MINNEAPOLIS – Something tells me this question was asked many, many times by Cowboys fans and followers throughout the game and especially at the end.
It's one question I hate the most, but in a season like this, it's understandable to hear people wonder out loud:
"Where has this team been all year?"
It's fine if you actually did ask it to yourself or even to a group of socially-distanced family and friends. But I don't like it because we know where this team has been.
- This team has been on injured reserved.
- This team has been on and off the COVID-19 reserved list.
- This team has been in surgery.
- This team has been on crutches.
- This team has been on the practice squad, in some cases.
- This team has been learning how to play together.
- This team has been learning how to trust each other – both the players and coaches.
- And more than anything, this team has been learning how to win.
Well, who knows if they've actually learned that technique, or if they were just simply fortunate to win on this day? Only time will tell.
But the reason you probably asked the question in the first place is because this was undoubtedly the most complete game the Cowboys have played all season long. They didn't need a miracle comeback and onside kick to win this one like they did against the Falcons. They didn't have to outscore the worst offense in the league at the time to win at the final gun like they did to defeat the Giants.
Now, the Cowboys did need their share of heroics on Sunday to beat the Vikings, but they didn't luck into anything. All game long the Cowboys were putting themselves in position to win. Even down by four points, the Cowboys kept the Vikings at bay just long enough to go win the game at the very end.
And that's exactly what they did.
I can't help but think about Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones, who is never shy about speaking his mind. In the last two weeks, he was rather adamant about a couple of topics. Now, Jerry will provide some head-scratching quotes from time to time. And without a doubt, he was questioned about these.
Last week, he made it clear that Andy Dalton gives them the best chance to win, over Garrett Gilbert or really any other backup, calling Dalton one of the best backups he's ever had.
He also said Ezekiel Elliott is still the team's best player.
After Sunday, can't argue about either one.
Now, personally, I'll take Zack Martin, who showed it yet again that he is deserving to be mentioned in the Larry Allen category as one of the very best linemen the Cowboys have ever seen.
But Zeke was amazing on Sunday. And the 1-2 punch with him and Tony Pollard is exactly what the Cowboys envisioned when they paired them together. Zeke did most of the dirty work and got some really tough runs. Pollard came in and provided a spark and a big touchdown run when it appeared the Cowboys were on the ropes early in the fourth quarter.
As for Dalton, he wasn't perfect, but hey, let's give the guy a break. I'm not even sure he could smell or taste anything as he was still dealing with some of the symptoms of having COVID-19. And he looked a little rusty at first.
But he wasn't timid. He got first downs on the run, he stood in the pocket, which is easier said than done after taking a vicious hit that got him a concussion last month.
Dalton was poised, in control and that was evident on the touchdown throw to Dalton Schultz. They had been setting up that play for a few weeks, Schultz said after the game. But Dalton hung in there in the pocket and waited for his tight end to clear, finding him wide open for the eventual game-winner.
And let's talk about this defense. Wasn't pretty at all, especially in the secondary. I mean, this team literally picks players up from the practice squad and not only plays them, but matches them up against Pro Bowl receivers.
Honestly, the roster that gets passed out in the press box didn't even have Rashard Robinson on it. But you could tell Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins found him and attacked him often.
The Cowboys finally got Chido Awuzie back, and then Anthony Brown goes down in the second half with a rib injury.
I think everyone was holding their breath at the end, knowing the Vikings had plenty of time to go win the game or at least tie it up with a field goal. But give the defense credit for digging in one more time. Bullied around in the third quarter, the defense put together back-to-back stops to win the game.
For those of you who listen to our podcast "Cowboys Break" and/or follow me on Twitter, you know exactly where I stand on the tanking/better draft pick vs. playing it out and trying to win the division.
And not that it was ever a doubt, but seems pretty clear where this team stands as well. They're not about to quit. That was evident on Sunday. This team showed they've got some fight left in them.
And it's about to get real interesting now. Sure, the Cowboys are only 3-7, but nobody in this division has more wins. Washington, the Giants and Dallas are all a half-game behind the Eagles, who are trending in the wrong direction.
Right now, the Cowboys seem to be playing better than anyone. And the schedule certainly favors them here with six games to play.
I remember Bill Parcells used to always tell the media not to worry about the standings and records and all that until you get to Thanksgiving because so much can change throughout the early part of a season.
Well, here we are. The Cowboys are playing the best football of the season and showed us all on Sunday they're not about to roll over.