Sun, Dec 4, 2022 11:16 PM
By SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Pro Football Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dallas safety Malik Hooker had no idea what he was starting with a fumble return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter against his former team.
The 38-yard TD return was part of a 33-point fourth quarter that turned a close game into the Cowboys' 54-19 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night.
It was just the third time in NFL history a team has scored at least that many in the fourth. And it was a little bit personal for Hooker, who also had one of three interceptions of Matt Ryan.
Hooker was drafted 15th overall by the Colts in 2017, but didn't get a second contract after four injury-plagued seasons. He signed with Dallas during training camp last year.
“It was definitely some extra motivation,” Hooker said. “Sorry how it ended and everything, but I just wanted to come out here and prove that I’m still the player I was drafted to be and I feel like I showed that tonight.”
Dallas led 21-19 entering the fourth when Dak Prescott threw the last of his three touchdown passes. Hooker's scoop-and-score was the first of four fourth-quarter takeaways by Dallas, all of which led to touchdowns.
Ryan threw his second and third interceptions and lost a fumble during the nightmare finish for the Colts (4-8-1), who fell to 1-3 under interim coach Jeff Saturday and lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Ryan, who threw two touchdown passes, has 18 giveaways this season (13 interceptions, five lost fumbles) to lead the NFL by three over Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.
“It was tough there at the end,” said Ryan, who was re-inserted as the starter by Saturday when Indy's former All-Pro center took over as coach. “When you turn the ball over like we did in the fourth ... credit to them.”
Michael Gallup had two touchdown catches and CeeDee Lamb the other when he rolled over safety Rodney McLeod Jr. and stayed on his feet as the Cowboys remained two games behind NFL-leading Philadelphia in the NFC East.
After Gallup’s second TD, Hooker scooped up a fumble from tight end Mo Alie-Cox and took off untouched down the right sideline for a 34-19 lead early in the fourth.
Rookie cornerback DaRon Bland was next, intercepting Ryan on consecutive possessions to set up pile-it-on touchdown runs from Tony Pollard, a 30-yarder, and Ezekiel Elliott.
Ryan's fumble was forced by Osa Odighizuwa, and rookie Sam Williams' TD return on the recovery was overturned on review. Rookie Malik Davis' first career TD on a 23-yarder came three plays later.
“That’s the football Gods. That’s what they say,” Hooker said about the bevy of turnovers. Honestly, though, those guys are just after it up front. You watch the game from beginning to end, those guys are dominating up front. They were creating a lot of those takeaways."
Owner Jerry Jones said Elliott didn't start for the first time in 98 career regular-season games because of some “discipline issues” with the coaching staff.
The two-time rushing champ entered the game in the middle of the second series. He finished with 77 yards on 17 carries. Pollard had 91 yards on 12 carries.
“I think there was a little issue he had with his coach, some discipline issues that were being tardy for a meeting or a phone going off,” Jones said. “But I won’t get into that, but I’m not giving out that punishment. I’d be a lot more lenient than that.”
Gallup and Lamb scored the first three Dallas touchdowns and combined for nine catches for 94 yards on the eve of free agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Dallas visit.
Beckham has already visited the New York Giants, his first team, and Buffalo. He has been rehabbing an ACL tear from the Super Bowl in February when he won the title with the Los Angeles Rams.
PASSING HIS FAVORITE COWBOY
Prescott's first-quarter TD toss to Lamb gave him 154 career scoring passes, breaking a tie with Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach for fourth in club history.
Made aware of the possibility during the week, Prescott said Staubach was his favorite Dallas player. He grew up a Cowboys fan in Louisiana, but well after Staubach's time.
“There’s certain people that you meet and their energy and just their aura, the way that they carry themselves, is glowing in a sense and that’s who Roger is,” said Prescott, who also moved past Danny White (155) for third, finishing the night at 156 TD passes.
Colts: CB Kenny Moore II was inactive after injuring an ankle in a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh last Monday night.
Cowboys: CB Anthony Brown left the game in the third quarter with a torn Achilles.
Colts: After a bye, Indy visits another NFC playoff contender in Minnesota on Dec. 18.
Cowboys: Houston visits next Sunday in the second of three consecutive games against sub-.500 AFC South teams.