Nick Eatman is the author of his third book, the recently published *Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas, a chronicle of three football teams on three levels in Texas, from high school to college to the Cowboys. *
ARLINGTON, Texas – Who doesn't like lists?
I always get sucked into those Top 10 lists on NFL Network, so I figured I would do my own with this column.
I mean, after nine straight wins, it's all getting a little bit repetitive. Dak Prescott continues to do things that look nothing like a rookie. Ezekiel Elliott takes team's best punches, but keeps rolling. And while the defense doesn't do anything flashy, it doesn't give up many plays either.
Although it might not look much different, this 27-17 win over the Ravens Sunday was very different. In fact, this was their best win of the season, in my opinion.
And no, I'm not the kind of guy who says this was the best win because it was the last one. This was the best one because there were so many reasons why the Cowboys could've, and perhaps should've, lost.
And still, they win by 10.
There's been a lot of talk about the No. 9 this week with Tony Romo back in uniform but in a backup role. And the Cowboys searching for and getting their ninth straight win to get to the NFL's best record at 9-1.
But I counted 10 legitimate reasons why the Cowboys could've lost this game to the Ravens. But they never folded.
10 – Secondary Struggles- The Cowboys are banged up in the secondary. And while it's really nothing new, facing a Hall of Fame receiver and a Super Bowl MVP can be a lethal connection. Just a week earlier, the Cowboys had allowed more than 400 passing yards, and if Joe Flacco and Steve Smith could've put a few more big plays together, it might have been problematic. Instead, the Cowboys bent on defense, but never broke.
9 – Dez's Mind- While we will get to more distractions later in the list, the Cowboys most emotional player was again playing with heavy emotion. Last week, Dez Bryant learned of his father's passing before the Steelers game. But this week, he attended the funeral on Saturday. How their most inspirational player handled that situation could've not only affected him, but the team feeds off of that. Fortunately, he was ready to play and turned in one of his best games of the season with two touchdowns.
8 – Another "Tough" Test– Say what you want about the success of the AFC North this year, but the teams are still physical. The Steelers and Ravens are two of the hardest-hitting clubs in the league and having to face them in consecutive weeks isn't easy. But that's a big difference with this year's Cowboys. They not only match the physicality of other teams, but can oftentimes exceed it.
7 – Target on Their Backs?– It's been clear for a few weeks now that the Cowboys are an elite team. But this was the first game in which they were considered the NFL's best. Sporting the only 8-1 record in the NFL, it was just another target on their back and more fodder for the Ravens. Instead, the Cowboys just buckled down, didn't worry about the label of being the league's best team and just went out and showed it on the field.
6 – Primed for a Letdown– Staying at a high level isn't easy, especially after an emotional road win. The way the Cowboys beat the Steelers in the final seconds made them easy candidates to overlook the Ravens. Also, when a team proves it can rally several times within a game, it can open the door for more lackluster starts. That happened again, but the confidence this team has in coming back to win is overriding these slow starts.
5 – Looking Ahead?– Every year this game before Thanksgiving has media types looking at the calendar and count the days. Two games in five days? Three games in 12 days? Blah, blah. When that happens, it's rather easy to look at the next game because it's already being mentioned. Knowing there is a short week ahead is another way to get players focused on things that happened after Sunday. Instead, the Cowboys found a way to keep their minds on the Ravens, especially when it counted the most.
4 – History Suggests No – There's a reason teams don't typically win nine straight games. It's kinda hard to do. Sure, it's a lot easier if you've already won eight. It's not like they had to win nine games on Sunday. But with each win, the pressure builds more and more. Usually teams just can't handle it when it gets that high and find themselves losing a game they shouldn't. That was looking to be the case early on, but the great teams find a way to win. This team looks pretty great.
3 – Ravens Play Some D – Yes, we've heard it before, but the Cowboys were facing the NFL's No. 1 defense. After nine games that means something and the Ravens don't roll over when they face a strong offensive unit. The Cowboys knew they had to be at their best because Baltimore can make it a long, rough afternoon. If the Cowboys were to lose this one, it was going to be because the Ravens were too strong on defense. At first they were, but sticking with the theme of this piece, the Cowboys just didn't let it happen.
2 – Distractions from Romo's Statement – Tony Romo gave his statement on Tuesday in an attempt not to be a distraction to the team. But there's no way that was possible. Seeing him out there in uniform but on the sidelines was rare for anyone, whether they're new to this team or have been around for years. The emotion he brought to the podium had everyone talking, including the players, who say they weren't paying attention but social media showed otherwise. With each day, there were thoughts about Romo's words and what it meant moving forward. Meanwhile, the Ravens just kept prepping for the Cowboys.
1 - Dak's Shoulder?– There's been a lot of talk about Romo's back in the last few months, but this week the narrative focused on Prescott's shoulder. No, it wasn't hurt or anything. But how many times did we talk about Dak looking over his shoulder and staring at Romo on the sideline. This was the first time all season Prescott was in the game with Romo in uniform, healthy again and ready to play if needed. Early on, it seemed like Prescott was pressing a bit. Like he was trying to prove himself all over again. As it turned out, he had one of his best performances of the season.
There were probably other reasons why the Cowboys could've lost this game. Sure, you could do this every week, but you'd be hard-pressed to find this many ways one team could lose.
Yet, none of them mattered in the end. That's a sign of a great team. And after 10 games, it's certainly not a stretch to call this team great.