Let's begin with Bob Sturm's Morning After.
Bob likes how the Cowboys coaching staff responded after the mini-crisis that occurred with a road split against the Vikings and Giants. It's taken many seasons, but has Jason Garrett finally found the right formula for winning?
Would they panic under the duress of the Vikings-Giants road trip and overreact with nonsensical decision-making, or retreat to a position of risk aversion?
They would not, it turns out. They would not settle for field goals when touchdowns were waiting for them if they were willing to roll the dice on third-and-14. They would not start playing into tendencies and allowing defenses to key against them. They would not dumb down the offense for a rookie quarterback who might have been hitting a wall or, at least, showing the effects of being questioned publicly by his own boss.
Instead, Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan asked Dak Prescott to step up and play his best football during this mini-homestand against two teams that would likely be in the playoffs if they could beat the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. The results are pretty clear. Now, because the Cowboys' offensive machine handled them both, neither may play past next week.
Keeping to the review of the game, J.J. Wilcox was back, and just in time, as the Cowboys needed to use Byron Jones in the slot once Anthony Brown went out on the concussion protocol early in the game. Wilcox ended up with a game-turning interception to start the third quarter.
On Detroit’s first possession of the third quarter, quarterback Matthew Stafford faced second-and-31 after a holding penalty and a sack. He forced a pass into coverage that cornerback Brandon Carr deflected and Wilcox intercepted and returned eight yards to the Detroit 38.
"I really ain't see much on that play," Wilcox said. "That was B. Carr's situation and he did a good job deflecting it.
"I was just hustling to the ball and I made a play. You know, safeties have to be ready for tips and deflections."
Monday night was more like a triplet game, with Dak, Zeke, and Dez all contributing and doing their thing. For Dez, it's producing touchdowns.
Bryant still lacks the quantity. His four catches for 70 yards against the Lions aren't going to command a revote for the Pro Bowl. But it's his quality that the Cowboys will need in January and February. The big plays in big moments -- like his 50-yard touchdown reception in November at Pittsburgh.
But it's the plays Bryant makes, not necessarily the balls that he catches. Those are the contributions the Cowboys need from Bryant in the postseason when defenses stack to stop Elliott and widen the rush to contain Prescott. Bryant can take over a game. We've seen that in 2013 and 2014. He did it again Monday night against the Detroit Lions.
If Bryant plays like that in the postseason, he'll be the X factor in the Dak-Zeke Show.
No one may have noticed that Zeke payed a little tribute to his teammates on one of his touchdown celebrations.
After his 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Cowboys’ 42-21 win against the Detroit Lions, which was his second-longest scoring run of the season, Elliott threw up the X (like Dez Bryant), poured sauce on his shoes (like Cole Beasley) and strutted (like Terrance Williams).
The celebration honored the diversity of the Cowboys' offense.
"It was just to show the unity in this team and how close we are," Elliott said. "When we go out there, we’re not playing only for ourselves. We’re playing for each other."
Needless to say, the defense had perhaps its worst half of football to start the game, then one of its best after halftime. Apparently Mr. Lee had something to do with that difference.
"He basically in a nutshell just said we’ve got to step up our game. It was, ‘This is just not like us. This is embarrassing. Who cares if we locked the division up or what? We still have to play for pride,'" safety Barry Church said. "He said that and got the defense rolling. That’s what a good leader does. He motivates his men, and he was able to do that."
Yeah, but how many cuss words did Lee use?
"At least 75," Church said. "Every other word. The message got through."
Will Randy Gregory be able to play in the postseason? No one seems to know.
The Cowboys obviously hope for the same, but owner Jerry Jones said after the game Monday that he’s not sure if Gregory will able to play in the postseason, but didn’t elaborate much after that.
"I just don’t want to speculate," Jones said on Gregory. "I’m just saying as excited as I am about Gregory, I want to temper it a little bit. But it was great to see him out there."
David Irving had another monster game. It's great to see him show some consistency. He chalks it up to being in better shape than the Cowboys' opponents.
Irving also doesn't think the defensive unit's second-half turnaround vs. the Lions was a coincidence. He attributes it to two factors: defensive leader Sean Lee chewing out his teammates at the half, and the defensive team's conditioning -- especially those "ridiculous" Wednesday practices.
"We're the best-conditioned team in the league and it may not show the first or second quarter when the other team's fresh," Irving said. "But as the game goes on it takes a toll on them. Our speed and our conditioning just kind of wore them down slowly."
This was one of my favorites on the season, and with 13 wins, we've been blessed with a lot of them. Click the link if you somehow missed it yesterday.
Wesseling makes several on-point observations, including this one.
Credit Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with a savvy halftime adjustment to a dime shell, removing the deep ball, shrinking the field and daring Detroit to run. In a game it didn't need after wrapping up the No. 1 seed, the Cowboys' defense harassed Stafford to the tune of eight pass deflections, nine QB hits and four sacks.
Now, onto next week ...
For those who think the Cowboys are going to rest a lot of guys next week and take it easy, that doesn't seem to be Jason Garrett's thinking. One can expect the guys who were hurt this week to rest, like Tyron Smith (knee) and Anthony Brown (concussion protocol), but the others are likely to be out there to beat Philadelphia.
"There’s just one way to play," Garrett said. "There’s one way to practice, and there’s one way to play. You can’t put different meaning on different competition, like all of a sudden this is less important than that. That’s not how we operate. What we try to do each day is come in and be the best we can be, the best players, coaches and football team that we can be in our preparation, leading up to the ballgame.
"You get 16 games over the course of a season. There’s three hours each weekend to show people who you are, and that’s what we try to do: be the best versions of ourselves."
Will Garrett play it the same way against Philadelphia?
"We’re focused on cleaning up this game and our preparation on Wednesday," he said.
Dak wants to keep getting better.
"I want to play every game," Prescott said. "I want to keep this momentum going. Any reps I can get are making me better. I want to take advantage of those."
But what about those season-ending injuries to Mariota and Carr?
"It's football," Prescott said. "You have to take your chances."
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott remains in the #2 spot in ESPN's QB ratings to Matt Ryan, though he's ahead in raw QBR. Tom Brady is third. Not bad for a rookie.