Dallas has overcome some early season adversity, jumping out to an early lead in the division and their best start since 2016. Sunday brings a new challenge as the Cowboys (4-1) look to erase some history with a trip to face the New England Patriots (2-3).
The Patriots are being led through a transition period under legendary head coach Bill Belichick while the Cowboys are in search of their first win in New England since 1987. Here are five storylines for each team heading into Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
- Things almost went south in a hurry last week for the Patriots before rallying for a 25-22 win against the Houston Texans. Houston, widely believed to be in the running for a top-five pick in this April's NFL Draft, led 22-9 after scoring on the opening drive of the second half. With their backs against the wall, New England clamped down defensively and did not allow another Texans score and rallied to tie the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Henry that tied the game in the fourth. Then with 15-seconds left, Nick Folk booted a 21-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, to win it.
- Rookie quarterback Mac Jones has looked like the next franchise quarterback in New England despite a few learning moments in his first five games. Jones was selected with the 15th overall pick last April and earned the starting job over Cam Newton this preseason. He just the second rookie quarterback to start for the Patriots since Drew Bledsoe in 1993, along with Jacoby Brissett in 2016.
- Despite a notable amount of talent still on the roster, this is very much so a rebuilding year and a transition into the next era of Belichick's Patriots. Tom Brady has not been a part of the organization in two seasons, Julian Edelman retired this offseason, and the front office traded Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore away to Carolina for next-to-nothing. However, the signings of Matthew Judon, Hunter Henry, Jalen Mills, Kyle Van Noy have provided a solid foundation of veterans to mix with the youth on both sides of the ball.
- It's a lot tougher doing a rebuild when you're missing a bunch of bricks. The Patriots have been riddled with injuries dating all the way back to August when they lost linebackers Raekwon McMillian and Cameron McGrone for the season. Since then, starting tailback James White, every offensive lineman outside of David Andrews, Jalen Mills, Anfernee Jennings, and more have spent significant time sidelined. And for the Patriots' most recent outing, all were unavailable, adding extra wrinkles into an already difficult transition period.
- Bill Belichick has seen a lot of things in his NFL career, but Week 5's win over Houston provided something he had never seen before. As mentioned previously, New England was missing four of their five starting offensive lineman due to either injury issues or Covid-19 protocols. A purely patchwork offensive line included guards Ted Karras and James Ferentz along with tackles Yodny Cajuste and Justin Herron. Amazingly, the group of reserves allowed a season-low one sack of Mac Jones and allowed the rookie enough time to pass for 312 yards against a suspect Houston secondary.
- Dallas overcame a couple of early turnovers but still never trailed in a 44-20 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. The win increased their lead in the NFC East to two full games as both Washington and Philadelphia sit at 2-3. Kellen Moore's offensive brilliance continued into Week 5 hitting the 500-yard mark for the first time in the 2021 campaign behind a balanced attack of 314 passing yards and 201 yards on the ground. It's the first time since Week 7 of 1983 since they've achieved those two milestones in the same game.
- Incredibly, Trevon Diggs continued his historic run to begin the season with his sixth interception in the first five weeks of the year. The second-year cornerback jumped in front of a third quarter Mike Glennon pass and is now tied for the most interceptions through five games in a season since the merger. Should Diggs pick off another pass this week against the Patriots, it would tie Brian Russell's NFL record interception streak with six straight games (2003).
- The Cowboys have not won a road game in New England since 1987. It's a staggering stat that doesn't look as intimidating when you see it was over just four games. However, the Patriots have won the last six meetings over the Cowboys, and it does provide for some fun stats as Dallas has never won in Gillette Stadium (built in 2002) and never beaten Bill Belichick with the Patriots (took over in 2000).
- The last time the Cowboys left New England with a win, it took a 60-yard touchdown run from Herschel Walker in overtime to down the Patriots, 23-17. Resulting in one of Walker's most memorable moments as a Cowboy. He was in his second season with the team and tallied 232 total yards for head coach Tom Landry to get the Cowboys to 5-4. With the win, the Cowboys improved their record to a perfect 6-0 against the Patriots, which was eventually stretched to 7-0 in Dallas nine years later in 1996, their most recent win in the series.
- Dak Prescott was impressive with three touchdown passes on an afternoon flooded with storylines 364 days following his compound fracture suffered against the Giants in 2020. Additionally, the ground game continues to impress with their fourth straight game over 160 total rushing yards on the strength of Ezekiel Elliott's second consecutive 100-yard game. Overall, the offense has scored 35 points in each of the last three games, longest streak since the final four games of the 2014 regular season.