We Dem Boyz?
You never really know how the Dallas Cowboys are going to be until the season gets going.
Well, it’s gotten going and the ‘Boys are pretty good this year. Just over midway through the season with a 7–2 record that’s tied for the best in the NFC, people are wondering: Is this their year?
Lots of past teams, especially under the previous administration (cough cough Jason Garrett), wouldn’t be overcoming adversity as this team does.
Let me go game-by-game to show you how they’re doing it.
The Cowboys started off the year giving their all to the defending Super Bowl champion-Tampa Bay Buccaneers only to fall short on a last-second field goal, 31–29. Star quarterback Dak Prescott impressed in his first playing time since the serious ankle injury last year, throwing for 403 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception on a career-high 58 pass attempts, leading the Cowboys to a field goal drive to put them ahead with 1:24 left. But of course, that was too much time for Tom Brady, who outdueled him with 379 yards and four touchdowns despite two interceptions.
The following week is when adversity hit. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, by far their best player on defense, broke his foot and was put on IR. Right tackle La’el Collins, who missed all of last year and whose absence was part of the debacle, was suspended five games for skipping drug tests. Receiver Michael Gallup suffered a calf strain. They were already without starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore who dislocated his elbow in the preseason.
All of this was going into Los Angeles against a Chargers team with playoff potential that put Dallas in danger of an 0–2 start. But the Cowboys responded, running the ball at will to a 14–3 lead in the first quarter. With interceptions and key stops being traded, the Cowboys held the Chargers to a field goal that tied the game at 17 with 3:54 left. Prescott responded, gradually getting the Cowboys in field goal range where this time it won the game as Greg Zuerlein aka “Greg the Leg” hit a 56-yarder for the win.
In the home opener on Monday night against the division rival-Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys showed they just might be a good team. After a dominant 27–7 lead at the half where the only Eagles score came on a defensive fumble recovery in the end zone, Dallas showed they can score on defense, too, as second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs made the perfect read on Jalen Hurts for a 59-yard pick-six, getting an interception in his third-straight game to start the season.
Eventually, the lead got out to 41–14 behind a balanced pass-run machine before the Eagles got a late TD. (Side note: I was previously a cursed 0–5 when going to a Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium, but going with my father this time, who I was 2–0 with at the old Texas Stadium, both being against division rival-Washington, I finally ended the streak. Maybe I should only go when it’s division foes with my dad.)
With two more games to make a three-game homestay, the Cowboys did some more home-cooking. After a slow-ish start got them into a 14–13 deficit at the half against the Carolina Panthers and their then-№1 defense, Dallas poured it on, getting out to a 36–14 lead in the fourth quarter. Diggs got two picks, including this fighter. After a couple of Carolina TDs cut the lead to eight, Ezekiel Elliott pitched out the ball to his counterpart, Tony Pollard, who got the first down on a critical third down to run out the clock for a 36–28 win. The Cowboys rushed for 245 yards, 143 being Elliott.
The next game against the New York Giants wasn’t much of a contest unless you consider being tied at 10 with a couple of minutes left in the second quarter as one. Dallas rolled to a 44–20 win whose opponent got rolled up with injuries to quarterback Daniel Jones and star running back Saquon Barkley along with several others. Prescott threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns. And, of course, Diggs got a pick.
Then going to New England against the Patriots, a team the Cowboys haven’t beaten since 1996, the challenge was on. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick never makes things easy as his team got out to a 14–10 lead at the half after the Cowboys’ failed fourth-down attempt on their own 34 on their opening drive back-fired and Prescott somehow didn’t get in the end zone on a quarterback sneak before fumbling on the next one.
But in the second half, the Cowboys took their first lead before the Patriots took it back. Driving down the field in a 21–20 deficit, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy decided to not go for it on 4th-and-2 at the 34. As a result, Zuerlein missed a 51-yarder, giving the ball back to New England with 2:42 left and two Dallas timeouts. Then quarterback Mac Jones made……a rookie mistake and Diggs, his Alabama teammate, (oh, you thought he was done), stole an interception that he returned for a touchdown. (It’s usually the Cowboys on the opposite end of that play). The two-point conversion failed as Dallas took a 26–21 lead before Jones responded immediately on the next play from scrimmage as he found Kendrick Bourne on a 75-yard catch-and-run TD on broken coverage with Diggs trailing behind.
After a successful two-point conversion put New England up by three, Prescott lead the Cowboys right down the field again. But this time with a 4th-and-4 at the Patriots’ 35, McCarthy, this time, opted to go for it. They converted this time on a huge pass to Cedrick Wilson and after an unsportsmanlike penalty got them out of field goal range, Prescott connected on a huge 24-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb. Facing another decision, McCarthy opted to kick it on 4th-and-1 at the 31 with 24 seconds and a timeout — and Zuerlein redeemed himself with a 49-yarder.
