There is a consistent feeling that is setting in now with every Dallas Cowboys victory in this stunningly good season: Can you believe what is happening? They are 7-1, and now hold a two game advantage over every team in the conference. No NFC team except the Atlanta Falcons has more than five wins, and the Falcons also have three losses to go with their six victories. You can add wins, but there is no way to subtract losses.
Just two months ago, after the somewhat frustrating one point loss to the New York Giants, and with Tony Romo standing on the sidelines, it was impossible to imagine this seven-game winning streak. Yet it has happened, and now almost no one is questioning that the Cowboys are the class of the NFC, and appear to be the only legitimate challenger for league supremacy for the New England Patriots. Yes, there is still a lot of football to be played with only half the games done for Dallas, but look at all the boxes they have checked off already this season with two rookies and a bunch of little-known defenders.
Win a hard fought game against a division rival. They have managed this not once, but twice, coming from behind in the fourth quarter against both Washington and Philadelphia. Those divisional wins are the most valuable of all games, and they now are 2-1 in the division, as well as having that two game cushion over the Giants.
Beat a good opponent. This is actually a little harder to prove, because the NFL has become largely mediocre across the board outside the Cowboys, Patriots, and the AFC West, but both the Bengals and the Packers were seen as good teams when they faced the Cowboys. Dallas beat both of them by two touchdowns, and didn’t really look like they worked up that much of a sweat in doing so.
Fall behind early and shake it off. Prior to the Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers provided the biggest challenge on the scoreboard, roaring out to a 14-0 lead before the Cowboys came back to tie it up before halftime. No matter how good or bad a team is, when you stake them a two touchdown lead and then win by seven, you are showing both resiliency and determination.
Dominate bad teams. They breezed to a 14 point win over the Chicago Bears, and completely crushed the Cleveland Browns by 25 points in their most convincing game of the season. Given the bad performance through three and a half quarters the previous week, it showed that this team is also able to make corrections week to week, cutting off bad play before it becomes a trend, something that other teams (like, say, the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings) have not been able to do.
Overcome a really bad performance. The Eagles game. ‘nuff said.
Protect the ball and the quarterback. Another game without a turnover. Another game where the Cowboys won the sack battle (four to none). When you can do both those things, you almost always win the game.
Maintain offensive consistency. The Browns game was the sixth time in a row the Cowboys put up over 400 yards on offense. That had never been done by Dallas before. Ever. Not with Roger Staubach. Not with the Triplets of the early 90s. And that’s with two rookies in the backfield.
Keep the other teams’ scoring down. As stunning as the emergence of Dak Prescott and the power of Ezekiel Elliott (behind, of course, that superb offensive line and with a multi-faceted receiving corps) have been, the play of the defense has been even more amazing. They now have held the opposition to only 17.5 points per game, and no one has put up more than 23 points in a game. With the win over Cleveland, the Cowboys have a plus 83 point differential on the season, putting them second only to the Patriots’ 85. That is some heady company.
Have depth. Romo is the biggest missing name, but the team has also seen Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Barry Church, and Morris Claiborne miss games, and Ronald Leary left the Browns game after a blow to the head. None of those absences has caused the team to miss a beat. Next man up has become a reality for this year’s edition of the Cowboys.
They have now tied their second best record for winning streaks at seven games, and have a real chance to tie the all time record next game against the now 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. The fact is that none of the remaining eight regular season games looks intimidating. There are no teams Dallas should take lightly, but the way they rolled over the hapless Browns indicates that should not be a problem. Jason Garrett is doing a superb job of keeping his players and coaches focused on the task at hand each week.
As has been mentioned, being a very good team while the rest of the league is fighting the NFL-mandated curse of parity is an enviable position to be in. And by every measure, the Cowboys are just that, a very good team that stands out among the struggles plaguing so many of their opponents. On both offense and defense, they are a more complete team than just about any other in the NFL, even considering the Patriots. And arguably their best weapon, Romo, has not taken a snap this season.
Again, we don’t want to count those fetal chickens, but this season has already been something special, and all these things the team has checked off give ample hope that this ride is just getting going. These are things really good football teams do, and the Cowboys are doing them all. They are doing it with veteran stars, rookie contributors, and role players and backups all stepping up. Being atop the NFC is no fluke. These Cowboys are earning it every game, in every way you can imagine.