NEW ORLEANS, La. – To be clear, it'll be a cold day in hell before anyone in the NFL apologizes for winning a ball game.
In a league with this much parity and this few games, even the ugliest victory will be cherished – and rightfully so.
When you include that this 27-17 win against the Saints was the Cowboys' third game in the 11 days, and that they've managed it throughout a COVID-19 outbreak that forced them to leave head coach Mike McCarthy back in Texas, savoring the accomplishment is understandable.
"I mean, a win is a win. It means a lot," said Dak Prescott. "The adversity we've had, we've faced coming off the last two weeks and then coming in this week and being hit with the COVID, losing the head coach this week. So many people stepped up."
All of that is fair and worth noting. It also doesn't allay the concern of watching Prescott's offense sputter through another inconsistent outing. As fun as it might have been to watch the Cowboys' defense put together a pick party against Taysom Hill, it's disconcerting to think this team forced four takeaways and scored a defensive touchdown – and still finished with just 27 points.
"That's complementary football," Prescott said. "When we're not doing well, they're going out there and continuing to get us the ball back. They played their asses off."
The reasons for the offensive struggles are plentiful. For yet another week, the Cowboys failed to establish much in the way of rhythm. This was an offense that punted seven times on the night, and five of those punts came after three-and-out possessions.
Give credit to the Saints for slowing a once again inconsistent running attack. The Cowboys did hit big plays outside the tackles, with Tony Pollard turning the game on its head with a 58-yard toss sweep touchdown. Still, it speaks volumes that the Cowboys ran the ball 24 times on the night, and just six of those carries went for more than three yards.
"You keep hitting them and keep hitting them, that big one is going to come," said La'el Collins. "We just have to keep working, keep pounding and trust it."
That wasn't the whole problem, though. Prescott and the Cowboys' passing game were maddeningly inconsistent once again in this hostile environment.
Some of that was miscommunication. Prescott threw incomplete to Lamb on an early 4th-and-2 that might've scored a touchdown if not for some crossed wires. With all the noise of a raucous crowd around them, Lamb and the Cowboys' other receivers also seemed to struggle with getting the calls in.
That happened on a play Prescott would like to have back, when he stepped up toward pressure and tried to fire a deep post to Lamb – only to see it picked off by a lurking deep safety.
"It's frustrating on my part," Prescott said. "I think just being greedy in some of the reads, trying to put the dagger in them, I guess you could say, rather than just continuing to play through the play and play through the drive."
If Prescott was impatient for big plays, it's easy to understand why. This offense flashed its nuclear potential on multiple occasions Thursday night. The third possession of the game saw the Cowboys zip 80 yards on just six plays, highlighted by a 41-yard catch over the middle by Amari Cooper and a 33-yard bubble screen from Lamb, and then punctuated by Michael Gallup posterizing a helpless cornerback on an end zone fade route for six.
It was the perfect reminder of how hard this offense can be to stop. It also didn't happen nearly often enough for a group that was 2-of-13 on third down and scored points on just four of its 14 possessions – three of which came before halftime.
"We've just got to be more sound, more focused," Prescott said. "As I've said, I've got to stay disciplined, just playing it play by play and not try to put the dagger in them and knock them out of the game."
Again, it's better to reflect on mistakes in the wake of a win. Having snapped their two-game losing streak, the Cowboys can now take a breath during a lengthy weekend and re-assess.
This stretch won't be one that anyone is eager to remember, but Prescott and Co. can learn from it. More importantly, they didn't have to give up any of their goals to do so.
"It's good to be past this. Obviously, it didn't go the way we hoped and planned it out," Prescott said. "But, sitting at 8-4, top of the division with a chance to get rested and recovered this week, we'll put ourselves in a good spot as we hit these next five and we'll hit them the right way."