FRISCO, Texas – As the Cowboys sat back this weekend – taking a deep breath after playing those three games in 12 days, winning two of them as part of their four wins in the last five since Dak Prescott's return – watching the Eagles run all over a Packers team the Cowboys couldn't beat must have been sobering.
Like, better not get too full of themselves. Lot of work still to do, even if they hold the third-best record in the NFC and fourth best in the NFL at 8-3.
Colts are next, and the Cowboys will get a chance tonight to take a good look at them in prime time. And even though losers of three of their last four, the fact Indianapolis lost last time out but 17-16 to those now 10-1 Eagles must be catching the Cowboys' attention. Or should on Monday as they resume this 2022 journey.
"We've just got to continue to keep our heads down and take it one day at a time, one game at a time," Dak said after the 28-20 win over the Giants on Thanksgiving Day.
And with a little more time on my hands, it dawned on me this weekend just how fortunate the Cowboys will carry on in these final six regular-season games with the likes of Dak and Zack Martin and CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons, and to a certain extent Tyler Smith, too, their play so significant to this current 8-3 record and going forward.
It's like they all sort of landed in the Cowboys lap by an accident of sorts, proving once again sometimes adjustments are required when your best intentions don't come to fruition.
Learned that lesson back during the 1990 NFL Draft when then Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson was intent on drafting Baylor linebacker James Francis with his first-round pick. One problem with that – they had the 21st pick, but also already had spent what would have turned into the 1990 first pick in the draft after going 1-15 in 1989 the previous year when taking quarterback Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft. That allowed Cincinnati to swoop up Francis at No. 12.
Since the Cowboys couldn't trade up ahead of Cincinnati, they were trying to do the next best thing by trying to trade for Kansas City's pick at 13, providing Francis still was there. He wasn't. So Jimmy called the Bengals to see if they could trade their first-round pick and then some for the rights to for Francis. No could do.
And because of all that, the Cowboys in the first round eventually settled for some running back from Florida, Emmitt Smith, who turns out to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher they rode to three Super Bowl titles. Sometimes, thanks to the Rolling Stones:
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need.
So do you remember the 2014 draft? As the first round continued to unfold, the Cowboys thought they were going to get their guy, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. But at No. 15, the pick before theirs, Pittsburgh intercepted, grabbing Shazier and putting the Cowboys in sort of a conundrum. What to do, what to do?
Oh, there was always the splash pick, Johnny Manziel, that really only owner Jerry Jones was pushing, but he acquiesced, allowing COO Stephen Jones, vice president of player personnel Will McClay and head coach Jason Garrett to trump him, taking, of all things, a guard: Notre Dame's Zack Martin. That's right, Zack Martin, who turns into their best offensive lineman, with Tyron Smith yet to play this season, and a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, certain to be named an All-Decade member, choose your decade.
See where we're going here.
Next, the 2016 draft. The Cowboys were all in trying to find a young quarterback they could begin grooming to become Tony Romo's eventual replacement, but a backup for now since they were caught with their pants down when losing Romo for 12 games in the 4-12 season of 2015. But with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz off the board at 1-2, and Joey Bosa going to the Chargers at No. 2, no way could the Cowboys pass up on Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4. And when no other quarterback was taken in the top 25, the Cowboys were trying to move back into the first round to grab Paxton Lynch like no higher than 29.
Well, Denver in intercepted Lynch at 26. Undaunted, the Cowboys were eyeing Cody Kessler, since they had two fourth-round picks. But he went 31st in the third to Cleveland. Maybe even Connor Cook in the fourth, but Cook went to the Raiders with the second pick in the fourth round, one ahead of the Cowboys at No. 3. Even at that, the Cowboys selected Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper next.
And not until their second fourth-round pick, 34 picks later, did the Cowboys roll the dice on that kid from Mississippi State, one Dakota Prescott, the 135th pick in the draft. Like, how lucky can you get, since you still are witnessing the rest of that story, having moved up to the eighth best QB rating (95.3) after missing those five games following thumb surgery.
Again, how lucky can you get?
Well, the Cowboys good luck didn't stop there.
Then 2020. The Cowboys had the 17th pick. They had their eye on a wide receiver. Maybe a cornerback. But the one they had both eyes on was CeeDee Lamb. Yet a pipe dream, since realistically they didn't think they had a chance in hell of the Oklahoma star falling that far. In fact, they admitted never fell to them at 17 during their pre-draft mock drafts.
But I'll be, when the Raiders took Henry Ruggs and the Broncos chose Jerry Jeudy, and the Falcons took cornerback A.J. Terrell at No. 16, why, somewhat flabbergasted, Lamb was all theirs with the next pick. Talk about a celebration. Because all along they thought a defensive end was in their future, likely LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson.
Now Lamb is their No. 1 receiver, his 64 catches fourth in the NFC, his 857 yards second and his five touchdowns tied for fifth.
See what I'm talkin' about? What a godsend.
And because they took a wide receiver in the first and didn't find a cornerback to their liking at that point, the Cowboys switch priorities in the second to snag one Trevon Diggs, 51st overall. And get this, for some odd reason the 12th defensive back taken in that draft. That's right, the guy who nabbed 11 interceptions in 2021, the single season most in the NFL since Everson Walls had 11 in 1981, and who currently leads the team with three.
And then the next year, 2021. They were hunting cornerbacks again at No. 10. A favorite, Jaycee Horn went to Carolina at No. 8. And OK, the Cowboys thought they'd have no problem selecting Patrick Surtain with the 10th pick in the first round. Ah, but Denver took Surtain at No. 9.
As a consolation, and big ha to that, they moved back two spots and simply took the highest-rated defensive player they had on their board. And not the highest rated one left, the absolute highest. Ta-dah, Micah Parsons turns out to become the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, finishes with a team-leading 13 sacks and already has 12 this year, meaning 25 sacks in his first 27 games, tying with Derrick Thomas for fifth most in NFL history.
Like, the best, most versatile defensive player on the team, his 12 sacks this season ranking second in the NFL after 11 games, just one behind Matthew Judon's 13. On top of that, his six multi-sack games through the first 11 of a single season ranks second to only Reggie White's eight.
And to think they might have taken a darn corner.
And even this year. Still maybe a wide receiver since they traded away Amari Cooper for salary cap reasons was on their minds. Maybe one of those top offensive tackles. Maybe a defensive end.
Un-uh. Shocking many by taking Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith when some of the draft know-it-alls were pointing at a center or guard or one of those more notable tackles who went before him. The Cowboys figured Smith would be their left tackle of the future, but in the meantime would slide him in at left guard. But sometimes reality intercepts the best laid plans.
Tyron Smith goes down right before the start of the season, and voila, the future for Tyler Smith at left tackle arrived earlier than anticipated. And what a job he's done over the first 11 games, proving skilled enough to likely move back to left guard when Tyron returns from his hamstring surgery, maybe around the Houston or Jacksonville game.
Ask yourself this: How many guys would have been able to pull this off as successfully as Tyler Smith?
Just incredible good fortune, benefitting from one unintended consequence after another, fortifying this Cowboys season, making it scary to even wonder about, uh, what if …