitely had an impact on it and that’s on me,” Gabbert said. “I got to throw that ball to the middle of the field and let him go get it.”
BIG LOSS: The Niners lost star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a lower left leg injury in the third quarter. He went down with a non-contact injury and had to be helped off the field. He was then taken to the locker room on a cart and was immediately ruled out for the rest of the game. Elliott ran for 23 yards on the play after Bowman left. He had six carries for 50 yards and the TD on the drive after Bowman left.
Rookie DeForest Buckner then left later in the game and had a walking boot on his left foot.
FILLING IN: With Bryant out with a hairline fracture of a bone in his right knee, the Cowboys needed someone else to step up on the outside. Butler, who came into the game with just one catch this season, had five catches for 41 yards, including a 4-yard TD that tied the game at 14.
THIRD DOWNS: After failing to convert their first 10 third-down chances last week against Seattle, the Niners were quite efficient at the start this week. They converted seven straight third downs to open the game, including Gabbert’s 33-yard TD pass to Jeremy Kerley and Hyde’s 3-yard TD run . San Francisco then converted just one of its final seven third-down chances.
ANTHEM PROTEST: Six teammates of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick joined him for a protest during the national anthem on Sunday. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Eli Harold kneeled beside Kaepernick. Defensive backs Antoine Bethea, Keith Reaser, Jaquiski Tartt and Rashard Robinson all raised their fists.