The Dallas Cowboys attempted two fourth-down plays on the game's first two drives while in Denver territory. The Broncos stonewalled Dallas each time, setting the tone for a 30-16 beatdown of the Cowboys.
On the first drive, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy eschewed a potential 55-yard field goal to try a fourth-and-1, but Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed in the backfield by Broncos star safety Justin Simmons.
After the Dallas defense forced a quick three-and-out, the Cowboys drove to the Denver 20-yard line. McCarthy again passed up a field-goal attempt, but Dak Prescott missed badly on a fourth-and-2 pass.
The Cowboys going for it fired up a Broncos team that rolled to an easy victory.
"Disrespectful," receiver Tim Patrick said of Dallas going for it, via the official team website. "That s--- disrespectful. They trying us. And that's what happens when you try us."
Patrick made the Dallas defense pay, repeatedly making big catches, going for 85 yards on four catches with a TD. All four of Patrick's receptions went for a first down or score.
Following Dallas' second missed fourth-down try, the Broncos plowed 80 yards on 11 plays to go up 7-0 and kick off the onslaught.
"You take the field with a little anger, honestly," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said of when teams go for it on fourth down. "It's like, 'Hey, man, they're going for it because they're saying our offense is not going to score or something.' We talked about it in the huddle, and we used it as motivation. … It's one of those deals where you take the field and OK, you have a little added motivation to it. You can see that today."
The Broncos' defense forced Dallas into an ugly day. The Cowboys converted just five of 13 third downs and went 0-4 on fourth down.
McCarthy said that the early fourth downs were bad execution, not faulty decision-making, even if they gave Denver momentum.
"I mean, momentum, we talk about momentum swings all the time," he said. "I think it's important to respond to all the momentum swings. Especially if you have it, what do you do with it, and when the opponent has it, how do you respond to it? The decisions, I'm fine with the decisions. The execution, particularly the first one, they had better defense than we had play called -- we had penetration in A gap and couldn't get the ball to the edge on the outside zone. They came in aggressive. The plan was ... you could see it right away and we just never got going."
For a 63-year-old Vic Fangio, whose team controlled the game throughout, the Cowboys' failures underscore the risk of going for it on fourth down.
"Everybody wants to go for it on fourth down, right?" Fangio said. "Fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2 -- they cite all the numbers, so on and so forth. But when you don't get them, it hurts. And we were the beneficiary of the hurt."