Where has this team been all season?
The Dallas Cowboys came into this matchup with the Los Angeles Rams needing a victory over an opponent with a winning record. Heck, they needed a victory period to keep pace in the NFC East, especially after the rival Philadelphia Eagles won earlier in the day.
But despite doubts swirling around the team – Dallas having lost three straight games – the Cowboys simply dominated, taking care of business by knocking off the now 8-6 Rams, 44-21, to remain atop the division. That marked the most points scored in a game by the Cowboys since also earning 44 on Dec. 28, 2014 at Washington.
Leading the charge for the Cowboys was their Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, who outshined his counterpart on the Rams, Todd Gurley II. Rushing with authority, Elliott powered his way to 117 yards on the ground, compared to just 20 by Gurley, who was held in check all day by the Dallas defense.
With another 43 receiving yards for Elliott and an additional 131 rushing yards from Tony Pollard, the Cowboys rolled to 475 yards of total offense, converting 54 percent of their third downs while also going 3-for-3 in the red zone.
Dak Prescott proved to be efficient as well, completing 65.2 percent of his pass attempts for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.8 passer rating.
Meanwhile, sparked by Sean Lee and Jourdan Lewis, a Cowboys defensive unit that had been much-maligned over the past few weeks kept the Rams from mounting any kind of a real challenge. Los Angeles finished with 289 yards of total offense, but a chunk of that came with the outcome already well decided.
In all, it was a complete effort from the Cowboys, even though the game got off to an ominous start. There was confusion with the coin toss, the referee misunderstanding Prescott's request to defer and kick. At first, the assumption was Dallas would have to kick off both to start the game and the second half, but video replay thankfully reversed that initial decision.
Still, that was then immediately followed by new kicker Kai Forbath booting the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to give the Rams possession at their own 40-yard line. Welcome to the team.
Fortunately, the Dallas defense prevented any further damage, which gave the Cowboys offense a chance to open the scoring later in the first quarter with a lengthy 15-play, 90-yard drive that ate up 6:21 of clock. Elliott earned 25 of those yards on four carries, but Jason Witten got the scoring honors with a pretty one-handed catch for a 19-yard completion and the touchdown.
Of course, fans had seen this before. In each of their previous two games, the Cowboys had scored first, only to then give up and 26 and 24 unanswered points in losses to the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears, respectively.
And when Los Angeles immediately responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive of their own to tie the game early in the second quarter, there certainly was some fear that history was about to repeat itself yet again.
Not today. This time it was the Cowboys providing the unanswered points, putting up 30 straight, of which 21 all came before the end of the half to essentially put the game out of reach. The first of those scores couldn't have been much easier, while the second was almost the exact opposite.
Dallas got back on the board when two Rams defenders collided in the secondary, leaving Tavon Austin wide open down the field. Despite being under pressure, Prescott found him, and Austin jogged into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown, a short and sweet three-play drive.
But that was then followed a series later by a grind-it-out, 97-yard drive that involved 14 plays and nearly 8:00 minutes of time. The possession was highlighted by Prescott converting a 1-yard quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Rams' 4-yard line, before Elliott capped things off with a 1-yard run up the middle for the touchdown.
The third straight score came compliments of the veteran linebacker Lee, who lunged in front of a Goff offering for his first interception of the year. He then returned the pick 25 yards to the Los Angeles 9, setting up what would eventually be a 3-yard run for Elliott into the end zone to give the Cowboys a comfortable 28-7 lead at the break.
A lead that increased with Dallas' first impression of the second half. Elliott touched the ball four times for 36 yards to set up Forbath for his first field goal attempt as a Cowboy. He was true, splitting the uprights from 50 yards out to add another three to the home side's tally, the only points scored in the third frame.
Only adding to the Rams' misery, Forbath put up another six points in the fourth quarter, both of his field goal tries good from 42 yards. The score now 37-7 with 6:40 remaining, there wasn't much left to do but play out the clock.
The Rams did manage to sandwich a pair of scores around a Pollard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it was far too little, too late. With the win, the Cowboys evened their record to 7-7 to stay atop the NFC East, owning the tiebreaker over the Eagles.
Which all leads to next Sunday's huge 3:25 p.m. showdown in Philadelphia, the winner of that game firmly in the driver's seat to take the division and reach the playoffs. If the Cowboys win, they're in. If not, they'll need some help in Week 17.
But if today's team shows up again, playing close to perfect football, the Cowboys just might be ready to make some noise in the postseason.