How a football team handles a disappointing loss tells you something about them. Sometimes it can create a lingering hangover. We saw something like that last year when the Dallas Cowboys lost a game they were widely expected to win against the Denver Broncos. From that point, the Cowboys seemed to doubt themselves. They still amassed wins over weaker opponents, but dropped games to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Arizona Cardinals before hastily exiting the playoffs courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers. Going into Sunday’s game against the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings, it was a legitimate question as to how they would respond against one of the toughest opponents remaining on their schedule.
Question answered. Dallas didn’t just win. They pounded Minnesota into the turf of US Bank Stadium. The 40-3 final score was a record margin of victory. That was a solid display of resiliency and toughness, and the way they did it has them back in the conversation of who is the class of the NFC.
It was a second road game in a row to play an NFC North team. It did have some elements that made it different, however. The Vikings play in a domed stadium, which is much more to the liking of the Cowboys. And there was no Aaron Rodgers to come back to haunt them. Minnesota was also banged up and starting tackle Christian Darrisaw left the game with a concussion, his second in two weeks.
Still, this kind of domination of one of the conference’s leading teams is rare, almost unprecedented. All the flaws that reared their ugly heads in the Green Bay Packers loss were nonexistent in this game. The pass rush was back in force, not just sacking Kirk Cousins seven times but getting credited with thirteen QB hits even when he got rid of the ball. The offense came out strong, scoring on every possession of the first half and the first two of the second. They only punted twice the entire game, both coming long after the outcome was inevitable. And the special teams did their job, not only in the four field goals for Brett Maher, including the 60-yard attempt he had to hit twice thanks to a very slow review of the CeeDee Lamb catch, but in never letting the Chiefs do anything at all in the return game.
Most impressive was how the offense and defense fed off each other. Those scores built a lead to allow players like Micah Parsons and Dorance Armstrong to get up close and personal with Cousins. It also made the running game unusable for the Vikings as the had to try and get down the field quickly to have any hope. By the end of the first half, that was no longer viable and Minnesota was waving the white flag.
This would have been an impressive game against any opponent. But this was facing a team that was is still second in the league in wins and the presumptive winner of their division. Dallas pantsed them in front of a national audience, so badly CBS cut away from the game for viewers outside of the local market at the end of the third quarter. Both teams pulled some starters in the fourth quarter, something that was certainly welcome for Cowboys players that now have a short week to get ready for the Thanksgiving Day game against the New York Giants.
One of the themes in the NFL this season is that there are no really dominant teams, and not that many really good ones. It is especially pronounced in the NFC, where the Philadelphia Eagles had their own embarrassing loss to the Washington Commanders last week and barely escaped with a one-point win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Giants lost badly to the Detroit Lions and now the Cowboys can move ahead of them in the NFC East with a win this Thursday. Having just crushed the Vikings, it is not unreasonable to ask, are they the best team in the conference? They still have to chase the Eagles to try and win their own division. With Dallas Goedert out of the lineup for at least a few more games, it is not all that likely they will avoid another loss or two before the Cowboys host them on Christmas Eve. Their offense certainly is not the same without him.
This game has to be a confidence boost for Dallas, but more importantly was how they were not shaken by the loss in Green Bay. That is a sign of the kind of toughness that they will need if they are to do anything in the playoffs. While they still will have to be able to win much closer contests this season, this was a signature victory over a winning team. If they can put up something similar against the 7-3 Giants, it will start to look like this team is really becoming all we could hope it can be. Outside of the rematch with Philadelphia, there are not many teams left on the schedule with much intimidation factor.
That is something the Cowboys now possess, at least for one week. And hopefully for all the rest to come.