We all got very tired last year of seeing the Dallas Cowboys play one nail-biting game after another. Some led to a last-minute victory, others saw comebacks fall short, but far too many were close enough to have gone either way. Twelve of the regular season games were one score affairs. Three went into overtime. It was the kind of could-go-either-way performance, game in and game out, that you would expect from an 8-8 team. The Cowboys only had one win by more than one score, a 38-23 win over a Philadelphia Eagles team that was in the middle of the meltdown that would send Andy Reid to the Kansas City Chiefs. And in no game last year did the Cowboys not trail at some point.
Is this a different team in 2013? Well, already the team has managed at least two things it never did last year. In both of the victories so far, the Cowboys have never trailed. And against a St. Louis Rams team that looks to be improved over last year, when they were 7-8-1, the Cowboys got a team down, kept them down, and stomped them where it makes your voice go up an octave or two.
One of the most frequently used words in writing up this game is "dominate" in some form, because that is what the Cowboys did. Jason Garrett prefers a different word, talking here about the defensive line:
They're coming off the ball, and again, and I keep using this word ‘relentless,' but I think they might have illustrated as well as any group on our team.
This is what a winning team has to do at times in the NFL. They still have to be able to win the close ones, but sometimes they have to exert their will. Against the Rams, Dallas rose up from the very beginning, forcing consecutive three and outs (the second one turning into a four and out on a failed fake punt) around a muffed punt by Dwayne Harris. Monte Kiffin's defense had denied St. Louis twice (and sacked Sam Bradford for the first time since the Ram's fourteenth game last year) before Tony Romo ever got his hands on the ball.
It was a performance to open the game that showed a little killer instinct, and that instinct was evident throughout. The offense had it when they came out and, sparked by DeMarco Murray looking better than he has since, well, the last time he faced the Rams, drove down the field for a touchdown. They showed it by building a three score lead by halftime, while rendering the Rams offense almost completely impotent. They showed it by coming out on the opening possession of the third quarter and going 80 yards for a touchdown. After St. Louis finally got on the scoreboard (and Monte Kiffin stated he was not happy about losing the shutout), they showed it by going for the touchdown on a beautifully thrown pass from Romo to Harris, who got to atone for his error on the punt.
And above all, they showed it when the defense pounded Bradford again and again, racking up six sacks and eight quarterback hits. This game was played superbly by the Dallas lines. That includes the offensive line as well, because in addition to Murray's 175 yards rushing, the line only yielded one sack and one hit on Romo.
There was no real letting up on the pedal this game. Dallas took it to the Rams from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. They had an attitude in this game, one that may pay some big dividends as the season unfolds. The mental side of football is hard to quantify in the NFL, but it plays a big part. This was not just a confidence builder. This was a game that can create some swagger, the kind that comes with believing in yourself and your teammates. And it was one that reached to almost every part of the team, that affected just about every player who stepped on the field.
A few days ago, Jason Hatcher (who notched one of the sacks, a tackle for loss, and three of the QB hits) stood up in a meeting with the other players and demanded more of them. I don't know how much of a response this was to his challenge, but he certainly got everything he wanted in this game.
Dallas found the killer instinct against the Rams. If they can keep it, then this season is not going to be another 8-8 disappointment.
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