Eatman: Even With Everything Clinched, Cowboys Send Message To Rest of NFL

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 – Mathematically, there was nothing for the Cowboys to accomplish Monday night in terms of the NFL standings.

That being said, the Cowboys accomplished plenty of things in the process. And don't think the rest of the NFL didn't notice.

Say what you want about this game being meaningless. As it turned out, the Cowboys sent a rather clear message to the rest of the league: This is without a doubt the team to beat in the NFL. And AT&T Stadium is where you must win to knock them off.

Sure, those things were officially set on Thursday night when the Eagles gave the Cowboys an early-Christmas gift. But this team showed that it doesn't need help from other teams. They didn't need the Eagles to do them any favors. They don't need other teams in the NFC to win games for them.

That's the definition of a great football team, or a great organization, or any type of field. The best groups don't need help from other teams – they do the dirty work themselves.

And that's what the Cowboys have done all year. The dirty work allowed them to have a game like they did Monday night.

From start to finish, we saw just how much fun this team has been having all year. Yeah, the second quarter was a little rocky and some running back few people have ever heard of was ripping off run after run.

But once things calmed down on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys were able to impose their will and just finish the job. Actually, the mantra of this team right now, something you'll see plenty of times on this website, is "Finish the Fight."

And that's what the Cowboys did Monday night. It was a fight. It was two teams going back and forth for a little while. But as the game went on, the Cowboys just kept winning more rounds. By the end, they were ready for the knockout blows.

[embeddedad0]Like a lot of games this year, it wasn't perfect. The defense had some issues there, but let's not forget what they were dealing with. Say what you want about injuries or excuses, but losing three key defensive linemen before the game, and then two more during the game, is going to be a problem for any team.

The Cowboys finished the game with five defensive linemen, including one that hasn't played in 14 previous games.

Yet, what happened? They got stronger and didn't allow a single point. That's finishing the fight.

On offense, the Cowboys found themselves struggling in the second quarter. But just before the half, things just came together like it has all year long. Dak Prescott spread the ball around before hitting Dez Bryant for a clutch touchdown.

Once the game was tied, you could tell the Cowboys had woken up. Now, this Detroit team has made a living coming back in the fourth quarter of games. But it never got that far.

That's because the Cowboys finished the fight.

And they did it in several ways, with several different weapons. We know Dak can be efficient in the pass but he's starting to evolve as a runner. We know what Ezekiel Elliott can do, and he just keeps doing it over and over.

Dez is Dez, but catches like he made before the half should strike fear in defensive backs even more.

Those things are a given. But when Cole Beasley gets loose over the middle, or when Terrance Williams makes plays for this team, or when Brice Butler goes out and hauls in a pass like he did, it adds a new dimension to the offense.

Now, when Zeke comes off the field, there's another dangerous back sitting there in Darren McFadden, who might have the best first-cut of any back in the league, especially right now when he's healthy and fresh.

Defensively, the Cowboys have shown all year they will bend, but not break. And on this night, they fought back short-handed.

Standings-wise, the Cowboys didn't really do anything to help themselves Monday night. But there's no way the other teams in the hunt weren't watching this game, knowing one thing is clear:

The Cowboys are absolutely rolling right now – whether the games really count or not.

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