ARLINGTON, Texas — First Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan’s pass was tipped and then it was airborne and then a diving Malik Hooker intercepted it, returning possession to the Dallas Cowboys for the final minute of the first half.
Five plays later, with 13 seconds on the clock, Dak Prescott scrambled to his right, throwing on the run into the waiting hands of receiver Michael Gallup, who took it the rest of the way into the end zone.
That put the Cowboys up eight points. Technically, the second half still beckoned.
But the Colts wouldn't stand much further chance. The well-rounded Cowboys thoroughly dismantled Indianapolis en route to a 54-19 victory. You read that right: The Cowboys scored 54 points while improving to 9-3.
Those 33 points are now tied for the second-most ever scored in a fourth quarter in NFL history, per ESPN Stats and Info. Only the 2007 Detroit Lions, who put up 34 points against the Chicago Bears in a fourth quarter, scored more.
The Colts had allowed 20.3 per game entering the night. They entered the fourth quarter allowing 21. Then the Cowboys exploded and the Colts imploded.
Hooker’s interception wasn’t the end of it, but it unquestionably swung the momentum, and was a preview of things to come.
In the second half, Hooker — who played four seasons in Indianapolis after the Colts drafted him 14th overall in 2014 — recovered a fumble and returned it to add his first career touchdown.
The Cowboys overwhelmed the Colts as the second half elapsed, their array of weapons becoming a pick-your-poison attack while their opportunistic defense rebounded from an early embarrassment at Ryan’s hands.
Sure, a pair of consecutive plays in the first quarter featured Ryan burning starting left cornerback Anthony Brown for a 45-yard completion and starting right cornerback Trevon Diggs — beware the double move — for a 14-yard, wide-open touchdown to Ashton Dulin.
But in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys defense forced the fumble return for a touchdown; intercepted Ryan on the next drive; intercepted Ryan again on the third drive; and strip-sacked Ryan on the fourth. Dallas scored touchdowns on each resulting drive.
For good measure, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott jumped in the Salvation Army red kettle to celebrate. Prescott cranked an imaginary handle, Elliott popping out of the kettle for a Jack-in-the-Box (Zeke-in-the-Box?) display.
Because like Elliott emerging from the kettle, the Cowboys popped in the fourth quarter and far more than sealed the game.
Prescott went 20-of-30 for 170 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the night.
Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, who started as Elliott came off the bench for the first time in his career due to what team owner Jerry Jones termed a disciplinary issue, contributed 106 yards from scrimmage and two rushing touchdowns. Elliott added 91 yards and a score, while receiver CeeDee Lamb caught five passes for 71 yards and a score.
Michael Gallup, who returned midseason from an ACL tear, scored two touchdowns.
Ryan completed 21-of-37 for 233 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also lost a fumble.
The Cowboys improve to 5-1 since Prescott returned from injury, and this one might have been the biggest statement yet.