It is a totally unexpected sense of euphoria for Dallas Cowboys fans right now. We just watched them dismantle and embarrass a Cincinnati Bengals team that was supposed to be the first real stumbling block for their dynamic rookie duo. And it wasn’t just the offense doing work while the defense held on by their fingernails. It was complete domination on both sides of the ball, much more so than the 28-14 score indicated.
If you are like me (sorry if that is so) you might find yourself thinking about a couple of lines from Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
You almost want to pinch yourself (I can explain those bruises on my arm, really). Let’s be real. This just should not be happening.
The preseason already seems like a strange dream in itself. Even the first few games feel like they were another team. But this is really happening.
The Cowboys are leading the NFC East, tied for second in the NFC standings behind the equally surprising Minnesota Vikings. Tony Romo is still on the sidelines in street clothes, and Dez Bryant is keeping him company. But the Dallas team on the field Sunday looked almost unstoppable through nearly three quarters. By that time, they had built up such a lead that losing a fumble was not any real concern. The team went into prevent defense mode and let the Bengals use up clock until it ran out to walk away with a two-touchdown win.
It is becoming old hat to talk about what the team has found in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, but it is still also tremendous fun to just think about it. Prescott continues to defy all expectations after being taken midway through the draft. He may go down as the most valuable pick of the entire draft based on where he was taken. There is almost no doubt remaining that the Cowboys have their quarterback of the future - and meanwhile, he is the winner of right now. He now holds the all-time record for consecutive passes to begin a rookie season without an interception, passing Carson Wentz who saw his own streak come to an abrupt end with a game-sealing interception just before the Cowboys started their game. (And yes, it is also extreme fun to mention the loss by the Eagles to a not-so-great Detroit Lions team.) Prescott now has a real shot at the all-time record for passes without an interception to begin a career, with only Tom Brady, a pretty fair quarterback in his own right, ahead of him. But even if he stumbles there, he has still had an historic start to his pro career. He just keeps impressing. Most importantly, he still appears to still have a lot of room to grow.
Likewise, no one is questioning the decision to draft Elliott with the fourth-overall pick now. He is on a pace to exceed 1,700 yards as a rookie, and is averaging a touchdown a game to boot. On the first Cowboys offensive play of the second half, he burst through the line and streaked 60 yards for a touchdown, leaving everyone in a Bengals uniform in his wake. The idea in taking Elliott with that high draft pick was to duplicate the success of 2014, when DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing. But Elliott showed on that run that he is an upgrade.
@JoeyIckes Murray get’s caught at or inside the 20 there— T'Challa Clan (@Braunginn) October 9, 2016
Meanwhile, the receivers, led by Cole Beasley, have taken all the pressure off the team to rush Bryant back. They cannot replace what he brings to the field, but they are substituting for him more than adequately. The Cowboys lack any real threat to beat teams with the deep ball, but that hasn’t hurt them at all so far. And when Romo and Bryant get back - watch out. This offense could be truly unstoppable.
Oh, and that offensive line? Despite shuffling things around due to injuries, they are now playing like the best in the league. Everything on offense is built on them, and they are exactly the foundation we all hoped they would be.
But as surprising as the offense has been, what the defense did against the Bengals was the real shock. All season, they have had to cover for a lack of pressure on the quarterback. They have survived largely because the secondary has been excellent across the board (and that is with Orlando Scandrick out the past couple of games, don’t forget). And then DeMarcus Lawrence came back after his suspension. Many of us (raises hand sheepishly) cautioned against expecting too much in his first game or two back.
Boy, was that wrong.
It is hard to say just how much was because of Lawrence’s return, since he did not have a single stat defensively. Yet he was constantly putting pressure on Andy Dalton, who was unable to sustain a scoring drive until the fourth quarter. And while Lawrence wasn’t getting home, his mates along the defensive line certainly were. Terrell McClain, Benson Mayowa, Cedric Thornton, and Jack Crawford combined for four sacks. The Bengals have had trouble protecting Dalton earlier, but even so, it was stunning to see the Cowboys getting home with their defensive line. And the D added nine quarterback hits and five tackles for losses. It remains to be seen if this is sustainable, but if it is, the Cowboys are now a complete team on both sides of the ball (and special teams have not given up any big plays, either). And the pressure up front came from absolutely nowhere.
We all hoped when Romo was injured in preseason that the Cowboys could survive until he got back. But who can honestly say they expected them to thrive like this? 4-1, and that opening loss was by a single point. Playoffs? You bet we can think about the playoffs. This team has already equaled their win total from all of last year. It is hard to believe this was built from the battered and ineffective team of 2015.
There is still a lot of the season to play out, and things can go south in a hurry in the NFL. But resiliency is important in the league as well, and this team has demonstrated that in droves. Just a week ago, they overcame a 14-point deficit to win a game. Now, they have dominated a quality opponent from start to finish. Talented rookies are a big part, but so are wily veterans like Doug Free, Barry Church, and Jason Witten, who on Sunday stiff armed a would-be tackler like he was a pesky kid.
It still seems unreal, but this is the reality after five weeks of play. The Dallas Cowboys are one of the legitimate powers in the league, based strictly on their performance on the field. We don’t have to worry about waking up from this dream. This is the real life.