At times it wasn’t pretty, but the end result was what we wanted. The Dallas Cowboys broke their trend of losing Thanksgiving Day games to defeat the New York Giants. It put Dallas into the fifth seed in the NFC playoff standings and their 8-3 record keeps them in the hunt to overtake the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings in the quest for the number one seed and a bye.
There were many good things displayed in the game, but some problems were also evident. Our David Howman is the glass half full guy this week, while Tom Ryle considers the negatives.
David: Well, for starters, a win is always good. Was it as flawless as the Vikings win? Obviously not, but I’ll never complain about a win. More than that, though, is that the Cowboys notched another divisional win and swept a Giants team that has performed much better than any of us anticipated a few months ago.
Division wins are always important, but they could be even bigger this year with the Eagles holding a fairly narrow lead over the Cowboys in the NFC East. If the Cowboys can get revenge on Christmas Eve when they next face the Eagles, then a superior divisional record could end up being the thing that decides this race. So not only was it great to see the Cowboys win, but it was a type of win that might become all the more impactful down the road.
Tom: Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved to see them win. But there are also some things that just keep cropping up that make me more than a little nervous. And nothing does that more than the excessive numbers of flags they draw. It happens game after game, and Thanksgiving saw a revolting 13 accepted penalties against Dallas. They were good enough to overcome them, but it took some hero ball at times. This was against a team that may have been something of a paper tiger, but that is not always going to be the case. What will happen if they get clobbered with penalties against a better opponent? That is definitely a risk in the playoffs, and it could well cost them a chance to finally see some postseason success.
The worst thing is that the staff and players have shown absolutely no progress in fixing this. They will get a bit better for some games but then games like Thursday happen. I have ranted about this all season, and sadly expect to do so yet again.
David: The penalties are undeniably frustrating, but I think it’s also at least partially due to the high visibility that comes with playing on Thanksgiving. This game was the most watched regular season game in NFL history and, well, referees want their moment in the spotlight. In fact, this was the first time the Cowboys have drawn more than 10 penalties since last year’s Thanksgiving game. That shouldn’t stop them from striving to correct the mistakes, but I think it does shape the conversation to an extent.
Another factor to consider is that they had played a game just four days prior and were dealing with a spreading illness heading into the Giants game. It’s enough of a physical toll to play a game just a week later, but to turn around and do so by Thursday is a lot to ask. Throw in the illness, the fact that both games were against teams with really good records, and that this was a divisional game and you’ve got a whole lot of adversity right there.
Frankly, I’m not surprised that the Cowboys played sloppy in that first half. All things considered, that was to be expected, even though it still ended up being disappointing to watch. But just as they did against the Packers, they came out in the third quarter and tightened things up again. However, unlike that Packers game, they never let up; instead, they imposed their will and nailed the coffin shut. To overcome all the adversity that this game had and to show that they’ve learned how to put opponents away two games in a row is, to me, quite impressive.
Tom: Well, you brought up another negative, and that was the slow start they had. That has also been a recurring problem, and it has happened both times when they were on an abnormal week. They came out flat against the Packers after the bye, and then were out of sorts to begin the Giants game off the short week. Now they are going to come off the mini-bye, and I worry that could rear its head. Fortunately, the Colts aren’t exactly what you would call formidable. Still, they definitely need to get back to starting fast. That was how they beat the Bears and Vikings.
Once again, this one is hard to figure out. It seems to affect Dak Prescott the most directly, as he definitely took a while to get things going. Getting points on the board quickly is a big part of controlling the tempo of the game and forcing opponents away from the run, which has often been an issue for the defense. Assuming they get into the playoffs, which is almost a given at this point, this is one more thing that they just cannot afford. Good teams bring the threat of jumping on any advantage they are given. Dallas must not hand them this one.
David: The Cowboys just rattled off two straight wins against two of the best teams in the NFL - at least by record - and did so in different ways. One was a hot start that translated to a blowout and the other was a knife fight that Dallas prevailed in. They’ve consistently shown the ability to win those tougher games this year when parity has been prevalent all across the league. The only real exception to that is the Packers game, but it’s one game.
It would be nice to get off to hot starts every time, but the reality is that those games don’t happen against good teams. You have to be able to grind out wins even when things don’t go perfectly. Last year, it became evident that the Cowboys couldn’t win unless they got out to an early lead, and it doomed them once the playoffs came. I actually think it’s encouraging that this team was able to beat the Giants even after a rough start. They’re not always going to be perfect, but this team has shown several times now that they don’t need to be perfect to win. That’ll come in handy come playoff time, when it’s exceedingly harder to be perfect.
Tom: I hope you are right. This season has gone much better than I dreamed after the debacle of Week 1. I do agree that some toughness is welcome to see. I just hope they don’t have to rely on it too much. And it would be really nice to see them clean up what are a fortunately small number of issues as they head into the postseason.