Spagnola: About To Find Out About This Here Team


FRISCO, Texas – And now we are about to find out.

About this team.

At Minnesota Sunday, an 8-1 team the Cowboys beat last year up there 20-16, and without Dak Prescott to boot.

Home on Thanksgiving against the Giants, 7-2, one of those losses, 23-16, to the Cowboys the third game of the season, also without Dak.

These Cowboys are 6-3, winners in two of their past three games, yet in third place in the NFC East, the fourth-best record in the NFC, yet with a real bad taste in their mouths after squandering a 14-point lead this past Sunday in the 31-28 OT loss to the then 3-6 Packers in Green Bay.

Yeah, supposedly the win turning around the Packers season, seeing a crawler on the TV asking, Are the Packers now a playoff team? Well, in this world of how the NFL turns, four days later, they are who we thought they were, losing at home to the Titans, 27-17, probably making the Cowboys feel even worse for letting that one slip away against the now 4-7 Pack.

But Thanksgiving is right around the corner, the Cowboys usual two games in five days, three in the 12 as always. By then, Thursday evening, we will know more about this 2022 edition of the Cowboys.

Because as former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells would say each year of his four-year stay with the Cowboys (2003-06) when someone would ask him about his Cowboys team, "Check with me after Thanksgiving."

By then, Parcells used to think, you are who you are, normally 11 to 12 games into a 16-game season.

Well, this year, by Thanksgiving night the Cowboys will have played 11 games of the 17-game season, the remaining six, three home and three away, could very well determine what this team accomplishes this year, especially with two of perhaps the toughest games coming back-to-back, home against Philadelphia Christmas Eve afternoon and then away at Tennessee the following Thursday night.

And understand the outside perception of this team going into Sunday afternoon's game with the Vikings is wrapped in pessimism, the overreaction writing off the Cowboys now sitting here at 6-3 with these two consecutive critical games coming up.

"I think we're in a good spot," cornerback Anthony Brown still says defiantly. "Even if you look back to last year, we were 7-2 at the time, we're 6-3. We could easily be 7-2 or more, even 8-1. Just a few plays here and there that didn't go our way.

"You know, we let that game in Green Bay last week get away, 14 in the fourth quarter, so in a good spot. So, we've just got to keep our minds strong and stay confident."

Brown, hoping to emerge from concussion protocol in time to play on Sunday – says he feels much better than he did when suffering a concussion in his rookie year and playing the next Sunday – knows what he is talking about. The Cowboys were 7-2 heading into the holiday double, and not a kind double at that. The Cowboys lost the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, 19-9, at Kansas City and then to the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, 36-33, in overtime, falling to 7-4.

Yet, the Cowboys went on a four-game winning streak and finished 12-5, winning the NFC East.

For sure this year, at 6-3, the Cowboys can ill-afford to lose these next two games again, dropping to 6-5 with six games to go. And while others outside The Star can dwell on that lousy loss to a Green Bay team beaten four days later by Tennessee, 27-17, at home Thursday night, this team must move forward.

"Just dwelling on the past never helps the future," says CeeDee Lamb profoundly, his words worthy of being entered into a book of quotes.

CeeDee is darn right. These guys have seethed long enough over losing that 14-point lead and then failing on their overtime possession. It's time to move on, hoping a lesson learned about finishing a game. But one game at a time, the Vikings, winners of seven straight and all four home games are next.

"It's going to be very challenging, their whole team is playing at a high level," Brown says, but not wanting to take a backseat to anyone then saying, "but we've got guys playing at a high level, too.

"It's going to be very difficult, we're going into their home, they're 8-1, they're one of the top teams in the NFC, but we feel like we're one of the top teams in the NFC, so it's going to be a battle.

"We still feel like we are some bad M-Fers, as DQ would say."

That's good right there. Absolutely lost in the loss to Green Bay, in the preponderance of attention on two interceptions and the inability to score in overtime, is this: The 28 points scored is the second most the Cowboys have scored this season, giving them 71 total in back-to-back games. The 421 total yards is the second highest this season to the 442 the previous game, meaning 863 in the past two games. The season-high 24 first downs against the Packers matches the 24 against the Bears prior to the bye.

Then there is Dak's 265 yards passing, a season high. Tony Pollard, with no Ezekiel Elliott playing for the second straight game, goes for 115 following the season-high 131 against the Bears, meaning a grand total of 246 rushing yards in the past two games. And Lamb goes for a career-high 11 catches, a career-high 150 yards receiving and a career-tying high two touchdowns.

"Offense did their job, for sure," Brown said. "That game was all on us. The offense did their job. We let them get back in the game. We've got to correct that."

For sure. Especially the defense must correct the problem stopping the run, giving up 240 to the Bears and then coming back and allowing the Packers to go for 207. Like 447 combined in those two games don't cut it.

"I'm looking at the Vikings this week, (&#@%), it won't happen again," Micah Parsons proclaims against a team having scored 84 fourth-quarter points. "Dak goes out and gives me the lead. I promise we ain't going to do that again."

So here the Cowboys go, the eight-game stretch run in front of them, but especially these next two games, normally an 11-game result a prime indicator of just who you are.

Now, there have been times the Cowboys have recovered after Thanksgiving. Take 1991, the Cowboys standing 6-5, losers in three of the previous four. Then they reeled off five straight wins to grab a wild-card playoff berth at 11-5. Also in 1993, the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys sitting there at 7-4, having dropped the Sunday-Thursday Thanksgiving double. And this is where rookie book writer Jimmy Johnson first got his "Swagger" on, telling the Cowboys they needed to win out over the last five games of the season to earn the playoff bye. By golly, they never lost another game, winning those five and the next three playoff games for another Super Bowl title.

Or 2014, the Cowboys winning five of the final six games to finish 12-4, winning the NFC East and a playoff game against Detroit before falling to the, uh, darn Packers in that playoff game. Or even as recently as 2018, winning seven of the final eight – five of those straight, including the Thanksgiving double – to finish 10-6 and earn an NFC East title.

Now is the time to kick it in gear if they are going to get where they have intentions to go this season. For sure the remaining games will decide their fate, but these next two seemingly carry some significant momentum importance, since the Vikings have a two-game lead on the Cowboys in the NFC and the Giants have a one-game lead on the Cowboys in the East.

Like the need to make a statement about themselves?

"For me, every game's a statement game, every game you go out there and get to represent the Star, and put on your pads, you're blessed enough by God to make it through a day and to get to Sunday and play in a game, that is a statement in itself," Parsons says, knowing these Vikings have won seven of their eight games by a grand total of just 35 points.

"That's where people tend to get things wrong, whether they are 8-1, 2-6, or even 3-6 as we saw, 3-5, whatever, everything matters in this league, every game is a statement. For me, I'm continuing with the same intensity as I did with Green Bay, Bengals, Tampa, no matter what, this is the same level of intensity."

Anything else Micah?

"I'm just going to buckle my helmet up, set edges and just ball out," he says with that same level of intensity.

Sounds right. Now we'll see.

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