On Sunday, the 2021 Dallas Cowboys are about to hit a fork in the road. After snapping a two-game losing streak with a 27-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, Dallas heads into their biggest matchup of the season this week as they take on the Washington Football Team.
Washington comes into this game red hot, winners of four straight and playing by far their best football of the season. The much-maligned Football Team defense has made a complete turnaround. Washington’s defense has held three of their last four opponents under 20 points, including allowing just 15 points a game in their last two victories over the Seahawks and Raiders.
The defense’s resurgence has also coincided with their quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, playing his best football of the year. The 28-year-old has stepped up his performance during the four-game winning streak, tossing seven touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and averaging a quarterback rating of nearly 111.
On the Cowboys side of things, even though Washington has been hot, Dallas still maintains a two-game lead in the division. Even if they lose to the Football Team on Sunday, they would still hold sole possession of first place in the NFC East by one game.
So, not a must-win, right?
Here’s why that couldn’t be more wrong.
A month ago almost the entire football world thought of the Cowboys as true Super Bowl contenders. Flash forward to today, and many have jumped off the bandwagon. While things certainly haven’t been pretty over the past five games, Dallas is still more than capable of turning things around and finding their early-season form.
But if the Cowboys want to recapture that magic and rediscover what led them to their 6-1 start to the season, there’s no more waiting. It absolutely has to happen this Sunday at FedEx Field.
Look, we’ve seen plenty of Cowboys teams come into December with a lead in the division. We’ve also seen plenty of late-season meltdowns that cost the Cowboys a chance at making the playoffs.
A win on Sunday would put that thought in the far back of everyone’s mind, almost completely out of the discussion. A Cowboys’ victory would give them a three-game lead over Washington in the division and would force the Football Team to virtually win out to catch them. It would also give the Cowboys a potential chance to wrap up the division when the two teams meet again in Dallas on Dec. 26.
A loss would do the exact opposite. The panic button will be smashed and the narratives of the “same old Cowboys” will start to pop up. Dallas will be looked at as just another Cowboys team with high expectations but nothing to show for it.
The Cowboys are about to be at as close to full strength as they’ve been in quite some time. Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore seem set to return on Sunday, so the Dallas defense will be playing with a full deck of cards for the first time this year.
At nearly full-strength, there are no more excuses. It’s time to get this thing back on track.
Sure, Washington is playing better football right now, but there is no question who the overall better team is. The Cowboys are more talented at almost every position on the field. But as we’ve seen far too many times before, that doesn’t mean much if you can’t translate it into big-time victories.
If this truly is the team we all thought they were back in the first half of the season, they walk into Washington and deliver a devastating blow to the red-hot Washington Football Team.
Regardless, the outcome of Sunday’s game is going to define how the rest of the Cowboys’ season plays out. Good or bad, we’re going to know all we need to know about this team come Sunday.