“But it came against the Bengals.”
The Dallas Cowboys put together one of their most complete top-to-bottom performances in their 30-7 rout over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday. The win was a good old-fashioned beatdown of Andy Dalton’s former team. An emphatic statement from a Dallas group ready to silence all of the critics and naysayers that had them slotted for a top-5 draft selection this upcoming offseason.
They walloped the tigers from Cincy’s jungle from start to finish, lashing them repeatedly like a trainer at the circus. And contrary to this season’s resounding theme, the side they got the brunt of their production from was their defense.
“But it came against the Bengals.”
Well don’t tell these ‘Boys that.
There’s a different type of energy percolating around the Star in Frisco this week, and rightfully so - this is the first “Victory Monday” Frisco’s enjoyed in three weeks. It’s also the first since strength coach Markus Paul’s untimely collapse at the team’s practice facility, (which happened right in front of several players) so its importance increases tenfold. The fact that it came against the team Dalton suited up for last didn't hurt from an extra motivational standpoint either. Even if it did come against the lowly, Joe Burrow-less Bengals.
Sunday marked a starry dazzler performance for D-Town as a whole, and it has to be the greatest they’ve collectively felt in an unspeakably long time. Despite the all-around effervescence from the squad though, three men stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.
Here are your three stars from Sunday’s dominant showing.
#3. Demarcus Lawrence
The Bengals (2-9 coming into the tilt) didn’t present themselves as much of an intimidator on paper, and Joe Burrow’s demise only enforced that point further. But as Mike Tomlin would say, “you can’t underestimate any NFL team.” And judging the trajectory of Dallas’ woeful shortcomings thus far, no opposing performance against them could be deemed particularly extraordinary.
The Cowboys answered any fan resignations and worries with a sharpened stake into the game’s momentum on one of its first plays. Stopping the run has been their burgeoning Achilles heel, but Mike Nolan’s defensive front looked like an alternate incarnation of the once-smitten group that sputtered in their containment efforts of opponent running backs.
Gio Bernard, Trayveon Williams, and Samaje Perine were the expected rainmakers slated to run roughshod all over Dallas’ protective line, but the man who’s epitomized consistent backfield infiltration all year for the Cowboys had other plans. Demarcus Lawrence has got to be known as a fumble-forcing savant at this point. He's garnered an earned reputation as an overpowering pigskin-puncher, and all ball-carriers must be weary of succumbing to one of his patented dislodging hits.
To see him write his signature as early as he did in Sunday’s game though, spelled of imminent trouble for Cincy’s offense in the moments that followed afterwards. 14:30 was the exact clock-reading on the snap that elicited D-Law’s igniting forced fumble.
Running back Giovanni Bernard collected QB Kyle Allen’s handoff out of the shotgun, and seemingly as quickly as he received the football - he lost it. Lawrence owns gaudy real estate territory in opposing backfields, and he found himself in familiar land once again early on Sunday, punching the rock from Bernard’s mitts, and vehemently pushing the momentum arrow in Dallas’ direction.
He finished the foray with just two tackles to his stat-line, but no play was bigger in terms of resolute aftereffects than #90’s initial forced fumble.
#2. Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith’s 78-yard touchdown romp is undoubtedly a close second, though.
Man, isn’t it fun to watch the big guys rumble after somehow finding their way into possession of the football? Luckily for Aldon, he’s seen enough infamous film tape of Leon Lett, and has enough conditioning under his belt, to not squander one of the lone chances he’ll get to become a member of his team’s offense.
Smith’s chance for glory came just over eight minutes into the first quarter, and was another early haymaker that dwindled Cincy’s comeback chances to a near moot point. This time, Williams was the man stripped of his baggage as he darted up the A-gap. But he and the ball went in opposite directions as he catapulted into a forward dive, and his arm candy careened backwards off of a hit from – get this – his own lineman.
The butt fumble now has a distant cousin.
The football – as did time – remained suspended motionless, seemingly unnoticed by either side as they watched the man suspected of possessing it tumble into the trenches. Until Smith took heed of the misplaced hot potato, and hurriedly scampered towards his own end zone with the fleet-footedness of a tap dancer on hot coals.
The long-winded sprint has to be one of Smith’s highlights of 2020, especially considering all that it’s taken for him to get back onto an NFL roster. Once a man heralded with Hall of Fame potential, Smith has fallen to a much less significant role expectations-wise, but his natural athletic prowess, and raw physical tools remain undeterred.
The house that Jerry built is slowly but surely transforming into a home for Smith, and in a year that’s been horrendously deprived of feel-good stories, Smith’s unequivocally takes the cake as far as Dallas’ camp is concerned.
#1. Andy Dalton
This article would be rife with question marks if the Red Rifle’s contributions were not included. Homecoming games for longtime former QB1’s can go one of two ways when they return to the organization they once called their own: complete catastrophe or stark supremacy.
There’s usually no in between.
Dalton’s return to the jungle evoked the latter. He specified knowing Paul Brown stadium like the back of his hand after reporters commented on his celebratory eye-lock with wife Jordan following the second of his two touchdown tosses.
Andy Dalton and his wife are goals pic.twitter.com/WSmHrUQUdw— wolfy (@emm_bustos) December 13, 2020
He had the exact latitude and longitude of her location.
And apparently, that backhand knowledge matriculated to the field of play. Dalton looked effortlessly confident and decisive in his arm motions as he spiritedly led his troops to an emphatic win, almost as if he knew what defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo would be calling before plays unfolded.
He was an Uber-efficient 16-23 as far as completion rate goes, adding the two TDs to kickstart a 122.6 rating – his highest all season. His most important game for Dallas on a personal note was his brightest display for the team, and despite his defense’s heady play, the outing does not have the same stroke of preeminence for the Cowboys if not for #14.
“Special” was the apt word Mike McCarthy used to describe the day for Dalton and his family.
The team was well aware of the extra weight it carried for their starting QB heading into the matchup, and they unequivocally did their part to ensure Dalton’s smile blazed as bright as his hair. The rest of the job was left up to him. He fulfilled his responsibilities – and then some.