Andy Dalton

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass the ball against Washington. Dalton has been cleared for practice after clearing the protocols for a concussion and COVID-19.

Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton has been cleared for practice after getting through the protocols for a concussion and COVID-19.

Coach Mike McCarthy said Dalton participated in an informal practice Monday, the first day back for the Cowboys coming off their open week. Dallas (2-7) visits Minnesota on Sunday.

Dalton got a concussion Oct. 25 at Washington on a hit that led to the ejection of linebacker Jon Bostic. Dalton was expected to be cleared from that when the 10th-year player was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Nov. 2.

The setbacks with Dalton, who replaced injured star Dak Prescott, led to the Cowboys starting four different quarterbacks in a span of five weeks. The last two, rookie Ben DiNucci and seventh-year QB Garrett Gilbert, each made his first career start.

McCarthy wouldn’t say Dalton would start against the Vikings. General manager Jerry Jones and executive director of personnel Stephen Jones both have said Dalton is the starter if he’s available.

Dalton started for nine years in Cincinnati before signing to be Prescott’s backup after the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow first overall and moved on from the former TCU standout.

After leading the Cowboys to a pair of fourth-quarter field goals in a come-from-behind win over the New York Giants, Dalton struggled against Arizona and Washington before the hit that caused the concussion.

Dallas has scored just one meaningful touchdown in four games without Prescott — Gilbert’s first-half pass in a 24-19 loss to Pittsburgh before the open week. Gilbert has been the most efficient of the replacements for Prescott, who is out for the season with a broken ankle.

Texans struggle on D-Hop’s big day: The Houston Texans lost their seventh game of the season on Sunday in an all-around bad performance against the Cleveland Browns.

Hours after the game, the franchise took another loss when NFL fans everywhere revisited fired coach/general manager Bill O’Brien’s trade of DeAndre Hopkins after the star receiver made the catch of the year to give the Cardinals a win over Buffalo.

The TD grab by Hopkins, on a Hail Mary in a sea of three defenders, led to thousands of tweets and posts on other social media mocking and criticizing the team and O’Brien for letting Hopkins go and not even getting a first-round pick in return.

O’Brien, who was let go after Houston started 0-4, traded Hopkins in March for running back David Johnson, second-round pick this year and a fourth-round selection in 2021.

The epic catch was even more difficult for Texans fans to stomach since it came on a day when Houston had its worst offensive performance of the year. The team was held to a season lows in points (seven), total yards (243) and yards passing (153) in a game played under windy and difficult weather conditions that limited Deshaun Watson’s ability to throw.

Despite his team’s struggles, Watson remains optimistic and is focused on trying to get the Texans on track.

“Keep my head held high. Keep working,” he said. “Keep trying to encourage and stay as healthy as possible. Nothing is going to change, at least on my end.”

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