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Eatman: Cowboys send & receive the same message


ARLINGTON, Texas – This is the time of year when people make their lists. Whether they're sending out Christmas cards, or maybe actual presents or even both, but you have to decide who makes the cut when you're spreading the joy.

Rarely, do you send one to yourself. I mean, what's the point, right?

Well, I think the Cowboys made an exception to that rule here on Sunday night. Because the Cowboys certainly sent out a message to the rest of the league, but they also sent one to themselves as well.

The Cowboys team is certainly for real. They can whip up on the worst teams in the league and they proved here Sunday night they can dominate the team that had the best record as well. Let's put some emphasis on the word "had" because no longer are the Eagles the only team with double-digit wins as the Cowboys and 49ers are both now sitting at 10-3.

But that's still not the point. The Cowboys proved to the rest of the league, and themselves, they are a legitimate contender – right here and right now.

Message sent, message received – all in one night.

Now, I'm sure some in the Cowboys' locker room might choose to dismiss the notion that they needed a 33-13 beatdown over the Eagles to become believers in their own locker room.

But even the great Emmitt Smith, who I had the pleasure of interviewing before Sunday's game, said that players have to get over the psychological hurdles that exist within a season or even a few years. He recalled the early 90's when it was the Eagles that had their number. "We had to prove to ourselves we could beat them."

They figured it out in 1991 to make the playoffs, and then did it again in 1992, beating them twice en route to the Super Bowl.

Whether there was some kind of mental block between the Cowboys and the Eagles, they cleared it in a major way, blowing out the Eagles in a game that wasn't even as close as the 20-point deficit.

This high-powered Eagles offense failed to score a touchdown, and I'm sure in their locker room, they are going to talk about the mistakes they made, which they had plenty. But the Cowboys' defense had something to say about this as well. Not only did the Eagles have turnovers, but the Cowboys were the reason for it, perfecting the knock-out punch over and over with forced fumbles that stalled drives and killed any momentum the Eagles were trying to gain.

Defensively, the Cowboys sent a message that they're more than just Micah Parsons rushing the passer. They're more than just DaRon Bland getting pick-sixes and they're more than just a group that can beat up on lowly offenses with young quarterbacks.

There were more messages sent out as well.

Dak Prescott has now catapulted himself into the lead of the MVP conversation. Obviously, that can change at any time between now and the end of the season, but there's no quarterback playing better right now than Dak. And definitely, nobody is carrying his team the way he is right now.

Considering this was a matchup between Dak and Hurts, who also deserves plenty of MVP talk, this was a huge moment for the Cowboys' QB who is playing on another level – and has been since the bye week.

What about toughness? The players sent plenty of messages throughout the game, but the biggest one of all might have come from their head coach Mike McCarthy for simply just being on the sidelines Sunday night. We're talking about four days removed from surgery on his appendicitis, but there never seemed to be a doubt that he would be on the sidelines leading his team. Not only that, but the head coach actually sprinted down the field in the second quarter to throw a challenge flag, which proved to be important because the officials changed the call and gave Rico Dowdle a touchdown.

McCarthy wasn't just playing it safe with lots of coaches and players around him to make sure he didn't get hit … he was on the move throwing flags and being as demonstrative as ever.

Ok, so maybe Dak Prescott and the team "forgot" to give him a game ball after the game, but there's no doubt they didn't notice his presence of being there, ready to go into battle with his team.

And there were more messages to go around – aside from Micah Parsons playing through flu-like symptoms to record the only sack of the game. Or Michael Gallup fighting through a slump to come up with three big plays to bolster the passing game, including a touchdown.

And then there's Brandon Aubrey, who has far surpassed a feel-good story from a USFL player to a good player on the roster. No, Aubrey has become an actual weapon for this team, becoming the first kicker in the history of the NFL to have two field goals of 59+ yards in a gamer. And these 59- and 60-yarders have PLENTY of room to spare. But it's more than the leg, but the accuracy. Aubrey set the NFL record for most consecutive kicks made to begin a career but he's far surpassed that now, hitting four more on Sunday to give him 30 straight field goals.

Sure, you can wonder why the Cowboys didn't score a touchdown in the second half and settled for three field goals, but we've seen that before this year. The Cowboys are playing it smart, not turning it over and relying on their kicker to keep adding to the lead. That game plan has worked a handful of times already this year and it was perfectly-executed again on Sunday night.

Make no mistake, the Cowboys haven't won anything here after this 20-point win. They're just tied for first place in the NFC East, currently with a tiebreaker over the Eagles, who could probably get it back by winning out on a schedule that doesn't seem to be that tough. On the flip side, the Cowboys have to face the Bills and Dolphins on the road, followed by a game with the Lions and then Washington on the road to close it out.

We all know there is plenty of work left to do for the Cowboys. We also know that nothing really matters here in December because this team, like all teams, will be judged by their postseason fate.

This was just an early Christmas message the Cowboys have sent to the rest of the league. Who knows if the other teams will even open it. What matters the most is the Cowboys got the message. That might prove to be more important than anything else.

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