ARLINGTON, Texas – Turns out, the Cowboys weren't just blowing hot air all week. Every game in this league presents some sort of challenge.
For all the talk of how inept they were, the Dolphins' league-worst offense headed to halftime on Sunday with 214 yards of offense and two field goals. They were a dropped pass by DeVante Parker from holding a 13-10 lead against a team that was favored to beat them by three scores.
"It's the National Football League, everyone's good," said Jaylon Smith. "For us, it was just about getting back in gear."
Maybe the Dolphins are better than they got credit for, maybe the Cowboys came out flat for a noon game against a bad team. It feels a bit irrelevant right now, because the defense did indeed kick it into gear.
From the outset of the second half, the Cowboys dominated. Miami managed just 69 yards after the break. They obviously didn't score any points, but that doesn't do justice to how limited they were.
After managing 12 first downs before halftime, the Dolphins finished with just five in the second half. After converting 3-of-8 third downs before halftime, they went 0-for-7 afterward.
"We knew what our standards are, and at that point we weren't playing up to them," said Christian Covington. "I'm glad to see us finish the game strong. We didn't allow a score in the second half and we have to move on now."
Covington and his fellow defensive linemen made their presence known after a quiet first half. The Cowboys' pass rush was a big part of why the Dolphins stopped converting third downs, as Josh Rosen was sacked on two third downs and pressured on another.
"Toward the end of the ball game we were able to get him and make some of those minus plays you need to have," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
Newly-added Robert Quinn was a big part of that recipe for success. Playing in his first game with the Cowboys after a two-game suspension, the former Dolphin managed three tackles and a sack. Teaming with DeMarcus Lawrence for the first time, it was encouraging to see both members of the duo get on the stat sheet, as Lawrence finished with two tackles and a sack of his own.
"Coming in, the team was doing well without me, so I was just trying to come in and do my part," Quinn said.
It's hard to argue with the end result, but it does raise questions. The Cowboys allowed a touchdown on the opening possession in Week 1 against New York, and they fell into a 7-0 hole last week at FedEx Field.
It might be the NFL, and everyone might be good, but the Cowboys will face better offenses than the Miami Dolphins in the coming weeks. Not every game on the schedule will provide such a forgiving learning curve.
"There's still a lot of work to do," said Jaylon Smith. "We're showing glimpses of the type of group that we want to be."
The glimpses have been encouraging, but the Cowboys would love to see them on a more consistent basis. But given the way they've rebounded from these slow starts, it's hard to be too displeased with the results.
"Just go play, settle back in and play," Garrett said. "Eliminate those mistakes. Be who you are, and that's what we try to do each and every day. The guys understood that. It didn't require a big halftime speech. It didn't require adjustments. It required us settling in and playing, snap after snap after snap."