The Dallas Cowboys are riding a nine-game winning streak. Take that in for a second. It’s very hard to win nine straight games in the NFL. Win number nine over the Baltimore Ravens didn’t come easy, but after a slow start the Cowboys cruised.
As good as the Cowboys have been, they don’t always have it figured out in the beginning. But when it comes to finishing, no one does it better.
Eventually the Dallas Cowboys just figure things out.
That’s what they did in setting a team record with their ninth straight win, beating the Baltimore Ravens 27-17 at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
After punting on their first four drives, the Cowboys scored on their next five to ice the game.
After four drives, Dak Prescott had completed 4 of 10 passes for 31 yards. On the next five possessions, Prescott completed 23 of 26 passes for 270 yards and touchdown passes to Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant (twice). Prescott scrambled to find Beasley for a second-quarter score to get the Cowboys on the board, taking a big hit from C.J. Mosley that required a quick medical check. He also hit Bryant with a 4-yard fade in the third quarter and a 13-yard slant in the fourth quarter in which Bryant carried cornerback Tavon Young the final 5 yards into the end zone.
The Ravens has a solid plan in place to beat the Cowboys, and for the most part they executed it. It still didn’t matter.
The game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and their top-ranked defense was a potential pothole on the Cowboys' improbable road to the postseason. Baltimore had a plan for the Cowboys' dazzling rookies. They were going to plug up the middle with Brandon Williams and the big guys on their defensive line, cutting things off for Ezekiel Elliott. They were going to blitz off the edges and rattle Prescott. The Cowboys knew it was coming, and they knew it was going to be rough.
"I wouldn't say we were specifically looking forward to it," Elliott said.
What's amazing about Sunday, as the latest chapter in a season not even the most starry-eyed Cowboys fan saw coming, is that Baltimore did what it set out to do. It limited Elliott to 26 yards on six carries in the first half. It rattled Prescott, who was admittedly off with several throws early in the game. The Ravens wanted to be tough and physical and mean with the Cowboys, and they did just that. They had the Cowboys' kryptonite, and they were using it effectively.
The Cowboys beat them anyway.
That is a real testament to just how good this team is, including those two rookies.
Just how well is the Cowboys offense playing right now? It’s getting into historical levels.
Via the NFL, the Cowboys have gained 400 yards in eight straight games. That ties the longest single-season streak set by the 2007 Patriots and the 2013 Broncos. The Patriots went 16-0 and made it to the Super Bowl; the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl, too.
While the offense is more than one guy, Prescott is doing his part. He’s the first rookie quarterback in league history to throw for a least 300 yards and multiple touchdown passes in consecutive games. Also, he is the third rookie since the merger to have multiple touchdown passes in five straight games, joining John Elway in 1983 and Russell Wilson in 2012.
After some ups and down for Dez Bryant this season, including injury and the death of his father, things are definitely looking up now. He is starting to develop chemistry with Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys rookie [Ezekiel Elliott], who often uses a "Feed Me" gesture after a big run as he imitates shoveling food into his mouth, has defenses creeping near the line of scrimmage because of his rushing success.
That's helped Bryant mostly see one-on-one coverage the last two weeks. He's feasted, leaving defenses forked.
Bryant caught six passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against Baltimore a week after he had 116 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches at Pittsburgh.
The Ravens were definitely worried about the run. In many cases they were blitzing the line hoping to bottle up Elliott. On the second touchdown to Dez, it made for easy pickings.
In other words, that's what Prescott's pre-snap read told him. The Ravens chose to stack the line of scrimmage in an effort to slow Elliott and were fine allowing their cornerbacks to match up against Bryant one-on-one, especially on third downs.
"Well, it probably wasn't the best decision if you look at it right now," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the loss, "but you've also got to stop the run. That's the issue they present to you as an offense."
Let’s also give a shoutout to Cole Beasley, who just keeps on producing.
In 16 games last season Beasley reeled in 52 receptions for 536 yards to go along with five touchdowns. All three of those were career highs for the Cowboys’ slot receiver.
