Texas’s ARLINGTON — (AP) When Dallas safety Malik Hooker returned a fumble for a score early in the fourth quarter against his old club, he had no idea what he was getting into.
The 38-yard touchdown return was a part of a 33-point fourth quarter that helped the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Indianapolis Colts 54-19 on Sunday.
Only three times in NFL history has a team scored at least as many points in the fourth. Additionally, it was somewhat personal for Hooker, who also had one of Matt Ryan’s three interceptions.
The Colts selected Hooker with the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he was released after four seasons hampered by injuries. During the previous training camp, he signed with Dallas.
“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.
Following Gallup’s second touchdown, Hooker recovered a loose ball from tight end Mo Alie-Cox and ran unchallenged down the right sideline to give his team a 34-19 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Next, rookie cornerback DaRon Bland intercepted Ryan twice, allowing Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott to score in quick succession on rushes of 30 and 15 yards, respectively.
Osa Odighizuwa caused Ryan’s fumble, and a review later reversed rookie Sam Williams’ touchdown return on the recovery. Three plays later, rookie Malik Davis scored his first touchdown of the game from 23 yards out.
“Those are the gods of football. That’s what they say,” Hooker added in reference to the abundance of errors. But in all honesty, those men are just seeking it. If you watch the entire game, those players are dominating the front. They were creating a lot of those takeaways.”
Cowboys score BENCHED ELLIOTT
Because of some “disciplinary problems” with the coaching staff, Elliott did not start for the first time in 98 regular-season games in his career, according to owner Jerry Jones.
The two-time rushing champion entered the game in the middle of the second series. He gained 77 yards in total on 17 carries. Pollard gained 91 yards on 12 carries.
In response to discipline issues, Jones said, “I believe there was a tiny issue he had with his coach, some worries that were being late for a meeting or a phone going off. However, I won’t get into it and I won’t apply that punishment. Then that, I’d be a lot more understanding.
Cowboys score RECRUITING TIME
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.
Cowboys score PASSING HIS FAVORITE COWBOY
By connecting with Lamb for a touchdown in the first quarter, Prescott broke a tie with Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach for fourth place in club history, giving him 154 total touchdown passes for his career.
When told of the possibility the previous week, Prescott declared Staubach to be his favorite Dallas player. He was a native of Louisiana who grew to adore the Cowboys after Staubach.
Prescott finished the evening with 156 touchdown passes, passing Danny White (155) for third place. Roger fits that description, according to Prescott. “There are some people you meet and their energy and just their aura, the way that they carry themselves, is glowing in a sense,” he said.
Cowboys score INJURIES
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.