The narrative for the Dallas Cowboys was consistent going into the game against the Cincinnati Bengals. This was the best opponent they had faced this season. The Bengals had a defense that had not given up a rushing touchdown, and were able to get consistent pressure with their front four. A.J. Green is one of the premiere receivers, and Andy Dalton is certainly better than the likes of Brian Hoyer and Blaine Gabbert. With Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick out, and Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey still a bit banged up, the Cowboys would need to play their best to have a chance.
Well, for nearly the first 28 minutes of the game, Dallas was just about perfect. They rolled up three touchdowns, over 100 yards rushing, and never let the Bengals get even close to a score. They would use that incredible start to go on to a 28-14 victory in a truly dominating fashion. Dak Prescott extended his no interception streak, and often threw smart incompletions, such as one where he put it at Ezekiel Elliott’s feet because a defender was zeroed in and would have leveled the running back. Ellliott was eating again. Cole Beasley got his first touchdown of the season. Green was held to one catch for nine yards. The only flaws before halftime were a muffed punt by Lucky Whitehead just before the two minute warning, and a ball Jason Witten just missed pulling in for what would have likely been a first down. DeMarcus Lawrence was back for his first action of the year, and he had an immediate impact. He did not get a sack before halftime, but along with the rest of the defensive line frequently pressured Dalton into incomplete throws. And Cedric Thornton did get a sack that led to a three and out.
And you cannot say enough about the job the offensive line did in opening holes for both Elliott and Alfred Morris, as well as protecting Prescott. They simply bullied the Cincinnati defensive line. Meanwhile, the rushmen finally found their mojo, getting a total of four sacks before the day was done.
What we saw in the first half was the design Jason Garrett has been building since he became head coach. A dominating offensive line and stud running backs to eat up both ground and the clock. A precision passing game to keep the defense honest and move the ball when needed. And a defense that bends but doesn’t break. It all came together in one of the best halves of football you will ever see.
And they picked up right where they left off after halftime. The Bengals got the ball first, but the defense stiffened past the 50, again, and forced an unsuccessful field goal attempt. And on the first Dallas play from scrimmage, what we have all been waiting for happened. Elliott took the ball right up the middle for 60 yards, bursting through quickly and outracing all the defenders. At that point, he had 128 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries.
The Bengals would finally break through to get on the board in the fourth quarter, putting up two touchdowns. But the Cowboys forced them to burn a lot of time, and there was simply not enough left for them to mount a serious challenge at the end. A failed onside kick pretty much put things out of reach, especially with how grudgingly the defense was giving up yards. And then on 3rd and seven, with the clock winding down to the two minute warning, the coaches called for a pass, that Prescott calmly completed to Terrance Williams to move the chains and put Dallas in position to run out the clock.
Everyone has talked endlessly about how well Dak Prescott has done, and that talk is definitely going to continue after another superb outing. The offensive coaches have been calling excellent games for him, but you cannot say enough about how well he has executed the game plans. The only down side is that the debate about whether Prescott should keep the starting job when Tony Romo is healthy will continue. Instead of arguing about that, perhaps it would be better to think about what this team could have with Romo and Bryant both healthy. It could be scary.
And for a week at least, the Cowboys have sole possession of first place in the NFC East due to the one point loss by the Philadelphia Eagles to the Detroit Lions. Oh, and Carson Wentz threw his first interception in that game (that let the Lions seal the win), leaving Prescott with the record for most consecutive passes without an interception to start his career as a rookie. It did see him give up his first fumble in the waning seconds of the third quarter, snuffing a drive that might have given Dallas a five touchdown lead - but he is still playing at a level that is nearly incomprehensible for any rookie, much less someone who was supposed to have trouble making the transition to the pro game.
Now the NFL world has to face that the Cowboys might just be for real this year, even without Romo. Who would have dreamed this when he went down in preseason?