With his performance Sunday against Baltimore, Beasley surpassed both marks in receptions and yards and scored his fifth touchdown of the season. He now has 54 receptions, 591 yards, and five touchdowns. He still has six games to add on to those totals.
The Cowboys defense didn’t turn in any big numbers - they didn’t get a turnover and they only had one sack. But once again, they got the job done, limiting the Ravens to just 17 points.
The Ravens took the ball right down the field for an impressive 90-yard drive in the first quarter and attempted to attack the Cowboys' banged-up secondary. But, from there, Rod Marinelli made some well-conceived midgame adjustments to take away the ground game that ran for just 43 yards for the final three quarters. Once they pushed the Ravens into a one-dimensional offense, it was a series of underneath throws to Steve Smith and just empty-calorie yardage most the rest of the way. Zero takeaways and just one sack, but overall, they were protected by their offense and did their job by holding Baltimore to just two significant drives all day.
Anybody watching the first part of the game was probably thinking how did the new-and-improved version of J.J. Wilcox get replaced with the malfunctioning 2015 version? Poor angles and missed tackles abounded. But then, he was excellent in the second half.
What a tale of two halves for J.J. Wilcox. He wasn’t at his best to open the game with some missed tackles and poor angles to the ball. It reminded me of some of the issues that he had last season, but he was able to pull himself together and make some key plays down the stretch. His tackle on Mike Wallace across the middle with the Ravens facing a 3rd-and-5 was a big stop in the game. The Ravens attempted to pick Orlando Scandrick with Dennis Pitta on the play, as Wallace moved across the field. Wilcox was sitting 15 yards deep in Cover 2 with Jeff Heath opposite. As Wallace started underneath, Wilcox read it the whole way and started to drive to the ball. Wallace tried to adjust, but he has no chance due to Wilcox being right there to deliver the hit on the spot to get the defense off the field.
He delivered a couple of other nice hits in the second half, holding down the fort until Barry Church returns.
I’m loath to knock another team (unless it’s the Eagles), but the Baltimore Ravens lack of class in this game and afterwards deserves an exception. First there was Steve Smith being his typical self, and even picking up a 15-yard penalty for pushing a Cowboys helmet after a tackle. Even Cowboys rookie Anthony Brown couldn’t respect him after.
Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Anthony Brown, for one, lost all shreds of respect that he had for Smith following his first career match-up across the field from him.
"I had respect for him before the game, but after the game I have no respect for him anymore," Brown said of Smith on Sunday. "He's a real character, and I actually saw it for myself [Sunday]. I don't got nothing to say about Steve Smith."
Smith is known for his boisterous demeanor on the field, and that fiery approach was on full display Sunday in Dallas. Smith is commonly described as the type of player that you love to play with, but hate to play against. Brown falls into the latter category.
"Coming into the game they already told me what kind of player he was," said Brown, still speaking of Smith. "But until you see it for yourself, then you're just, 'calm down,' but it's hard because he keeps yapping after every play. It's kind of hard."
Then there was the Ravens players mocking Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant early in the game.
As the Baltimore Ravens ran through the Dallas Cowboys’ defense early during Sunday’s game at AT&T Stadium, they kept throwing up the X and going through that “feed me’’ motion.
That was a direct ode to Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who often throws up the X after he makes a big play. And to rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who, following a big run or catch, puts his hand in a motion as if to ask the coaching staff to continue feeding him the ball.
Since the Ravens had basically shut down both Bryant and Elliott early in the game, they took time to mimic the Cowboys’ one-two punch.
Finally, after the game, Joe Flacco insisted they should have won.
“We should beat this team,” Flacco said in his postgame press conference. “We should beat this team and I’m not kidding. … I felt like we should’ve scored a lot more points than we did today. There was obviously reasons for it, we’ll go back and look at the film because the reality of it is that we didn’t. But I feel we could have.”
Just stop. You guys were whining about how nobody was respecting your defense before the game, you mocked the Cowboys during the game, your best receiver acted like a child and picked up a stupid penalty, and then you can’t just admit you got beat.
Here’s a bit of class for you to follow.