All year, we’ve been trying to decipher the key aspects of the 2023 Dallas Cowboys. It has been hard, especially with the up and down play they exhibited, as my podcast partner Roy White and I discussed this week on the Ryled Up podcast and in our joint article here. They seem to be very different from game to game, especially over the four most recent. At times, the Churchill quote about “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” comes to mind. But there is one aspect that seems evident. After the win against the Los Angeles Chargers ended, quarterback Dak Prescott was asked by one of the sideline reporters what the team showed us all. He immediately answered, “Resiliency.”
In such an inconsistent season, we have already seen that happen both times Dallas lost. They came back from the embarrassing showing against the Arizona Cardinals with another dominant win over the New England Patriots. Then when everything just turned to something icky against the San Francisco 49ers, making so many of us worry they were flirting with falling much too far behind in the playoff race, they came back with a gutsy, if incredibly mistake-ridden, win over the Chargers.
For some time, this has been a real trait of McCarthy coached teams. They lick their wounds, go to work, and find a way to get the win their next chance. Since his 6-10 first season, the Cowboys have only suffered back-to-back losses once, in 2021 when they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs and then dropped an overtime game versus the Las Vegas Raiders. There has been a lot of adversity during those stretches, including Prescott missing five games last year.
Of course, from a mathematical point of view, when you are winning 12 games, it is much less likely to have two losses come in a row.
This year they are four and two, which would seem to put them on track for 11 or 12 wins. Still, that is going to be three or four more losses taking that projection forward. With the two division games against the Philadelphia Eagles plus having to face the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and Detroit Lions after the second Eagles matchup in a brutal four-game stretch in December, that bounce-back ability is going to be sorely tested. And that all assumes the other games go as we might expect. The Los Angeles Rams and Washington Commanders are showing some friskiness and could be potential trap games.
Still, there is no denying this team has answered the call so far, which is good news looking at the rest of the schedule. McCarthy also has an excellent record coming out of bye weeks, although he broke a string of wins last year when his former team, the Green Bay Packers, handed Dallas a loss after the bye.
Over the years, the Cowboys have been labeled as a soft team. Yet this ability to pull up their pants and get the job done after a loss argues against that. Outside the totally mystifying collapse against the 49ers, Dan Quinn has already infused some real hard-nosed attitude into the defense. Now we have some tangible evidence that the offense has its own toughness. Given that we have not seen the last defeat this team is going to face, barring some kind of miracle, that is going to be needed.
We definitely need to see their ability to come back after a loss and get a win, but there is of course a downside to that. You only do that when you lose in the first place. Resiliency is a great trait, but we hope it is always used sparingly to avoid a final record near .500. (Have I mentioned before that I hate the 17 game schedule?) The team has to string together wins as well as overcome losses. They are definitely back in the hunt for the NFC East title, thanks to the New York Jets upending the Eagles, and with the Cleveland Browns also hanging a loss on the 49ers the top seed in the NFC is also not an inconceivable goal.
Resilience takes other forms, however, and the most important may be overcoming injuries. The team lost Trevon Diggs for the season, but with DaRon Bland stepping up and now tied for the league lead in interceptions and leading it in pick sixes, they are surviving that, though depth is a concern. Depth is even more of a concern at linebacker. The one draft pick that seemed destined for a prominent role, DeMarrvion Overshown, went on IR before the season started. Now Leighton Vander Esch is out for several weeks. But Markquese Bell had an outstanding game against the Chargers and looks like another UDFA gem for the team. They won three games with a patchwork offensive line, too. That form of resiliency is always needed in the long, violent NFL season.
We even saw them play from behind against the Chargers, and that was another real concern. Getting the win at least let us know they are not doomed when they are not ahead on the scoreboard the entire game.
We will hope they don’t have to bounce back from too much the rest of the way in any form, but at times they will have too. The evidence so far does show they can. With so much about this team still shrouded in that mystery, it is one bit of clarity that is good to have.