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Science Lab: Cowboys Are Gladiators So Far in '22


Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.

He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".

Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.

FRISCO, Texas - Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?? I mean, after all, the large majority of us were hammered with frantic takes about a falling sky after the events of Week 1 at AT&T Stadium between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - a stratospheric level of panic the likes of which would make even Chicken Little start handing out Xanax.

Dak Prescott and the offense mustered zero points on the day, with kicker Brett Maher sparing them the goose egg with a single field goal kick in what was a wasted lockdown effort by Micah Parsons (2 sacks) and an overall defensive effort that held Tom Brady and Co. to only one touchdown and four field goals after finishing 5-for-14 on third down conversion attempts.

It was utter dominance by the Cowboys defense and blundering misfortune by the offense, and punctuated by Prescott suffering a fractured thumb that was set to cost him upwards of two months. The season was over. The Cowboys were going 0-17 and the planet was going to fracture beneath Arlington and Frisco and the hounds of Hell were going to drag the entire organization into the inferno with Dante.

Well, I knew a man who once said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back."

This team definitely smiled back.

The glaring problem with the falling sky screams was always the fact there were 16 games left on the schedule and, stop me if you've heard this before, but anything can happen in the NFL.

And, guess what?

"Anything" did.

Sidebar: None of what I'm saying is in hindsight and, like others who didn't write off the seemingly impossible after only one game (no matter how bad things appeared), there are receipts longer than the ones you'll get from CVS.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Cooper Rush, whom many pleaded to be sacrificed to the Sun God prior to 2022 in return for a more-proven veteran QB, stepped in and, for four of five games, had the perfect mix of ability, efficiency and luck as he finished his stretch as Cowboys starter with a 4-1 record - one he admitted was fueled largely by special teams and the same defense that sent the message in the season opener that they'd likely be the best in the league before this year was all said-and-done.

Rush deserved every rose given to him (hence an entire "Science Lab" edition being awarded to him) despite going out on a low note in the loss on the road to the still-undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, and the Cowboys were 4-2 when tossing the keys back to a healed and healthy Prescott.

So much for a quarterback controversy in Dallas.

Insert petty, yet sensible chuckle here.

After a slow and disheveled first half against the Detroit Lions, to the tune of a grisly 6-3 deficit at halftime, Prescott and the Cowboys offense used their defensive counterparts as a trampoline - turning five second half takeaways into three touchdowns while the Lions failed to score another point in the contest. All the Cowboys had to do then was carry the momentum from the second half of that matchup into the battle against the Chicago Bears.

But hey, Justin Fields and head coach [former Cowboys linebackers coach who knows Prescott so well schematically] Matt Eberflus were hot off of a dismembering of the New England Patriots and the almighty Bill Belichick and were all set to use their league-leading rushing attack to beat up on the one weakness in the Cowboys defense en route to a second big win in two weeks.

Right? Wrong.

It was more dominance by the Cowboys but, this time, it started with Prescott skinning the Bears for their pelts with four touchdown drives in his first four offensive drives, using a mix of his running ability and throwing prowess to help set the stage for what eventually became a career day for backup running back Tony Pollard.

Oh, did I forget to mention the Cowboys were without Ezekiel Elliott, but he wasn't the only one missing from the eventual 49-29 shellacking that was much uglier than the final score would indicate.

Also missing from the Dallas lineup due to injury was Malik Hooker, Noah Brown, Sam Williams (hot off of a breakout game against Detroit), and they lost Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse, Connor McGovern and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr at several points (and several times) during the clash with the Bears; and Barr never returned from his hamstring injury.

The latter thrust Damone Clark onto center stage, a rookie playing in his first football game since Nov. 27 for the LSU Tigers - having undergone spinal fusion surgery in March and missing all of training camp and the preseason - still delivering 57 combined snaps (40 defensive, 17 special teams) and six tackles (2nd-most on the team) along with nearly landing his first-ever sack in the NFL (film shows he did but he wasn't credited with it).

Time and again, the Cowboys have stared down adversity and found ways to show everyone why their 2022 mantra is "resiliency", and sit at 6-2 heading into the Week 9 bye when so many with access to microphones, keyboards, cameras and/or the halfway attentive ear of their neighbor as they checked the mail promised (read: guaranteed) there was no reason to continue watching after the nauseating events of Week 1.

When they exit their bye, they'll be faced with truly finding their stride in the all-important months of November and December, having already ironed out their biggest wrinkles over the first half of the season (ideally when you're supposed to do so) and, better still, reinforcements are on the way.

Tyron Smith is approximately "three or four weeks away" from a return (actual timeline TBD) to possibly playing in tandem with rookie sensation Tyler Smith versus replacing him outright, and there's a chance James Washington can contribute nicely to the wide receiver room when he's activated from injured reserve - his 21-day practice window expected to be opened either just ahead of Week 10 or shortly thereafter.

In a wide-open NFC and still winnable NFC East, the Cowboys have a chance to get healthier for the second half push and even more refined on offense, with the trade for Johnathan Hankins combining with the addition of Clark setting the stage for what might be the shoring up of the run defense (by the way, don't use the Bears' stat line from Week 8 as a barometer considering the Cowboys dared them to keep running and eating time off of the clock while being down multiple possessions).

No, we have no clue where the season will end but, bottom line, it was never over after Week 1. It was literally just beginning, and the time for honoring your freezing cold takes from September and October is at its end, Commodus.

That said, it's what you do in January and February that echoes into eternity.

See you in Green Bay.

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