In overtime, the Patriots won the toss and failed to score. Dallas then smoothly went down the field on a perfect 5-for-5 passing from Prescott before he found Lamb break open on this 35-yard touchdown, winning a thriller for Dallas in which they overcame 12 penalties and several mistakes. (Note: Lamb would have gotten penalized for taunting with this wave to Jalen Mills……but the game was over, so he got fined as he has many times in his young career.) Prescott threw for a season-high 445 yards and three touchdowns along with an interception.
The Cowboys got everybody chirping with their 5–1 start going into a bye week, but Prescott actually suffered a right calf strain injury on that final game-winning play. The decision for him to start on Halloween night in Minnesota was up in the air.
Despite the two weeks off and Prescott looking good in warmups, McCarthy opted to rest him and insert backup Cooper Rush, getting his first career start. Most people thought the Cowboys would just take the L in hopes of resting Prescott and keeping him from serious injury after what happened last year, but this squad had other plans.
After a slow first half, Rush found Wilson on a beautiful 75-yard catch-and-run TD in the first minute of the second act to tie the game at 10. (Annoyingly, I was still in the shower when it happened.) Vikings fans were booing their team the whole game for the unsatisfactory play and embarrassing 1-for-13 third-down conversion rate. Still, they got down the field and got a chip-shot field goal to go up 16–13 after several bad penalties (though questionable) by the Cowboys aided them.
Rush, who was back home in Minnesota, drove his team down in the clutch, connecting on this juggling catch by Amari Cooper. Then on 3rd-and-11, he dumped a pass off to Elliott, who instead of just getting a few yards and setting up a game-tying FG, barreled his way through multiple Vikings defenders, getting the first down on one of his most clutch career plays. Immediately, Rush went for the kill on an over-the-defender catch by Cooper in the back of the end zone for the 20–16 lead. (Quite the Cooper connection.) The Cowboys held off the Vikings offense and got the win just when people, including myself, thought they wouldn’t.
Coming back home, Prescott returned against Denver where they were averaging 40 points a game for the season. After a good return on the opening kickoff and with a confident offense, the Cowboys were stopped on fourth down — and then again at the Broncos’ 20 when it was too greedy.
Then somehow, the tables turned and the wheels fell off. The Cowboys' defense couldn’t stop the Broncos' offense. Prescott and the offense couldn’t move smoothly against the Broncos' defense. They found themselves in a 16–0 hole at the half.
Surely, they’ll wake up in the second half, right?
Wrong. After a Micah Parsons sack, the Cowboys blocked a punt off Malik Turner’s hip. But the ball went past the line of scrimmage and bounced off Nahshon Wright’s hands and Jonas Griffith of the Broncos recovered it and it became their ball. (Basically a muffed punt.) Pretty confusing and quite the blow that it wasn’t their day. Eventually, it got to 30–0 and after a few late garbage scores made it 30–16, it was final as the Cowboys’ six-game winning streak came to a close. People couldn’t help but think about what happened to the Cowboys after an average team dominated their socks off.
The following week, people were questioning if the Broncos found the blueprint…..They didn’t. Dallas shook off that terrible loss and destroyed the Atlanta Falcons, 43–3, tied for their largest victory in franchise history with 40 points. They also scored a franchise-high 29 points in the second quarter, their most ever for that frame. Prescott had a QBR of 93.4. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a QBR of 9.1. Oh, and this time, they blocked a punt that went their way for a touchdown recovery by Wright, ironically. Plus, they lost their best pass rusher during the week in Randy Gregory, who suffered a calf strain that has him on IR, and played it was just back to business.
This offense is insane, leading the league in yards and points. Prescott is having an MVP-type year. He’s thrown for 2,341 yards, 20 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He’s second in league completion percentage at 70 percent for those who have attempted over 200 passes. His confidence is just buzzing this year and now more useful since the team is doing better.
Elliott is having a bounce-back year and playing like the old Zeke. He’s got 663 rushing yards (fifth-most in the league), seven touchdowns, 4.7 yards-per- rush (tied for second-best in career), and 168 receiving yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he’s only had one fumble lost and it was in garbage time of this past game. Meanwhile, Pollard is finally getting some good use as the rushing game has a nice 1–2 combo with Zeke getting older.
Lamb is continuing to make strides in his sophomore campaign. Cooper is doing his thing with the big plays. Tight end Dalton Shultz filled in admirably while Gallup was out.
The offensive line is having a bounce-back year. Left tackle Tyron Smith has been healthy for the most part until the last few games where he has a bone spur in his ankle and has looked like his old self. Terrence Steele, last year’s undrafted rookie right tackle who was terrible filling in for Collins, has surprisingly been great and almost had Collins traded. Second-year center Tyler Biadasz is third in the league in rush block win rate at his position. And, of course, right guard Zack Martin, is being his usual dominant self.
