It was a glorious Christmas weekend for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. First they got an early present when the San Francisco 49ers lost on Thursday night and assured that Dallas would be in the playoffs. Then on Sunday the Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders won and locked up the NFC East for the Cowboys before they even took the field against the Washington Football Team. But Santa saved his best for last as we witnessed one of the most dominant performances in team history in the Sunday night 56-14 annihilation of their out-manned and over-matched division rival, benches and all. Winning the game was crucial in keeping hopes of a high playoff seed alive. More importantly, it answered the nagging questions that persisted even through the recent winning streak, now at four.
This was a statement victory, and the statement is that this team is getting everything together at exactly the right time. It is a team that can square off against any opponent in the league and beat them. This is not to say they are just automatically going to cruise to the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi. But looking around the league, and especially the NFC, there is no one that they should fear more than they are themselves feared.
For several weeks, the defense has been on fire, taking the ball away in bunches and shutting down opponents. That continued. They only had two takeaways, but both were huge, impact plays. The offense found its rhythm and put up a marvelous, chart-topping hit. The performance lent some credibility to the theory that Dak Prescott was not the issue over the past few weeks. Kellen Moore went up-tempo early and that really seemed to give his offense a boost. The receivers all showed up. The running game was not much of a factor, as Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard only combined for 17 carries. But they both averaged over four yards a carry, better than we have seen of late, and Elliott had a superb 11-yard touchdown run plus the first receiving TD of the game. And Prescott had 21 yards on the ground himself, showing more trust in his legs.
If you are looking for something bad about the Cowboys’ performance, it is hard to find. The defense had a few lapses, but by the end of the first quarter it was already pretty much garbage time. The offensive line allowed more pressure on Prescott than we’d like, but Tyron Smith is getting closer to returning which should help.
Those are basically quibbles. This was a complete, complementary game. Even the special teams got into the act with the blocked punt for a touchdown.
It is, of course, nearly impossible for Dallas to put together another performance as dominant as this. That is not a problem, because they were frankly far, far better than they had to be to defeat Washington. Bring that kind of fire to the rest of the games including the playoffs, and this team can do some real damage.
As our R.J. Ochoa put it in his post game livestream (you can listen here) a lot of people are raving about the job Moore, Dan Quinn, and John Fassel have done, but we need to recognize that this is the team Mike McCarthy has built. Part of that is how he has put trust in his coordinators, but he also is the one who sets the tone and provides the overall plan for each week. He is now 11-4 in his second season in Dallas and has his team in the perfect state to make a real run in the postseason. The talent is, to quote Cris Collinsworth, freaky, but we have seen talented rosters squandered by the Cowboys before. Against the Football Team, they were fully unleashed.
That is great, and for Dallas fans, the game was a delight. Most of the rest of the viewers probably tuned out in disgust at some point, but for us, this was a true treat.
It is now also in the rearview mirror. There is still work to be done. As mentioned, the seeding in the NFC is still very much up in the air. Dallas needs some help to get to the one seed, but they need to win the final two games against the Arizona Cardinals and at the Philadelphia Eagles to get as high a seed as possible and as many playoff games in AT&T Stadium as possible. There is no question the team plays better there, especially in the red zone, although they did fight through three road games in a row in December and win them all. Still, in the playoffs you want every advantage you can manage.
However the seeding plays out, Dallas will still have advantages against anyone. The pass rush is getting home against everyone. The secondary dares quarterbacks to throw at them. Special teams are not just aggressive, they are successful in big swing plays. Now the offense has all the pieces working together and showed that they can march down the field on long drives or gash you with a big chunk play.
The best part is that even if an opponent finds one way to successfully thwart them, the Cowboys still have plenty of other things to throw at them. They don’t just have one player who is capable of making a game changing play, they have a roster full of them as Trevon Diggs, DeMarcus Lawrence, and even backups like Terence Steele and Malik Turner demonstrated. They may be the deepest and most gifted roster in the league, with possibly the best coaching as well.
Dallas is for real and the whole NFL saw that on Sunday.