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Cowboys get a lesson in winning ugly with victory over the Patriots

A win is a win is a win. Still, the Cowboys need to avoid these.

Dallas Cowboys v New England Patriots
It took a monster day from CeeDee, among other things.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It was a glorious win. The Dallas Cowboys finally broke the long streak of being unable to beat the New England Patriots, stretching back six games and a stunning 25 years. Dallas tightens its grip on the NFC East, leading the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team by a whopping three games. They faced adversity and triumphed. It was just beautiful.

Sorry. That is how some may view it, but it is not exactly accurate. Oh, the middle part of that opening paragraph deals with some solid facts. But saying this was in any way glorious or beautiful is putting a lot of L’Oreal on a hideous example of the Hampshire breed of swine. This was a truly ugly win, where only heroic performances could overcome the mistakes made. In some cases, those two came from the same players.

Coming into the game, there was much evidence that the Cowboys were the superior team. They ranked higher in almost every category, had a veteran quarterback and a bunch of stars facing off against a rookie starter and a lot of fairly unknown names, and were on a real roll while the once vaunted Patriots were kind of reeling. But it took overtime, one last stop, and a big play to put this one to rest. And there are some big questions to consider.

How was this a tied game at the end of regulation? After sixty minutes of play, the score was knotted and the teams were also even in takeaways. Yet the Cowboys dominated offensively with a 487-314 edge in yards. Of course, this is just a great example of the inaccuracy of box score scouting, because that hides some things like the Cowboys only converting a dismal 23% of their third downs, or just half their fourth down attempts. The familiar red zone woes cropped up again, with just 40% success for Dallas. They were even only able to get scores of any kind on two of their three goal-to-go situations.

Admittedly, there was another apparent mistake by the referees on the first attempt by Dak Prescott to sneak the ball in from the one-yard line. Just as happened in the Carolina Panthers win, the replays certainly looked like he clearly got the ball across the goal line well before he was stopped. Yet the NFL seems content to just let the play called as it stands if they do not think they have a conclusive angle. Given the state of technology now, that is just last-century thinking.

Is the feast or famine aspect of the defense even more disturbing? New England scored four touchdowns in this fashion:

  • A three-play, 34-yard drive on their first possession after the Cowboys failed to gain one yard on consecutive plays to turn it over on downs.
  • A four-play, penalty-aided 75-yard drive to retake the lead after the Cowboys had tied it up.
  • One long drive of 13 plays to march another 75 yards in the fourth quarter. It is worth adding that this was the only drive of the entire game where the Patriots strung together more than five offensive plays.
  • The almost backbreaking 75-yard touchdown strike from Mac Jones. While Trevon Diggs had primary responsibility for Kendrick Bourne on the play, the safety that was supposed to be helping over the top completely whiffed on what should have been a tackle to at least limit the damage and force them to continue the drive. The angle taken was a complete failure of geometry.

The inability of the Patriots to sustain any other drives was their eventual downfall, but this susceptibility to sudden big gains has been showing up all season. And it almost was the undoing of Dallas.

Why did the Cowboys struggle to capitalize on turnovers? They had a forced fumble recovery, a blocked punt, and the regularly scheduled Diggs interception. But only the latter resulted in a touchdown when he took matters into his own record-tying hands, while the other two netted a grand total of three measly points on a Greg Zuerlein field goal. There ain’t no such thing as momentum, folks. There are just opportunities to be exploited or wasted.

So yes, this was about as horrid a game aesthetically as Michael Myers without his mask. But in the end, it was a win. The Cowboys came up with just enough to secure the victory despite at times doing, or failing to do, far too much that could have led to a defeat and a very depressing long week over the bye. Instead, we can bask in the glow of being one of only seven teams with one or no losses, pending the outcome of the Monday night contest.

It is bad, and almost scary in some ways, that it was so close. It is also good. Because almost no team is able to waltz into games, even against apparently overmatched opponents, and just put it on cruise control for an easy win. Football games are hard. The ball takes funny bounces. The referees make egregious and not so obvious mistakes. That last often evens out to some degree, as Dallas got off the field one time with a missed facemask or hands to the face call. When the going gets tough, the tough teams buckle down and find a way to salvage things.

That is just what the Cowboys did. They overcame their mistakes and failures and got into the win column for the fifth time in six games, keeping that win streak since the season-opening loss alive at least one more time. The coaching staff has a ton of things to work on. This team is going to be a lot less cocky going forward with this one in their memory. That may pay huge dividends when adversity comes calling again, which it certainly will. Now they know they can still find a way to win. Hopefully they will keep this kind of nail-biter to a minimum. It still is useful to know they can rise up and get the job done.