On defense, the Cowboys may have drafted the best player in linebacker Micah Parsons, who they found can also rush the passer pretty dang well with Lawrence and now Gregory being out. The first-rounder has a rookie-leading six sacks and is constantly around the ball. The kid is just hungry.
Gregory, on the other hand, is having his best year as a pro with five sacks after finally not being suspended. Free-agent acquisition Tarell Basham is seventh in the league in run stop win rate for a defensive end/outside linebacker. Third-round rookie defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa is tenth at his position for the same stat.
Oh, and what about Diggs? This ball-hawking stud has a league-leading eight interceptions, a ridiculous six straight games to start a season with one. If he keeps it up, not only can he break the franchise record set by Everson Walls with 11 in 1981 but maybe even the NFL record of 14 set by Dick “Night Train” Lane in 1952.
The other guys haven’t done too bad. Even though he’s not the best cornerback, Anthony Brown quietly has three interceptions, including a pick-six. Jourdan Lewis has two.
And overall, the Cowboys are getting the takeaways, tied for fourth overall with 17. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is doing wonders with this unit. They’ve made a nice jump becoming seventh against the run and ninth in points given up while being a middle-of-the-pack defense in total yardage and passing.
Confidence is real in this group. After the season opener, Prescott told Brady, “See you in the playoffs.” When being presented among other new Hall-of-Famers in the Eagles game, Cliff Harris said they’re going back to the Super Bowl this year in front of 90,000+ fans. Many people are saying this is the best team they’ve seen since the ‘90s glory years. Even Cowboys haters are saying they’re back.
But the question I have even with all this greatness is: Are there really back?
It’s not like we haven’t seen Cowboys teams in the last 25 years who have looked the part. In 2007, they went 13–3 behind the next great quarterback in Tony Romo with an insanely talented team that had people chirping, but they still lost in the divisional round to the eventual champion-New York Giants. In 2014, they went 12–4 with Romo exuding confidence with a running game just as good as the passing attack with an opportunistic defense like the one this year, but they lost in the divisional round again to the Green Bay Packers on the Dez Bryant no-catch play. This was ultimately Romo’s last chance. In 2016, they were 13–3 and rolling when Dak and Zeke were rookies, but Aaron Rodgers got them again even when they came back in a loss.
You could say how this team is different from those. The 2021 squad doesn’t have divas like in 2007 with Terrell Owens. They have better coaching than that year with Wade Phillips, and in 2014 and 2016 with Garrett. The defense is better than the previous two with more serious pass rushers, health permitting. And there hasn’t been a ballhawk like Diggs since Deion Sanders even though the 2007 team had Roy Williams and Terrence Newman.
Still, I’m just not sure. McCarthy is an upgrade over Garrett, but he makes a lot of questionable clock management decisions, which apparently is common nowadays. And he also has a tendency to be too liberal on fourth down attempts, which I have to say is bugging the crap out of me with today’s coaches. For some reason, all the NFL and several college coaches think it’s okay to go for it on fourth down a crazy amount. Sometimes, it works, but a lot of times it bites them back. There are times I wish they would just phone me as they used to in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Anyways, no head coach has ever won a Super Bowl on two different teams, but some records are meant to be broken as Peyton Manning did it as a quarterback and eventually, Brady. Also, what about the Jerry Jones curse? He told Jimmy Johnson, who was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, that he’ll be in the Ring of Honor, something he’s held off for years. Is that the end of that curse or will it not happen until Jones is no longer the owner?
An interesting fact: the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship this year for the first time since 1971 and the Atlanta Braves won the World Series for the first time since 1995. Do you know what happened those years? The Cowboys won the Super Bowl. Also, the Super Bowl is back in Los Angeles for the first time since the 1992 season. Do you know who played then? It was the Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills where the former slaughtered them. The Bills happen to be the AFC favorite this year.
Regardless, the Cowboys have great confidence in Prescott, who has made it to that next step now that he’s no longer a rookie and has that playoff win behind his back. I’m just not sure if that young defense is ready to go all the way as the NFC contenders are really strong this year and close in record. That being Rodgers and the Packers who are really tough to get by, an Arizona Cardinals team on fire, Brady and the Bucs defending their title, and the Los Angeles Rams with a talent-driven team. Only the №1 seed gets the bye week, but the worst thing would be the №4 seed playing the Cards or Rams.
You could make the argument, as I saw after a few good games from Dallas, that they didn’t play any playoff teams from last year between Tampa and Kansas City, who they play this Sunday. However, the Chargers and Patriots are probably going to the playoffs this year while the Panthers, Vikings, and Broncos all present challenges. The NFL is a league of parity. Teams change just like people.
This is a good team. We Cowboys fans need to enjoy it. Games like the Patriots and Vikings are when you know it’s our year to win games. Luck may not be on our side next year in the parity of the NFL. Injuries happen. Let’s not take this for granted.